“Why the mountains are black ’24: musical cultures of the Southern Balkans”: The three-day festival returns to Konitsa

“The mountains may be black, but they are also bright – music heals because it contains all the emotions, and the best traditions open up unknown ways of creatively transforming the past. “Sometimes the music of the past can show us the best way to keep ourselves alive.”
The Wire, David Rothenberg, August

For the second year, Onassis Foundation Shelter and Grammy Award-winning producer Christopher King return to Konitsa in search of new answers to the question “Why are the mountains black?” The internationally renowned three-day festival comes to discover the music of the Balkans, explore its roots and branches.

As The Wire characteristically wrote last year: “The King Onassis Foundation and House are organizing the first inter-Balkan music festival in Konitsa, just over the Greek-Albanian border. This is a truly remarkable event. Rarely does a music festival start with such literary expectations.” From legendary 78-loop gramophone “recordings” of folk songs from Christopher King’s collection to musicians and dancers from Greece and the Balkans, screenings of films by Viktor Gjika and Nikos Ziogas, and workshops open to the public, the three-day Why Yes? From June 28 to 30, “black mountains ’24” is an immersive audio and visual experience that will transform those who attend.

Music groups and singers from all over Greece, Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Croatia have been invited to perform and present their music, along with accompanying dancers. Special attention was paid to the cooperation with the dance clubs of Epirus. For each day of the event, Christopher King will give a short presentation based on commercial recordings taken between 1913 and 1958 and drawn from his personal record collection. In addition, the first two evenings of the three days (Friday and Saturday) will feature both regional and musical film screenings. These screenings will be framed by installations of both Christopher King and the directors and their relatives.

“Today’s national borders in the southern Balkans arose after the collapse of the multinational Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. The musical traditions of the Southern Balkans reflected the mosaic of different ethnic, linguistic and religious groups living in the wider region. However, as borders solidified and populations migrated, music in these areas bypassed ethnic characteristics and took on national characteristics. Nevertheless, the common origins of these various musical traditions are still evident today as they evolve into their modern forms.

“Why the Mountains Are Black ’24: Musical Cultures of the Southern Balkans” explores how these traditions have developed, changed, assimilated and manifested in the 21st century. These three days of music, dance and rare film footage from both sides of Greece’s northern border are directed by Grammy Award-winning producer and writer Christopher King. Events are his exclusive production RoofIt is held at the Hamkos House in Konitsa, the spiritual center of the Onassis Foundation and South Balkan music. To fully appreciate the rich cultural heritage of Greek folk music, we must understand all the parts involved in the whole.”

— Christopher King, ethnomusicologist, writer, producer, and devotee of traditional music

The mystique continues. The three-day second annual festival will welcome musicians from Croatia, Kortsa, Messolonghi, North Macedonia, Prespes, Thessaloniki and other countries.

Christopher King envisions a public program that will continue to deepen our understanding of the musical cultures of Greece and the southern Balkans. He believes that music is not a static, monotonous thing, but rather a complex, evolving, boundless human phenomenon, and that culture and history can be understood through the lens of music.


Friday, June 28 | 20:30-23:30
Christopher King will open the three-day Why the Mountains Are Black ’24: Musical Cultures of the Southern Balkans, playing a 78-turn themed disc of male polyphonic music from Albania, a rare pipiza recording, and clarinet music from Southern Gypsies. Other 78 groups of Albania will also explain the musical content of this first night. Afterwards, live musicians will perform and the evening will conclude with a film screening.

  • Part 1: Laboratory group (Six polyphonic singers from the Liapuria region of Albania, mainly Golik Jaupi)
  • Part 2: Ilias Kakarukas With the formation of Agrinio (three gypsy musicians accompanied by members of the “Ai Symios” Festival Association)
  • Part 3: Screening of Victor Gjica’s General Gramophone (a film about the music of Southern Albania during the Italian occupation of the country) with Christopher King, Dimitris, with a foreword by the director’s daughter Ester Gjika. .

Saturday, June 29 | 20:30-23:30
Christopher King continues his three-day “Why Are the Mountains Black ’24: Musical Cultures of the Southern Balkans” story by playing 78-rpm recordings from Croatia, North Macedonia, Thesprotia and other 78s. Afterwards, live musicians will perform and the evening will conclude with a film screening.

  • Part 1: Adam Semijalak and FIG (Croatian “annoying” traditional and chorus)
  • Part 2: Nova Prespa Band by Panos Skouteris and Aurel Girjo (Brass ensemble from Prespa, North Macedonia, with musicians from Epirus)
  • Part 3: “Etimion |.” screening of the film “Ode to Epirus” by Nikos Ziogas (a film about the passage of time, the change of tradition and the existence of music in the village of Thesprotia), directed and translated by Dimitris Dallas, with a foreword by Dimitris Chrysomallis.

Sunday, June 30 | 20:30-23:30
Christopher King closes out three days of Why the Mountains Are Black ’24: Musical Cultures of the Southern Balkans, playing 78-rpm recordings from Macedonia, Bulgaria and beyond. Lives will follow.

  • Part 1 of the Act: Alkyone (Greek traditional songs and dreamy combination from Macedonia)
  • Part 2: Samir Kurtov (Quartet of Gypsy virtuosos in zournas from south-west Bulgaria)

Traditional Croatian song workshop with Fige Choir
Saturday, June 29 | 11:00 | Old market square

By attending this workshop, the audience and participants will be able to understand and conceptualize the elements of Croatian traditional song, more specifically, its vocal and melodic structure. The goal is to begin the process of learning these songs.

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