The Çam and their Music
project name

The Çam and their Music

Traditional music from Southern Albania


Çam is an ethnic group with an extraordinary musical tradition. They represent one of the most interesting case studies that can be found in nowadays Albania.  There are many aspects that make this group a paradigm of the turbulent and tumultuous events that characterized the Balkans with its cultural, social, political, and religious implications. At the same time, this topic also deals with issues regarding diaspora. The area known as Çamëri has been a very contested place between Albania and Greece.  It belongs to the Greek territory, while the çam speak Albanian and are Muslims.  The many pressures from the Greek state on this population brought to the expulsion of the population in a certain period of time. The diaspora created from this forced exodus lives nowadays in the suburb districts of different cities in south Albania. The main ones can be found in Fier and Vlora. They still preserve their own identity, without mingling with the local population. According to Ramadan Sokoli, the prominent Albanian ethnomusicologist, the çam represent a singular case of emigrants in their own homeland.


Çam dance, festival of Gjirokaster 2009; shooting by Nicola Scaldaferri.

Musical activities play a great role in asserting their identity: instrumental music, in which can be mentioned several dances with very characteristic rhythmic patterns. Then, they have a very rich vocal tradition, either monodic or poliphonic one.
The çam poliphonic singing is a male exclusive practice. It belongs to the so-called isopolifonia (according to Vasil Tole definition), which is characteristic to south Albania. This practice that has been included in UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list, is distinguished by the bourdon (iso), that is performed by a small choir, over which arise other voices, in polyphonic movements. In the çam polyphony one can distinguish two soloists over the bourdon – marrësi e kthyesi, that is, the person who ‘takes the song” and “the one that turns it over”.  In many cases, both voices use sophisticated ways in dealing with each other.

Çam polyphony, vocal ensemble of Fier, directed by Ruzhdi Veliu.
Solists Shaban Zeneli and Ismail Hyseni, Avazi i Tanës, Fier, March 1999, shooting by Elisa Piria.

The çam singers have been distinguished for their extraordinary ability in embellishing the melodic lines. In the cases where the vocal groups mingle with instrumental ones, the vocal embellishments “compete” with the instrumental ones. The lyrics, besides the ritual and functional aspects, deal with historical subjects. Most of them are related to the tragic events of çam people. Very interesting is the elegji, where prevail the nostalgia and the yearning for the abandoned lands in the Greek territories; these pieces are monodic and are performed usually by men.

Concert of traditional çam music by Threspotia ensemble.
Valona, March 1999, shooting byNicola Scaldaferri.

Many foreign scholars have researched çam music, bringing many significant insights on it, sometimes even more meticulous in comparison with the output of Albanian scholars that had to include this music into the rigid categories that were imposed in the Albanian ‘academia’ during the communist regime (from the 50s to the 90s of last century).
The first important text on Albanian music published on the international level was dedicated to the çam: D. Stockmann-W. Fiedler-E.Stockmann, Albanische Volksmusik, Bd. 1, Gesänge der Çamen, Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für deutsche Volkskunde, Bd. 36, Berlin 1965. This volume published the results of an expedition that has been done in the year 1957. The German scholars had as a guide in the field, Ramadan Sokoli, a prominent figure in Albanian ethnomusicology, whose scientific and teaching contributions have been left aside during the regime years.
After the fall of the dictatorial regime, there has been a growing interest in this music. An important one is that of Bernard Lortat-Jacob and Hélèn Delaporte. Their documentary Chant d’un pays perdu (2006) is dedicated to the çam singer Shaban Zeneli and to his journey in the Greek border. Then, the work in progress of Eckehard Pistrick, who is actually checking out the present situation in the field and comparing it with the German expedition of 1957.
Nicola Scaldaferri has been focused on çam after Ramadan Sokoli suggestions. Beginning with 1998 he did different trips in the community of Fier, Patos, Rrogozhina, and Vlora, with the support of the political and cultural çam associations directed by Hilmi Saqe. He worked mainly with members of Hyseni and Velia family, in Fier and with the singer Shaban Zeneli and Refat Sulejmani. His teammates on this project were Elisa Piria, Stefano Vaja and latter on Alexandra Nikolskaya.


Ten years later at Fier, in the family Hyseni’s house, listenings to recordings made in November 1998.
September 2008, shooting by Alexandra Nikolskaya.

Besides the documentation and the study of musical repertoire, should be mentioned as well a series of activities in Italy, including forums, work-shops, conferences and concerts on çam polyphony. Some of them are listed below:
– The festival Suoni dal Mondo [Sounds from the World] (Bologna, November 1999);
– The concert Corpi, gesti e musiche in area balcanica [Bodies, Gestures and Musics in the Balkan] in the festival Il corpo del suono [The Body of Sound] (Biennale Musica, Venice, 2009);
The seminar Polifonie in viva voce [Live Polyphonic Voices], directed by Maurizio Agamennone (Fondazione Cini, Venezia, November 17th, 2010).

Janus Delaj and çam singers from Fier and Rogozhina, Il corpo del suono [The Body of Sound], La Biennale Musica, Venice, October 2009, shooting by Lorenzo Ferrarini.


Field recordings of Çam music by Nicola Scaldaferri, 1998-1999

Shyqyrone Hyseni, Nani nani more bir (lullaby).
Fier, November 1998, shooting by Nicola Scaldaferri.

Anifea Shabani, Sa krie të that moj nëna ime (funeral lament)
One of the informants of E. and D. Stockmann and W. Fiedler, performs again the funeral lament recorded  in 1957.
Vlora, March 1999, recorded by Nicola Scaldaferri.

Ismail Hyseni, Delvina me Çamërinë (elegy, solo voice).
Fier, November 1998, recorded by Nicola Scaldaferri.

Vocal and instrumental ensamble Dodona from Fier coordinate by Ruzhdi Veliu
solo voices Refat Sulejmani and Mustafa Skënderi from Rogozhina, solo clarinet Neki Barjami from Patos; Çelo Mezani
Fier, November 1998, recorded by Nicola Scaldaferri.