photo from www.afropop.org
The Tractor Tavern hosted a concert by Meliti Halili and Raif Hyseni the other night. Big names in Albanian music, they describe what they do as Urban Albanian Folk, and it's pretty good. Pretty different, too. You can hear some here.
Ruled for centuries by the Turks, Albania is a Muslim country and you can hear Middle Eastern sounds in their songs. It's also a European country and voraciously absorbs Western influences. You would, too, if you'd lived under the weird, reclusive Communist dictatorship they endured from 1945 to 1990. You can hear both Eastern and Western cultural influences in the music. Some songs had a slightly slowed down beat that reminded me of Jamaican reggae. World music, indeed.
It was great fun. There can't be too many Albanians in our area but I suspect most were at the Tractor. Young guys lounging at the bar were eyeing stylish young women at the tables. Entire families gathered with friends to have a good time. It must have been a treat to just "be Albanian" for a night amongst people who spoke your language and understood your ways.
I like the music. Halili has quite a voice. The crowd knew all the songs and erupted into cheers at each. Hyseni is a virtuoso accordionist. They had three back-up musicians, a guitarist, drummer, and clarinetist/saxophonist. Many of the songs used a call-and-response form: Halili sang a line and either the reed guy or Hyseni would reply.
Lots of dancing, to be sure. Folks would just grab hands and make for the dance floor, then form lines and snake all around the place. When the dancing got really hot, Hyseni would lead the band in some long jams to keep the fun going.
It was a great night out.