Exploring the city of Berat in Albania during the dog days of August, I had the good fortune to stumble on the closing performance of the Festivali Multikulturor. The venue was a small outdoor stage erected on the promenade by the river Osumi – a setting that promises much for the future, but the promenade was still under construction at the end of August in 2014. Not that anyone minded as darkness fell, concealing the heavy machinery, stacks of paving stones, and heaps of sand, and the music began. Dren Abazi and the Zig Zag Orchestra from Pristina in Kosovo played an infectious mix of Balkan rock and Albanian folk with hints of jazz, klezmer and ska. I stood among several hundred locals, blissed out at my good fortune to catch these outstanding musicians in a live performance.
Finding recordings by the band has proven challenging. Dren Abazi may be big in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia, but the rest of the world is yet to catch on. The music videos on the Dren Abazi official YouTube channel are much more polished and restrained than the live performances that Saturday night, but here is one that I rather like: I Dehur Jam. Apparently, Albanian for I am drunk…?
The old town of Berat was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2008. The town hugs the slopes of a steep hillside leading up to a citadel first fortified in the fourth century B.C. where we arrived mid-afternoon on a day when the pale stones shimmered in the heat and the air was filled with the scent of pine trees.