Albania is a Balkan nation that was ruled by Enver Hoxha's socialist government for much of the later part of the 20th century. Even before Hoxha's reign began, Albania was long controlled by the Ottoman Empire and other conquering powers, leading to a diversity of influences that is common in the much-fragmented Balkan region. Albanians (and the ethnic-Albanian Kosovars of nearby Serbia) are commonly divided into three groupings: the northern Ghegs and southern Labs and Tosks. Turkish influence is strongest around the capital city, Tirana, while Shkodėr has been long considered the centre for musical development in Albania.
Music has always been a potent means of national expression for Albanians. Under Hoxha's regime, this was channelled into songs of patriotic devotion to the party; since the arrival of democracy in 1991, lyrics have come to focus on long-suppressed traditions like kurbet (seeking work outside of Albania) and support for various political parties, candidates and ideas. Pop musicians have developed too, long banned under the socialists, with Ardit Gjebrea.
Folk music was encouraged to some degree under the socialist government, who promoted a quinquennial music festival at Gjirokastėr provided that the musicians expressed frequent support for the party leaders. After the fall of socialism, Albanian Radio-Television launched a 1995 festival in Berat that has helped to continue musical traditions.
The Ghegs from north of the Shkumbini River are known for a distinctive variety of sung epic poetry. The most traditional variety is called Rapsodi Kreshnike and is made by moustachioed men, now mostly elderly. Somewhat further south, around Dibėr and Kėrēovė in Macedonia, Turkish elements are strong. Many of the epic stories are about Skanderbeg, a legendary 15th century warrior. Recent traditional artists include Muēa-Mustafa, Fatime Sokoli, Sali Mani and Shaqir Ēervadiku. Traditional instruments include the ēifteli and sharki, which have been used in large bands since the Second World War to great popular acclaim.
The city of Shkodėr has long been the cultural capital of Albania, and its music is considered the most sophisticated in the country. Bosnian sevdalinke is an important influence on music from the area, which is complex, with shifts through major and minor scales and an oriental sound. Traditional musicians from Shkodėr include Bujar Qamili, Luēija Miloti, Xhevdet Hafizi and Bik Ndoja.
Albania's capital, Tirana, is the home of Alb-pop, which is dominated by Gypsy influences and has been popularised at home and in emigrant communities internationally by Merita Halili, Parashqevi Simaku and Myslim Leli. In recent times, influences from Western Europe and the United States in particular have led to the creation of bands of rock, pop, rap, and of nearly every other musical form.
Southern Albanian music is soft and gentle, and polyphonic in nature. Vlorė in the southwest has perhaps the most unique vocal traditions in the area, with four distinct parts (taker, thrower, turner and drone) that combine to create a complex and emotionally cathartic melody. The Tosk people are known for ensembles consisting of violins, clarinets, llautė (a kind of lute) and def. Eli Fara, a popular émigré performer, is from Korēė, but the city of Pėrmet is the centre for southern musical innovation, producing artists like Remzi Lela and Laver Bariu.
Southern instrumental music includes the sedate kaba (listen to a sample in Ogg Vorbis format), an ensemble-driven form driven by a clarinet or violin alongside accordions and llautės, as well as the ethnic Greek inhabitants of Dropulli, whose music is very similar to that of Epirus in Greece.