An overview of Southern Albanian folk music from the perspective of Ethem Qerimaj and the analysis of a kaba performance Güney Arnavutluk halk müziğine Ethem Qerimaj ekseninden bakış ve bir kaba icrasının analizi

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Pulake Altınbüken A., Özgen Öztürk Y.

Rast Müzikoloji Dergisi, vol.11, no.3, pp.425-445, 2023 (Scopus) identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 11 Issue: 3
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.12975/rastmd.20231134
  • Journal Name: Rast Müzikoloji Dergisi
  • Journal Indexes: Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.425-445
  • Keywords: Albania, Ethem Qerimaj, folk music of Albania, kaba, violin
  • Istanbul Technical University Affiliated: Yes


Focusing on the unique and original characteristics of Southern Albanian folk music, this study offers an in-depth look at the subtleties of the genre called as “ kaba”, which is the pinnacle of violin performance in this style. The study sheds light on this style by presenting a detailed analysis of a performance by Ethem Qerimaj, the doyen of Albanian folk music violin, in terms of both musical structure and violin playing techniques. The music of this region is based on a vocal-based polyphonic texture that dates back to Epirus in ancient Roman times and has been recognised as a cultural heritage by UNESCO. This structure, nowadays called Iso-polyphony, characterised by the use of the modes of the pentatonic scale as well as its original texture, has also been the source of the performances of folk music instrumental ensembles called “saze” in southern Albania. In saze music, the type of piece called “kaba”, in which the soloist improvises, constitutes the area where solo instruments such as clarinet and violin are used at the most skilful level. In existing studies on Albanian folk music, the musical structure of the kaba is rarely discussed, and there is no detailed analysis of the instrumental methods of playing the kaba or its harmonic-melodic structure. This study provides detailed information and findings on this under-explored area in the literature. The aim of the research is to provide an analytical overview of kaba performance, in which the stylistic characteristics of the violin’s use in Southern Albanian folk music are most clearly observed. Here, as sub-problems, issues such as how the rhythmic notation of the kaba in free rhythm would be, which ornamentation methods and musical gestures are to be used in this style, how to make descriptions specific to the playing methods and musical gestures used in this genre with the existing terminology since there is no detailed analysis centred on violin performance in this field in the literature, determination of the musical structure and melodic-harmonic flow of the kaba, whether there is a more structural and simple deep structure underlying the superstructure with ornaments on the surface. The research uses a case study model that includes many elements such as literature review, personal interview, recording a musical performance with images and sound, transcribing and analysing it, and evaluating the findings of the analysis in comparison with the literature. Conventional western music notation was used in the transcription. Even though the kaba is in free rhythm, it was possible to make assumptions about meter and beats by considering accents and phrasing. Since there is no pre-existing terminology to denote the ornamentation figures, they have been notated in detail as close as possible to the actual performance. The bowing and articulations used by the player have also been included in the notation as much as possible. All the elements notated in the transcription are discussed in the analysis, as well as the bow positions, bow pressure and timbre colours reflected in the video and audio recordings. The harmonic flow of the kaba has been analysed in terms of the combined use of pentatonic modes, and the evidence for the existence of a simpler basic melodic trajectory upon which the melodic line, woven with ornamental figures on the surface, is based, has been questioned. The analysis shows that the kaba performance can be transcribed using conventional notation. Rhythm and note values can only be notated approximately due to the free rhythmic character of the piece. In terms of violin playing techniques, it was observed that articulations were sometimes used singly, but most of the time two or more of them were used in combination. This richness of articulations makes possible even more timbral possibilities as a result of the use of different bow positions and different bow pressure in various regions between the neck and the bridge. High dramatic effects can be achieved by using all the mentioned elements. The modes of the pentatonic scale form the basic melodic framework of the kaba. Sometimes non-pentatonic degrees are used as auxiliary voices, but it is clear from the analysis that they are not used in positions of structural importance. Transitions between pentatonic modes occur in two ways: either there is a switch to another mode consisting of the same pitches with a different centre pitch, or there is a modulation to the mode system situated a perfect fifth up, to return back again from there. This practice recalls the model of modulation to the dominant tonality found in classical western music. The kaba style is characterised by a melodic structure on the surface, which consists of the repetition of small melodic motifs and their many variations. However, in this study, it was observed that there is a more basic structural trajectory in the background of this superficial layer. It has been determined that this basic deep structure is constructed on the pentatonic scale, just like the music on the surface that reaches the listener. This is a unique finding that has not been revealed in any other study in the literature. Within the scope of future studies, it can be investigated how common the characteristics identified in this study regarding kaba playing on the violin are found in other kaba performances. In these studies, the method proposed here can be used or improved. New field-specific terminology can be proposed for elements such as ornamental figures that are found to be commonly used. Research on the use of the violin in Southern Albanian folk music other than kaba or modern pop-folk productions can be based on the findings of this study. Violinists aiming to perform in this style can use this study and the transcription it contains as a resource, the transcription and the findings presented can be used in the training of this style, and educational pieces can be written based on these findings.