Albanian memories

Nowadays, when we think there is something worth remembering, we tend to snap a picture, rather than do anything else to collect the moment. Needless to say, I am one of these people as well, and my iPhone is full of landscapes, children (my children, that is), friends and strangers, random places, book quotes, museum paintings, shopping lists, wine labels, even airport gates and hotel rooms’ doors (so if I forget where I was supposed to be, I can find my way back), for all feasible sentimental and practical purposes. I like browsing old pictures, but I don’t think these make a particularly strong time-travel device.

If I really want to remember a curiosity experienced in a particular moment I rely on the sound – that is, I pull out my phone, as we all do, but instead of taking the picture (or in addition to taking the picture), I try to capture what I was able to hear.

I started doing that a few years back, mainly while traveling, and have really vivid memories of a loud coffee shop at Rue Pasteur in Saigon back in December 2016, or a Sunday afternoon chill out in the old power plant converted into a techno club in Berlin from March 2017, or a rally of Hungarian neo-Nazis in Budapest in front of Corvin Cinema, or an Indian DVD shop in Georgetown, Penang in October 2017 playing loudly something I remembered from the movie Monsoon Wedding.

Among these I have a recording from the Bunk’Art in Tirana – it used to be one of many underground shelters during the Albanian Communist years, and now it has been turned into a museum. In one of the rooms there was a vintage TV set with a music festival from the 80’ties on, and I happened to record part of a song I quite liked there – it reminded me of a certain Polish military music festival I once watched as a kid (a preschooler) while visiting my Aunt, and I still remember how puzzled I was with a line from a song there (“[they] ate rocks, and drank fire” – definitely not something I could relate to with my pre-school lunchtime experience, well not that I can entirely relate to it now).

So, I have precisely 39 seconds recorded in the said museum, on 2 January 2018, and a note saying: “Tirana festival 1983”, and I eventually liked to know what was that I was listening to from time to time. Not much to start with, but I just have figured it out tonight.

I started with YouTube and a recording of a gala concert of the national music festival from 1983, and halfway through found the song. Still, I wanted to figure out who is signing and read the lyrics – and that wasn’t so easy – as this wasn’t the winning song, and I couldn’t find a list of all the artists performing that year. Usually, it’s a simple task for a music recognition app, but this case was too hard.

I tried to pick something up from what the speaker said while introducing the song, and couldn’t figure out much, but I heard “music Jim Krayka”, and compared that with a list of winners in the 70’ties and 80’ties, and there was a likely match – Agim Krajka, a famous Albanian composed (passed away in March 2021), with just a few songs on Spotify, and voila – “Kënget e rinisë” is the first song there.

Other credentials, according to Spotify, are lyrics by Zhuliana Jorganxhi and performance by Luan Zhengu (and this is the version they have there). But it didn’t sound quite right, and when I checked on YouTube Zhengu also didn’t quite look the part either.

So it was time to listen to the announcer few times more – that is the lovely lady in red here –, and when you listen carefully, she actually says: “Kënget e rinisë, musica Agim Krajka, teksti Zhuliana Jorganxhi, këndoj Gramoz Burba”.

And it is Gramoz Burba, whose pics on Facebook kind of match his younger self.

And here is the taste of the lyrics:

“Full of fire you come in, songs of youth.

The history begins to speak.

Shining every letter of it

The thoughts flow on, reaching far.

You speak to me about that Youth

Born in November, grown in the storm.

Its step thunders at every corner

You hold her always tight, oh Party.

Like the eagle birds when they fly

For the first time up in the sky

The eagle mother of strong wings

Beside her children takes the flight.

The spring came slowly but surely

Flowers bloomed from tree of freedom.

Young eagles took their flight

Besides you, fiery songs of youth.

You held within, songs of youth,

Our days that we enjoy

And you ran towards life,

Towards freedom we defend today.

Inviting thousands of hearts your way

Nurturing them with lots of love.

To Albania they gave their youth.

You hold her always tight, oh Party.”


And how has your evening been so far, dear reader?

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