Quilted Flowers: 1940s Albanian & Epirot Recordings from the Balkan Label

by Canary Records

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about

Ajdin Asllan war born in Leskovik near the present-day southern border of Albania on March 12, 1895. He arrived in New York September 20, 1926, and when he filed his Declaration of Intent to become an American citizen two years later as a resident of Detroit, he gave his occupation as "musician."

He launched an independent label to release his own recordings, called Mi-Re around 1937, but it stalled after about 5 releases. He re-launched the label around 1942 as "Me Re" with the help of the Bulgarian violinist Nicola Doneff, and quickly renamed it Balkan. (For a short while the Greek accordionist John Gianaro was a partner.) Doneff, in turn, named his own adjunct label Kaliphon, while continuing to record prolifically for Balkan. A third label, Metropolitan, was launched and became at catchall for Greek, Turkish, Armenian Ladino material, drawing from much of the same New York social circle as the Balkan and Kaliphon label recordings, but it's not clear who was in charge.

While living first at 143 Norfolk St. and then at 42 Rivington St, both in Manhattan's Lower East Side (along with his wife Emverije, 15 years his junior from the town of Korce, who arrived in 1931), where Russian and Austrian Jews cohabitated with the small Albanian community, he corresponded with his brother in Albania, and was able to secure masters of Albanian performers that had not been issued otherwise and put them out in the U.S. on the Balkan label.

Through the 1940s and '50s, he worked with a a network of Greek-, Armenian-, and Turkish-speaking performers in New York and issued scores of recordings made both locally and overseas, particularly in Istanbul, including superb and lasting performances by Rosa Eskenazi and Udi Hrant. But despite the small market for Albanian-language songs, he made sure to release discs, recorded both in New York and Tirana, for his countrymen with nothing to distinguish their origin on their labels.

The last Balkan label releases were LPs issued around 1960, more than 20 years after Asllan released his first discs. He visited his native home and family in 1951, 25 years after having become American.
He died in New York in October,1976.

We think that Asllan's Balkan label released about 70 songs for the Albanian-language market ca. 1942-49, including from Epirot (northwestern Greek) material and choral anti-fascist Communist songs. We have presented here a fraction on those roughly in the order in which they were issued. It was a time of immense political and social turbulence in Albania, and the total Albanian-speaking population in the U.S. was less than 10,000.

credits

released February 1, 2020

Transfers, restoration, and notes by Ian Nagoski.

Please note that we have retained the spellings of the track titles and artist names from the labels of the original discs rather than modifying them to contemporary transliterations.

Thank for loans of discs by Matt Laferty and another colleague whose name has gone missing among my notes. (Please remind me if you see this!)
It's unclear whether Chris King would prefer that I thank him for a point that he provided to me in the notes or not. I hope he will receive my thanks.

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