Between tradition and modernity – a typology of Albanian epic singers in Albania and Kosovo nowadays
Affiliation:  Nicolaus Copernicus University and University of Warsaw
In this paper I will present some results of my research among Albanian epic singers in northen Albania and Kosovo. The term ‘epic singers’ means here singers that perform epic songs with the accompaniment of a one-string instrument called lahuta, which is very similar to more known south Slavic gusle. I have conducted extensive fieldwork during 2006 and 2007, however I continued my research during various visits in the area in the years that followed. The outcome of this research will be a monograph that is still under preparation.

 At the basis of my research lies a set of simple questions. What happens to the tradition of the epic singing, when the oral modes of transmission cease to exist? What is the role of epic singers and the auditorium in this process of transformation? What does it mean to sing a song that is not learned by hearing it, but by reading its text? And finally, if one can speak at all about the existence of a tradition in this case, what is the social impact of this new tradition? What are its modes of transmission and to what social needs and functions it responds to? Nor the questions and neither the setting I tried to find an answer for them are not new. Already in the 1930s Milman Parry and later on Albert B. Lord rasied similar questions during their research in the former Yugoslavia. Though on different basis, similar issues came at the centre of atttention also of other scholars such as Matija Murko, Gerhard Gesseman and Alois Schmaus. And finally some local folklorists and ethnographers, expecially during the postcommunist years, have turned their attention to new froms of folklore, which transcend the classic model of tradition of singing, i.e flourishing in peasant areas, pure and untouched (some would say – uninfected)  by the impact of modernity.    

However, the modernity is fact. It is there with all its good and bad aspects, with electricity, refrigerators, cars and roads, social mobility, and lately also with youtube and facebook. It cannot be avoided and it has created entirely new conditions that have brought to radical changes in the tradition of epic singing. These new cultural developments call for new appproaches and methods of research.

Although some methodological remarques will be be included, the paper deals more with my findings on the field. My research has shown that the tradition of epic singing in northern Albania and Kosovo has gone under a process of deep transformation, similar to the one observed by Albert Lord in the former Yugoslavia, and by many other scholars in other parts of the world, i.e. the coming of modernity. My research focused on how this tradition has changed and one of the methods of research was to focus on the singers, who are the carriers of the tradition of singing. The research revealed the existence od thre types of singers. The first were those, who continue the oral models of singing and transmissions, and who are in evident minority. To the second group belong those, whom I call transitional singers, i.e. who perform in an oral, traditional manner, but who make already use of the written texts. Finally the third group is formed by those, who became already professional folklore singers, and who make use of traditional forms but in an entirely new cultural setting, and who give to their songs new meanings, sometimes strongly influenced by political developments. Precisely a larger elaboration of this typology will be the object of my paper.