An article upon the organization of “Children’s Festivals” in Shkodra

Every city is its own kind of fascinating. When it comes to Shkodra, one more reason adds to its fascination, because not only is it a mere city of history and art, but also the city of children’s festivals. The city of Shkodra and Festivals are inseparable in a sentence. The city gave it its name, while the cultural event made it even more special.

On May 10-11, 1963, with the engagement of this city’s creative forces, the first local song festival for children was organized. At that time, the event was titled “The Song Festival for the Pioneers”. Albanian culture lacked such a similar organization. Why not try it out? A new tradition in the field of activities and music creativity was coming to life, with Shkodra being its birth place and later spreading all over Albania, that is, the song festivals.

         The festival was not arranged from “the people above”. It was the initiative of the musician Tonin Daija and the special care of P. Jakova, who took into account as well the details of his preparation.

The First National Festivals

Legally speaking, the festival earned the title “national” in 1966, a year that coincided with the fourth song festival for children which took place in Shkodra. Albanian children finally had a festival of their own. The first festival’s main aim was of becoming national.

These festivals filled a significant gap in the musical-education of children. The song, this little musical-literary unit left almost neglected, became property of all children. Festivals as Cultural Instruments of the Song for Children stimulated the creative spirit of musicians, poets, performers, directors, screenwriters, etc.
But arts, develop over time. Time determines as well the sort of developments that will occur in musical creativity. The festival editions of the late 1980s lacked in “academic” elements. The thematic variety and stylistic language of music often exceeded the age targets.
The song was used as a tool for the ideological formation of children. The song texts came up with political themes on which were created hymn and martial songs that echoed the Party, leaders, unity, ruling ideology, new man, socialist development of the country, and so on. These songs throughout the festivals retained the massive character of their interpretation. The desire of creating great vocal formations, “pride of the number” stimulated pompousness.
As some sort of interlacement between music and spectacle, the festivals became a loving musical activity for children, parents and the public, who added positive tones to the festival.
From one edition to another, the variety of song changed, ranging from those that were intended for toddlers to older children; from the song-tale, the song-toy that of the popular type, the bounty teller type on to the hymn song. The newly generated songs, in general, were inspired by our rich folklore. There was even a formation of folk instruments prepared by Mr. Gruda that accompanied some of these songs in the 80s.
Nowadays “you feel sorry that many songs that are considered as jewels, artistically speaking, have very politicized texts and this priceless artistic wealth created over the years, today, alas, cannot be all used. But some of these songs, in the last 10 years have been refined and to this day they have remained one of the favorite songs to children “…

Festivals during the 60’s – 90’s  

The Children’s song festivals built throughout the years an artistic richness of unquestionable value, as the interest of professional composers for this song grew. The variety of songs increased. But rhythmically speaking, in the broadest sense of this term, the “song” remained behind. The attempt by Alfons Balliçi, after the 11th (legendary) edition of this festival, did not go on. “Tring zilja”, a formation of youngsters, tended more at “folklore”. Though children have syncopation naturally running in their system, this rhythmic figure was rarely seen. The same thing can be said of “harmony” that remained very traditional, which was also reflected in orchestrations. So we can accept with no doubt that until the 1990s, the song for children was a bit too serious.

While the song for soloists found expression and ever-new developments, the choir song did not experience the proper development, quality speaking. What contributed even more negatively to this was the holding of festivals in the so-called “Sports Palace” (the biggest Balkan Cathedral), which required a huge chorus, to the detriment of quality, serving more as a cliché. The corals were only with two (rarely three) voices even these were placed vertically, thus without their own lines. This also led to the lack of genuine corals, meaning the lack of any song that could be sung “a cappella”. But, most importantly, what “the song” lacked most in was the simple child-like theme.

         In the late 1980s, festivals were organized in such way, where all the singers that had won first place and first prizes during the festival that took place in other districts, got to go to Shkodra and be part of such festival. It was a high-performing team, a commission consisting of a composer, a literary director, poets who were all of the nature of the children, and there they performed the best songs of these festivals (from the districts). The best singer and winning song got to go to the National Festival in Shkodra. The children were accompanied either by their parents or the pioneer’s home from where the child came from. The very first festivals in Shkodra were directed by Tonin Daia (brother of Tish Daia) who was conductor and instructor of the children’s orchestra.
There was also a symphonic orchestra directed by Prenk Jakova. Then came another generation and in the late 1980s Jetmir Barbullushi was conductor and many other organizers from whom the latest festivals were directed. I think it’s really a merit of our community (of Shkodra’s citizens) that have kept this tradition alive since the 90′.

