Saz’iso – At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me
Glitterbeat – 13th October 2017
I’ve been waiting for news of this release for a while now. I first heard some of this music about a year ago on a podcast by producer and writer Joe Boyd (Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, Cubanismo, Songhai). Joe Boyd’s A-Z podcast took the listener through his vast collection including session recordings and some very rare gems. It was on episode LL on which he introduced music from the Lela family of Southern Albania, music sometimes referred to as the Albanian blues. It immediately struck a chord with me.
Brazilian Samba, Bosnian Sevdah, New Orleans Jazz, Cuban son – and Albanian Saze! The turn of the last century saw mass migrations to the world’s cities with rural people bringing their music with them, adapting their traditions to new circumstances and modern instruments. Of all these great musical forms, the mesmerizing arabesques, joyful dances and heart-breaking laments of Saze are among the least recorded, and they remain largely unknown outside Albania. Becuase Albania didn’t have much a recording industry, many of the legendary figures have disappeared into ‘the mists of time’. Those landmark recordings that do exist have been made by outsiders by the likes of Bert Lloyd who made a number field recordings in the 1950’s for Topic Records.
It was 1988 that Joe first properly experienced the music when a lute player from Sheffield showed him a video of a festival from the then virtually sealed country. After seeing it he vowed to visit Alabania one day. Joe went for the first time in the spring of 2014…”tagging along to a party on the beach with traditional musicians, met my future wife, and together we produced a record of traditional “saze” music from Southern Albania.”
Fastforward one year and Glitterbeat have announced the release of “At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me: The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song” by Saz’iso, a group of virtuoso musicians and legendary singers assembled by Joe Boyd and his co-producers, Edit Pula and Andrea Goertler, and recorded by Grammy-winning engineer Jerry Boys (Buena Vista Social Club, Ali Farka Touré, Orchestra Baobab). The emotional force in this music is enough to mark it out as one of the most exciting releases of 2017.
The songs on this album tell of joy and sorrow, love and loss, heroism and tragedy. “Tana” is an ancient song about a shepherd whose flock is stolen by bandits that grant his wish to play his flute for the last time before they kill him. The plaintive melody conveys his terrible fate to his beloved in the valley below. A line from the beautiful “Penxherenë e zotrisë sate” gives the album its title; a boy yearns for the girl next door, pleading, “You keep going in and out of your gate. O poor me outside! At least wave your handkerchief at me.” Other songs are about partisans struggling against foreign invaders and men forced to depart in search of work, leaving behind grieving wives and families, a recurring theme in Albanian music to the present day.
The instrumental dances have deep roots in the region’s history. “Valle e Osman Takës” originated with a captured rebel leader dancing his way to freedom and is now a spectacular male dance that constitutes a test that only the most skilled attempt. Of all the region’s instrumental forms none has the resonance and emotive power of ‘kaba’. According to legend, the form originated when a dying wife told her husband not to cry, but to let his clarinet weep over her coffin instead. The album includes both, a clarinet and a violin kaba as well as a rare, freely improvised ‘avaz’. The melancholic improvisational lines of the clarinet or violin give it a mood often referred to as the ‘Albanian blues’. Kaba’s “melodies, ornamented with swoops, glides and growls of an almost vocal quality, sound both fresh and ancient at the same time”, observes author and musician Kim Burton, “and exemplify the combination of passion with restraint that is the hallmark of Albanian culture.”
“This recording is a landmark in the history of Saze music. These performers are following in the footsteps of the great masters that have preceded them, while the careful and thorough production and wonderful sound quality allow us to experience recorded Saze as never before.”
– Vasil S. Tole
“We set out to record these virtuoso singers and musicians like a Blue Note jazz session or a Deutsche Grammophon string quartet. Saze is, after all, a classical form, its essential elements unaltered over the decades. With its ancient roots, the intensity of this world-class music has the power to entrance any listener.”
– Joe Boyd
Donika Pecallari, vocal
Adrianna Thanou, vocal
Robert Tralo, vocal
Aurel Qirjo, violin & vocal
Telando Feto, clarinet
Agron Murat, llautë/lute
Agron Nasi, dajre/frame drum
Pëllumb Meta, fyell/flute & vocal