Tirana-Tirona Allstars | Best Group Award Winner
Tirana 100 on Municipality of Tirana
Under-represented on the world music scene for far too long after decades of isolation under a hard-line Stalinist regime, traditional Albanian music is something of a best-kept secret, afforded only five pages in the otherwise voluminous Rough Guide to World Music. So it was a splendid initiative by the municipality of Tirana to mark the city’s centenary as the country’s capital by funding and recording an album that celebrates the rich heritage and artistic soul of this little-known Balkan musical treasure house. The result was a fabulous record produced by ethnomusicologist Lucy Durán and Edit Pula.
The album showcases the emotionally expressive singing of Tirana music with its subtle phrasing and winning combination of Balkan modal melodies and Western harmonies. It’s a style that can be found throughout the towns of the former Ottoman European possessions, from northern Bosnia to southern Bulgaria, but the Tirana strand represents a sound specific to the city, though it is familiar all over central Albania. Remarkably varied yet coherent, our reviewer enthused about the recording, which is ‘charmingly old-fashioned in sonority, taking its lead from the warm and comfortable ensemble sound of older recordings’ with sinewy clarinet solos floating over thrusting dance rhythms and delicately shaped vocal lines weaving through a maze of twisting harmonies. Some of the musicians involved are veterans of classic recordings from half-a-century ago, others grew up listening to them. Those with long careers behind them include the clarinettists Hekuran Xhambali and Ismail Kavaja, accordionist Rafail Caka and singers Rik Buneci and Xhemal Kodra. Lute players Adriatik Çelmeta and Artur Yzeiri, Neki Kastrati on frame drum, Gentian Muhaxhiri on acoustic double bass and singers Iris Bega and Pëllumb Meta were recruited from the Albanian National Ensemble. The album also introduced new talent including violinist Eraldo Feto and bassist Dritan Hekurani, while the brothers Arben and Ilir Tafaj are successful businessmen by profession but also passionate singers. The album (a Top of the World in the May 2021 issue, #167) not only makes the Tirana-Tirona Allstars worthy winners of Best Group but will hopefully launch a wave of interest in Albanian music, inspiring a new generation of young musicians in Tirana to rediscover their roots.