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Singing with Zurnas

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Letter from Michael Kuharski, 5 Feb 1998 21:52:47 -0600. Used by permission.

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Since people are asking around, as I have been for a decade or so, looking for examples of folks singing with zurna music, I'll share the one clear personal experience which set me on this quest in the first place.

Sometime in the late 1980s, during a wedding procession around the streets of the Albanian village of Brezna in the Opojë region of southwest Kosova, a score or two of men of the Kryeziu clan (possibly including their wedding guests as well?) stopped their march & clustered for several minutes around the Rom zurla- & tupan-players from Prizren to sing a song (or two or three?) along with the instruments. I distinctly recall that the unabashedly projective vocalists held their own handily against the accompaniment. I cannot say how common this practice is or was, but I have been at half a dozen or so of these weddings & only saw this single instance. Most of the other weddings were down below in Zhur, Korisha, & other villages near Prizren & Suhareka.

Zurnas, after all, are loud as acoustic instruments go, but not when compared to the amplified music of, say, world music bands here in the Midwest -- and we sing along with THEM. Why should it be hard to sing against zurnas? Who said you had to sing louder than the "accompaniment"? Why can't the singers be the accompaniment for a change? It's like the Western conviction that musicians are the center of everything, even for dance music, in which the dancers should have the central focus. Wrong paradigm!

Note: On a map Brezna is directly southwest of Prizren & right along the border with Albania. It's the first village on the right after you go up the switchback road into the Opojë highlands, stacked up the side of the mountain. The Brezna people say that generations ago members of Kryeziu ran the "Thieves' Inn" on the old packtrail up to Opojë. Guests enjoyed a night's lodging, but might be ambushed & robbed on the trail the next day. Needless to say, I found the contemporary Kryeziu as warmly hospitable as all other Albanians!