         The 90s marked other innovations in the festival-development. At the initiative of the artistic leader, Kujtim Alija, many creators and performers chosen from all Albanian lands became part of these festivals (since the 31st Festival, in 1992), turning it into an Albanian Folk Song Festival for Children.
The festival proceeded on being one of the country’s most important artistic events. Its echo came in growing from year to year. The song responded to the changes in life’s rhythms, but retained the distinction of the foretelling festivals, the national physiognomy and the artistic values ​​of the song for children.
In terms of openness and artistic freedom, artists always took care of creating simple and expressive melodies, far from the clichés, the bones of cosmopolitanism. The children’s Creation, seen as a creative responsibility but also as an investment for the future, conveyed childhood emotions; merchandise; humor, joy and hope for the future.
The festivals of the last few years have had a qualitative rise in organization, similar to their sister-festivals in different parts of Europe. New music and songs with powerful lyrics came to life, and there were also songs that were interpreted by their creators themselves, songs with play back up to those that were performed live and accompanied by orchestra. “Such interpretation aims at making children the most original they can be, and prevents them from imitating adults, and concentrating on the song: – according to conductor, Kujtim Alia.”

Over the years the scenic space grew and little by little its premises were filled with beautiful decorations, where children were part of them as well. The chosen librettos (from some famous writers) were interwoven with both the original and the modern presentations of the most talented performers. The modern art directing aimed at linking creativity with free interpreting where the spirit and talent of small children performers, as well as the connection of scenic action with the concert hall. The festivals were held in large and open scenes with lots of participants.

The scene of this festival served as a starting point in the long successful path of today’s famous Albanian stage (also world scenes) singers, such as: Zeliha Sina, Justina Aliaj, Nikoleta Shoshi, David Tukiqi, Suzana Qatipi, Myfarete Laze, Ardit Gjebrea, Irma Libohova, Frederik Ndoci, Eliza Koreshi, Parashqevi Simaku, Shirli Polena, Aurela Gaçe, Josif Gjipali, Ervin Bushati, Jonida Maliqi, Mariza Ikonomi, Rosela Gjylbegu, Dorina Garuci, Kejsi Tola and others. These are just some of the many famous names to whom this festival has served as a cradle to their talent.

These festivals have built such richness that cannot be possibly understood without the mentioning the multiplicity of its component.

         The artistic leaders of this activity throughout the years have been music personalities such as: Prenkë Jakova, Çesk Zadeja, Avni Mula, Nikola Zoraqi, Pjetër Gaci, Mustafa Krantja, Robert Radoja, Tonin Daija, Leonard Deda, Robert Prendushi, Kujtim Alia, Roland Guli, Zef Çoba, Xhavit Ujkani, Kolec Gajtani, Thoma Simaku and others.

         To the success of these festivals, have contributed remarkably the conductors: Prenkë Jakova, Ermir Krantja, Jetmir Barbullushi, Aleksandër Qyteza, Elsa Kola, Kujtim Alija and Ferdinant Lleshi, Selim Ishmalu, Ilir Erzeni, and the well-known composers and accordions John Simoni, Alfred Kaçinari Selim Ishmaku, Shpëtim Saraçi, Xhavit Ujkani, Kolec Gajtani, Nazmi Lishi, Roland Guli, Naim Krasniqi, Edmond Zhulali, Adrian Hila, Jetmir Mehmeti, Klodian Qafoku, etc.

         Among the names of the masters who have worked with children’s vocals are: Adelina Grimci, Pjerin Gjyshja, Lec Balza, Roland Guli, Bardhyl Hysa, Enrik Çefa, Violeta Paçrami, etc. Directers being: Serafin Fanko, Edmond Mehilli, Ndoc Çefa, Rikard Ljarja, Luigj Gurakuqi, Osman Mula, Ilir Drini, Zhuljeta Hajno and others. Scenographers: Pjerin Bedeni, Adnan Kastrati, Franc Ashiku, Arben Selimi, and writers: Fadil Kraja, Odhise Grillo, Paulin Shtjefni, Zhaneta Lazri, Jorgji Papingji, Adelina Mamaqi, Alfred Çapaliku, Xhahid Bushati, Agim Doçi, Matish Gjeluci, Xheraldina Vula, Lejdi Shqiponja , Mimoza Tola and so on.

Albanian families consider this activity to be one the most serious and valuable way in educating and nurturing their children with a healthy lifestyle and considering it as the most important activity in the Albanian program for this age.

This year, the festival will be holding its 55th edition. The atmosphere of this festival has long begun. The promotion of this artistic festival has also been done by visual media.

The 55th edition of The Song Festival for Children will of course be holding many surprises. “The new and nostalgic music – according to the famous conductor of these festivals, Kujtim Alia, – will be one of the novelties of this Festival.” In addition to the winning song of this festival, the public vote will also determine the best song of the festivals (over the years).

The distribution of the Albanian song for children will be realized by a satellite broadcast. It will also be done by distributing albums of such activity.


Klaudio Kasaj

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