The previous man opened the case and took out a huge, pink accordion. He put the straps over his shoulders. At first, he was not sure, tentative. It had been a whereas. Then, he squeezed it, his fingers dancing over the white keys as 50 years of music came flooding again to him.
Standing on the sidewalk, he threw his head again and commenced to sing. That’s when individuals began trickling out of the close by flats. They gathered round him in a circle, clapping alongside. No one understood the phrases. He sang in a language they didn’t perceive.
It didn’t matter. They knew what the track was about: Pleasure, pure pleasure.
In 2016, Ylli Brekofca left his house in Albania, on the lookout for a higher life. In December that yr, Brekofca landed in Portland. He was 64 and beginning over.
Brekofca left behind something he couldn’t match into two small suitcases, together with his accordion. The instrument had been his fixed companion since childhood. It was simply as nicely, he thought, no one in Maine would care about Albanian music, or the folks songs he’d spent a lifetime accumulating.
Two years on, Brekofca’s made a residence right here. He’s discovered pals, an accordion and Mainers need to hear his music. After bringing the home down at a native open mic, he was provided a solo present of his personal. This week Brekofca, now 66, will sing and play music from his homeland at Mayo Road Arts in Portland.
Ylli Brekofca performed for weddings in his house nation of Albania for 50 years. Now he lives in Portland.
A father’s present
Brekofca’s father gave him an accordion when he was 15 years previous.
“I played it so much, it became like part of my body,” stated Brekofca, via his older sister, Arta, 68. She’s his interpreter whereas he learns English.
Their father needed to give Ylli a piano however that was unimaginable in Communist-ruled Albania. It was 1953 and the ruling celebration stored their tiny Balkan nation remoted from the remainder of the world. That meant no piano for Ylli, or anybody else.
Making issues worse, their father was unpopular with the communist authorities. He was arrested and interrogated greater than as soon as. He might converse English and went to an American-run Albanian highschool earlier than World Warfare II. His father might additionally sing.
“He sounded like Frank Sinatra,” stated Arta.
This made paranoid authorities leaders greater than a little suspicious of him.
Ylli was not disillusioned together with his father’s present. He liked the accordion and spent the subsequent 50 years enjoying, singing and gathering people songs from all corners of Albania. By means of all 5 many years — as Ylli grew up, married, raised two youngsters, acquired divorced and had many roles — he by no means stopped enjoying the accordion his father gave him.
Ylli Brekofca, 66, performs Albanian people music on the stage at Mayo Road Arts in Portland. Brekofca will carry out a solo present there on Sept. 21.
Wedding ceremony band
Albania is a small nation, ringed with mountains and nestled towards the Adriatic Sea. It’s poor by European requirements however wealthy in cultural heritage and musical variety.
Ylli grew up in Tirana, the capital metropolis. It sits in the middle of the nation, a crossroads attracting migrants from throughout the land. It’s a combine of each Albanian ethnic tradition and a good place to gather people music.
It was particularly good for Ylli as a result of he specialised in enjoying weddings.
When requested what number of weddings he’s performed through the years, Ylli laughs, grabbing each side of his head, as if overwhelmed with contemplation.
“Thousands?” he ponders. “Too many.”
Weddings are big to-dos in Albania. They go on all day and typically a entire week. There’s stay music — plus singing and dancing — at each flip. It begins even earlier than the groom leaves his home.
“Eat and dance and eat and dance, all night,” stated Arta.
Ylli soaked up all of the regional types of music he heard at Tirana weddings. He started writing down the phrases and melodies by ear and from reminiscence. Ylli collected greater than 400 songs into three handwritten notebooks, organized by area: One for every the north, south and central areas.
Couples and households would search him and his notebooks out in the town, figuring out he might play songs from their group. Typically, if the bride and groom have been from totally different areas, he’d play and sing a mixture of types.
Albanian music is a sonic concoction of Center Japanese, Greek, Roman and Byzantine sounds. It’s typically performed in “crooked” time signatures with odd numbered beats in every measure. Northern songs have a tendency to be rugged and rhythmic. Southern songs are smoother in tone.
Patriotism, love and revenge are widespread themes.
Albania has unusually well-preserved regional people traditions. It’s an unintended byproduct of a half-century of Communist rule. Social gathering chief Enver Hoxha managed the nation from 1944 till his demise in 1985. Though a Marxist, he broke ties with the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and China, leaving his tiny nation friendless for a lot of the Chilly Struggle.
”Let everybody perceive clearly, the partitions of our fortress are of unshakeable granite rock,” he wrote of his nation in certainly one of greater than 40 volumes of speeches revealed in his lifetime.
A 1985 New York Occasions article said that Vietnam was Albania’s solely good friend.
Hoxha’s imposed isolationism meant Albania’s native people music remained untainted by western sounds. Rock and roll was an unlawful, jailable offense. Albanian music additionally remained numerous. Regional variations in tradition have been strengthened and celebrated by the federal government. It used ethnic and tribal buildings as a method to govern with extra native authority.
On the similar time, Albania was declared an formally atheist state. Faith was outlawed. Muslims and Christians intermarried, easing most ethnic tensions.
Ylli Brekofca, who’s initially from Tirana, the capital of Albania, enjoys a glass of wine after enjoying music in Portland.
