Dina e Mel: Bërbili

December 8, 2020

Renaissance Project

Listening Post 281. The seed for Bërbili (Nightingale) was planted in 1999 when a professor asked musicology student Dina Bušić to research and record music representing her heritage. On her mother’s side she is Arbanasi, descended from Albanian Catholic refugees who settled in her home town of Zadar, Croatia, in the eighteenth century, when the city was a stronghold of the Venetian Republic. The descendants lost much of their culture but retained their Albanian dialect into modern times. From family members Dina gathered eight songs for her project. Fast forward to 2017: Now a singer, theater producer and director of the Zadar Concert Office, Dina was invited to perform her collected songs to promote a new Arbanasi language textbook. With guitarist-composer Melita Ivković, she unveiled the music to a rapt audience, including many elderly Arbanasi who wept on hearing echoes of their history. Mel convinced her partner that the material was a treasure they could develop and the resulting album—subtitled “Forgotten Songs of the Zadar Arbanasi”—travels back in time and also thrusts past into present, layering historic texts with classical and traditional melodies echoing East and West and with the enriching interpretations of the two artists. Floating on Dina’s sterling soprano and Mel’s stunning arrangements, the songs breathe nature, identity, yearning: The title track (video 1) is a crosscurrent of nightingale moods; Ishjë një ditë të mojit majit (One Day in the Month of May, video 2) is a sprightly waltz; and in Zogu I Verës, the Spring Bird (video 3) recognizes its migratory equals. Me ofičala/Jam Arbëneš (With Officers/I Am Arbanasi!, video 4) is a tarantella medley pairing resistance and attraction to ethnic pride. And Arbëneši vendi tem (Arbëneshi, My Home, video 5) pictures the ancestors in the act of leaving. By reviving these voices Dina and Mel have created a renaissance project for a Renaissance city. In performing the old songs, they also saved them. (Nota Bene)

Bonus video: The making of Bërbili (video 6).

Note. Arbanasi is a dialect of Gheg, one of the two main variants Albanian; after centuries as an exile language it has picked up Italian and Slavic influences. Today some 4,000 Arbanasi live in Croatia, mostly in or near Zadar. Bërbili includes seven songs from the Zadar Arbanasi and two from Arbanasi whose forebears settled in Italy.

Dina e Mel: Bërbili / Nightingale / Slavuj
Forgotten Songs of the Zadar Arbanasi
Dina Bušić: Voice
Melita Ivković: Guitar
Miroslav Tadić: Guitar
Edin Karamazov: Guitar, saz
Yvette Holzwarth: Violin


Bërbili / Nightingal
Text: Bruno Morović Grišpa / Melody: Traditional

(From the Arbanasi lyrics)
In your meadow night and day
Young maiden
Thus sings the Nightingale!

“You will blossom just for me
Young maiden”
Thus sings the Nightingale!


Ishjë një ditë të mojit majit / One Day in the Month of May
Text & melody: Anonymous

One day in the month of May/One beautiful and bright day
I lifted my eyes to the cloudless sikes/And saw an eagle who spoke in our way

One day in the month of May/Sunny and bright but for a lonely cloud
A violet was casting a shadow/I picked it all happy and proud

When I came home/Mother asked: What flower is this?
When I came home/Mother asked, What flower is this?

It is the violet casting a shadow/I plucked it all happy and proud
It is the violet casting a shadow/I plucked it all happy and proud

My rose, my flower so young/Everyone knows I was the one
Who saw you first, now you are mine/No one dares come near


Zogu I Verës / Spring Bird
Text & melody: Traditional

Spring bird sings its song
In the meadows, through the crops and fields
Spring bird sings its song
In the meadows, through the crops and fields

And now everyone knows
That Arbëneshi are we.


Me ofičala / With Officers
Jam Arbëneš / I am Arbënesh!
Text & melody: Traditional

They put on their fine stockings
They take off their worn socks
All dolled up in silk dresses

Strolling around with officers
Not wanting the Arbënishi men
In dread awaiting if they will marry them

I am Arbënesh!
Man of faith
When I go to church

I am Arbënesh!
With warmth in my heart
When I go to church
To Our Lady I pray


Arbëneši vendi tem / Arbëneshi, My Home
Text: Bruno Morovid Grispa / Melody: Traditional, reminiscent of Torna a Surriento

Arbëneshi, my home/My heart aches for you
And now I weep with sorrow/With tears in my eyes I take my leave from you

Leaving behind the Fountain and the pine trees/Seeing them again only in my dreams
I will never see Arbëneshi again/The thought of this makes me weep

I take my leave to venture into foreign lands/Leaving my heart with you
Not knowing when I will ever see you again/But do not think I will ever forget you

Bregdeti and Karma think in wonder/Where are all our people going?
Why are they leaving me?/They are going far away into foreign lands.

Oh, Arbëneshi/I could never forget you
Because I love you so much/Tears are falling from my eyes


Bërbili: The making of the album



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