Textualizing the Performance: Issues on the Albanian and Arbëresh Epic Tradition
Affiliation: University of Milano

The epic legendary tradition is a relevant part of the Albanian cultural identity, especially that of the Geg, one of the two main Albanian groups, collocated in Northern Albania and Kosovo. In the same time, it is a relevant part of the epic tradition present in the Balkan area, and has complex relationship with the most known Slavic tradition.

In Albanian, this tradition is usually indicated with the denomination of Kanke Kreshnike, translated as “song of the frontier warriors” or “heroic songs”. These songs, that narrate the deeds of the legendary brothers Muja and Halil and their heroic friends, are performed by a male voice, and accompanied with the one string instrument called in Albanian lahuta, which is similar to the gusle used in the Slavic countries.

Important research has been carried in the past on this topic: from the work of Milman Parry and Albert Lord - a relevant complement to the well known research on former Yugoslavia - to the collection done by the local scholars and promoted by local institutions; among them, are to be mentioned the Instituti i Kulturës Popullore of Tirana, in Albania, and the Instituti Albanologjik of Prishtina, in Kosovo, where scholars like Zymer U. Neziri promoted fundamental research along the years. The circulation of the Albanian materials for longtime actually has been confined, also for linguistic reasons, to a small group  of scholars. Those materials in the last years offered an important point of reference for new research.

Today, singers are always in activity in the areas of Northern Albania and Kosovo, especially in some specific areas (like that of Rugova, at the border with Montenegro); sometime they have direct relationship with singers and repertories documented in the great collections of the past. New inquiries, carried on the field in recent times, in connection with the old collections, allow to reach new relevant results, thanks also to the support of new technologies used during the fieldwork and the analysis of the materials.

The paper wish to illustrate some results of the recent research, focusing especially on methodological issues of documenting and analyzing these traditions, with the use of audiovisual media – a main issue in the research of the recent years; this allows more appropriate inquiries about the crucial passage from the moment of the performance to the establishment of a text, both in written or recorded form.

Analytical aspects of the modality of epic performance will be considered, especially related to the metrical aspects and to the relationship between melodies, rhythm, and versification.

During the presentation will be displayed audiovisual examples from the fieldwork done in Kosovo in the last years, especially with the collaboration of Zymer Neziri, and focused on the most important singer active there today, Isa Elezi Lekëgjekaj.

Moreover, information will be provided about the oral tradition of the Arbëreshë population; coming from the Albanian lands and settled in Southern Italy since the XV century, they were able to preserve orally, along 5 centuries, in a diasporic context, poetic and musical performance connected to the old Albanian language and culture. Today they are involved in relevant projects of valorization of their oral tradition, with the creation of sound archives and the organization of performance events.