Coming to Maine
After Communism fell, Ylli and Arta, like all Albanians, loved their new freedom. They have been free to journey and converse their minds for the primary time in their lives. Nevertheless, the nation’s new, open society additionally introduced chaos and corruption to the nation’s financial system. Final yr, ongoing financial hardships pressured Ylli out of Albania.
“Albania is beautiful,” Ylli stated, with out a translation from his sister, “but no jobs, no money.”
Arta left first, in 1997, after profitable a inexperienced card lottery. Being shut kin, Ylli was ultimately allowed to comply with her.
When he left, he had to depart his accordion — the one his father had given him — behind. It was too heavy for the aircraft.
Ylli couldn’t bear to half together with his notebooks, although. He tucked them into his luggage and introduced them to America. They have been his life’s work, a written document of his musical objective, reflecting his nation’s historical past and tradition. Valuable as they have been, Brekofca didn’t assume anybody would ever worth his notebooks right here.
Ylli first stayed in New York when he came to america. He didn’t keep there lengthy. He moved to Portland to share a two-room house with Arta.
“Ylli is sleeping there,” she stated, pointing to a cot in the nook off their tidy front room. “We are poor, but it is tradition to help each other.”
Ylli stated he came to assist deal with his sister. With arthritic knees, strolling is tough for Arta. Working is unimaginable.
He might go to New York or Chicago, stated Arta, where there are giant Albanian immigrant populations. There, he might play weddings and sing in eating places.
“Some of them would know who Ylli is,” stated Arta. “Ninety-five percent of Tirana’s population would know who he is.”
However each he and Arta would moderately keep in Portland, they stated. She’s already a citizen and he hopes to develop into one as nicely.
A brand new accordion
Carpenter, artist and musician Orson Horchler typically goes by the identify Pigeon. He met Ylli in early 2017. They each confirmed up to a musical jam session placed on by the Maine Entry Immigrant Community. With out an accordion, Ylli didn’t have an instrument to play.
“He just came and listened,” stated Horchler, who grew up on the outskirts of Paris, France.
Once they met at one other jam session, a while later, Horchler secretly resolved to discover an accordion for Ylli.
To assist with that, Horchler contacted Jenny Van West, founder and sole proprietor of the Maine Immigrant Musical Instrument Undertaking. Van West’s undertaking helps match Portland’s latest Mainers up with musical devices. She’d discovered many guitars and keyboards through the years however by no means an accordion.
“I got on social media and put the word out,” stated Van West. “It only took a couple of days.”
Maine Fiddle Camp Director Doug Protsik spoke up, saying he had an additional accordion he’d purchased with the thought somebody may want it sometime.
By that point, Ylli and Horchler had turn into associates. In the future, once they have been each in Horchler’s workshop, Van West stopped by, unannounced, and handed the accordion to Ylli.
“At first, he didn’t understand I was giving it to him,” stated Van West.
When she obtained her level throughout to him, he nonetheless hesitated.
“I don’t know how to play American music,” he informed her. “I don’t know your songs.”
Horchler and Van West informed him to play his personal — Albanian — music. So he did.
Ylli stood on the sidewalk that day, final summer time, singing and enjoying for 30 minutes straight. A crowd of neighbors gathered spherical him, clapping alongside. None spoke Albanian however they applauded on the finish, simply the identical.
“It was immediately clear this guy had been doing this his whole life,” stated Van West. “He was a virtuoso.”
Recalling the scene right now, Ylli clasps each palms to his coronary heart and beams.
Ylli and Horchler at the moment are in a band collectively, together with a Congolese percussionist. It’s referred to as Bondeko. They will’t converse a lot of one another’s languages however, one way or the other, it really works, stated Horchler.
“Orson is my brother — not by the blood — but he is my brother,” stated Ylli. “And Jenny is my sister.”
Three notebooks filled with Albanian people songs sit on a desk (prime photograph) at Ylli Brekofca’s condominium in Portland. There’s one for every area of the nation: North, south and central. Brekofca (above left, far left) performs together with his new buddies and bandmates Orson Horchler (middle) and Jarin Tchicaya in Portland in June. Their international-flavored band known as Bondeko. Brekofca performs his new, pink accordion (above proper).
A solo gig
Maine will get a probability to hear a entire night time of Ylli’s Albanian people music this week when he takes the stage at Mayo Road Arts in Portland.
He was provided the gig after enjoying a few songs at a world open mic night time there.
“The first time we heard Ylli, he blew us away,” stated Erika Jensen of Mayo Road Arts.
Ylli remembers that look.
“It was a little bit scary,” he stated. “I know how to sing but I didn’t know if they would understand.”
Van West stated the language barrier hardly issues when Ylli performs. She’s positive it gained’t be a drawback.
“It’s hard to sit in a room, listen to him and not be moved,” stated Van West. “He’s so charming.”
Ylli is wanting ahead to the present however nonetheless can’t fairly consider how issues have turned out right here. He by no means anticipated to make such associates or have the chance to share the music in his notebooks.
“It felt bad coming here without an accordion. I was getting older. I felt like that [musical] part of my life was over,” stated Ylli. “Now, with the new accordion, it feels like another part of my life is just starting.”
Ylli Brekofca performs Friday, September 21 at 7 p.m. at Mayo Road Arts in Portland. Name (207) 879-4629 for extra info.
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