In the 5 year cycle, after 2004, 2009 was the year for the next Festival Folklorik Kombëtar (National Folklor Festival) to be held in Gjirokastër. Due to better road conditions and improved infrastructure this year the ensembles for the first night performance did not have to arrive the night before the opening day. In 2004 the first ensembles arrived the night before and dancing and singing in the streets started already on the day before. Now it was relatively calm in Gjirokastër and no occasional tourist would have thought about the noise and turmoil of the following days.
The official opening of the festival on the 24th of September 2009 was held at 16:00 hrs, much later than the previous one in 2004, but also now the ensembles arrived in time and already hours before the official opening all group members were assembled in the main entrance to the old city. This was the time for music, song and dance with all members, visitors and locals from Gjirokastër to enjoy and greet each other again after 5 years. An ideal opportunity to photograph or film the assembled groups in their beautiful colorful costumes or to dance along with them.
After the official opening everybody walked up the steep roads to the citadel, high above the main square. Some took the long winding climb, others took the “thousand steps “ trail. Many got out of breath before they arrived at the big gate to the festival ground, but this was just the first exercise to 5 more days of climbing up that hill for those that stayed for the whole festival. Five more days of performance were there to come. Each night starting at 18:00 hrs two ensembles from different regions in Albania, one or two ensembles by Albanians from the neighboring countries like Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece and last but not least one ensemble from emigrants, this year from the USA, Swiss and Italy.
During the days songs and music could be heard throughout Gjirokastër everywhere, sometimes in the restaurants and bars, sometimes in somebody’s garden or house.
The last night’s performance was closed by a performance by the AKKVP, the Ansambli Kombëtar I Këngëve dhe Valleve Popullore, the National Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances.
During this last performance the jury made up its mind about the winners of the contest. The festival is a competition to encourage ensembles, performers and regional or local authorities to keep their traditions alive. Every performance has to incorporate a number of elements on which they are judged. At least there should be singing, instrumental music, dancing, a ritual and folk costumes.
At the end of the festival ensembles, groups or individuals may get a certificate for the best performance in song, dance, music, ritual or costumes. Originality in reviving older traditions is rewarded, but also the whole of the presentation of a regional ensemble is taken into account.
Competition or not, the people from Gjirokastër and surrounding villages enjoy the performances and of course the last night with the ensemble from Gjirokastër itself the citadel was filled with people. Admission is free so everybody comes to see and enjoy.
The program for the festival:
24th of September: Tirana, Korça and group 1 from Kosovo
25th of September: Elbasan, Vlore and group 2 from Kosovo, greetings from Switzerland (Emigrants)
26th of September: Macedonia 1, Shkodra and Kukës, greetings from Italy (Arbëresh)
27th of September: Montenegro, Berat and Lezha, greetings from Greece (Arvanita)
28th of September: Macedonia 2, Durrës and Fier, greetings from USA (Ens Bashkimi)
29th of September: Group 3 from Kosovo, Dibrë and Gjirokastër, AKKVP Tirana
Everyday a special newspaper was handed out with news, interviews and comments on the performances of the day before. Radio Television Shqiptare, RTSH, was recording the festival each night and was broadcasted the day after at different times of the day. In this way, all Albania and Albanians abroad could enjoy the performances.
For those invited there was an after-party at a restaurant near Tepëlenë in which Mr Esat Ruka, director of the Qendra Kombëtare e Veprimtarive Folklorike Shqiptare (National Centre for Immaterial Folklore) thanked all of the staff and other people who made the festival to a success.
That was the final act of the FFK Gjirokastër 2009, but already the start for the next festival, probably in 2014….or maybe sooner….
There are rumours that thoughts have been given to organize the Gjirokastër festival more often, maybe once in 3 years, 2 years or every year, maybe not in the same format and maybe shorter in days….let’s hope for the best.