An online archive of traditional music aims to encourage broadcasters to play more folklore tunes – but supporters of the genre fear it may not suffice to revive its waning popularity.
“If the media don’t educate the public about traditional music, this music will be forgotten,” Liliana Qavolli, a traditional Albanian chanteuse, says.
Qavolli hosts her own radio show on Radio Kosova promoting the sounds of the cifteli, an Albanian string instrument, the zurla flute and the tupani drum.
She faces an uphill battle. More common sounds on the radio these days are pop and rap music, international and local.
Qavolli believes more needs to be done, particularly by the public broadcaster Radio Television of Kosovo, RTK, to keep these old sounds alive.
“Bosnia’s TV Hayat dedicates specific times to sevdalinka, which are traditional Bosnian songs, but we do no such thing with our old masterpieces,” Qavolli complains.
“Local radio and TV hardly transmit any traditional music,” she adds. “I barely hear my own songs on the radio and even more rarely on TV.”
In a bid to boost flagging interest in traditional tunes and promote Albanian culture in general, Truni [“Brain”], a non-governmental organization, launched a project in late November to create an online archive of Albanian music and culture.
At a cost of around 100,000 euro, with 8,000 euro coming from the Ministry of Culture, the NGO will start collecting songs from next January.
They will include old songs in outdated formats in personal and public archives as well as those that are on CDs but are not widely available.
The music will be provided for free through a website, Gjurmet, named after a 1980s rock band, and radio and television stations will be encouraged to use the new resource.
Qavolli believes the project will help promote traditional music but is unconvinced that it will be enough on its own.
“I understand that most of the old recordings haven’t been digitalised and are not in media archives,” she says.
“But there are still plenty of them and nobody transmits them – or at least they are rarely transmitted.”
Minire Fetahu, editor of the music desk at RTK, says they air traditional music for an hour a day and that given the need to cover a range of tastes and ethnicities, that slot will not increase, even if he would like to offer more.
“RTK, as a public television, has to cover other shows from other communities in Kosovo, so we don’t have much space for our [Albanian] traditional music,” he explains.
“But we do broadcast two or three songs in the morning, afternoon and on the evening programme,” Fetahu adds.
“We also have a weekly one hour programme called Pa Skenar [“Without script”], but it is not enough,” Fetahu admits.
Selvete Krasniqi, music editor at Radio Kosova, says they set aside 15 to 25 minutes a day for traditional music, which she considers is enough.
“Traditional music is quite well represented on our radio,” she says.
The singer Antigona Qena, who presents Pa Skenar, plays old hits from the radio archives. But Qena says old songs are being broadcast too rarely.
“It is embarrassing that still we cannot get the recordings from the archives, and that they are often in poor condition,” Qena adds.
Two festivals that once showcased traditional music have both disappeared.
Artists remember fondly Akordet e Kosovës [“Kosovo Accords”], but that was last held in 1995.
In the western city of Prizren, the Zambaku i Prizrenit festival also became synonymous with traditional music.
Held in 1991, 1998, 1999 and 2005, organisers fear it will never again grace the cobbled streets of this Ottoman-era city due to lack of money.
Organiser Reshat Randobrava says the music they played there is being forgotten.
“Once again, I’d mention that many of these songs aren’t recorded and digitalised, though this alone does not justify the ridiculous [low level of] media coverage,” he says.
“There are very few, old traditional songs that I hear or see on the media,” he adds.
Nexhmije Pagarusha, a folk singer and heroine in Kosovo, says the media must shoulder most of the blame for the decline in the popularity of traditional music.
“I sometimes think that there is a kind of bartering with the media outlets and that someone is being paid to transmit the music we hear and see,” she maintains.