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Fifty-one years ago, a small instrument was found in Runik/Rudnik, a village located within the hilly Drenica Valley. Made of clay, it is approximately eight centimetres in height, with two finger holes on either side, and a small mouthpiece at its highest point.
The instrument is at least 5000 years old, with some estimates placing it at nearly 8000 years old.
What they found was an ocarina. In the local languages of Albanian and Serbian, it is known as an Okarina, and this one specifically as the Okarina of Runik/Rudnik.
Shaqir Hoti, is one of the eminent musical authorities in Kosovo, and has dedicated his life to studying folk instruments. Born in the small village of Rugovë in the Has region in 1936, he is working to revive this ancient instrument.
However, the path to remaking the Okarina took quite some time. Despite being found in 1969, it was not until 2002 that Shaqir Hoti was able to recreate it.
“When I saw the Okarina [in the museum] it immediately made me so curious, I wanted to take it into my hands and play with it” he said.
“My friend and I went to the director of the museum, and asked if we could see it, only to hear its voice. We made a lot of requests, but they never agreed to it.” He added.
After the conflict ended in 1999, the Okarina was no longer in the museum, and Shaqir Hoti’s quest was nearly over, until a chance encounter with one of the original archaeologists.
“She had held the original in her hands, and she told me its form and everything else. From her, I took the first original picture, and its height and length.”
“I immediately started to work on the first one, day and night, a lot of months, many months passed until I had made the first one. It is a very delicate instrument and the process is difficult.”
“After all the work I dedicated to this one, I brought the instrument to the archaeologists, and they were very surprised, they said ‘how could he?’”
“The feeling when I heard that first note, it was this unbelievable pleasure, and I wanted to know more” he said.
Now, Shaqir Hoti has perfected the process of making Okarinas, and is working with a diverse range of people to teach them how to revive this ancient sound. Despite his age Shaqir’s enthusiasm and energy rivals his students.
One of his students is Gëzim Zeka, 19, from Mitrovicë/a, who learnt about the workshop from one of his teachers.
“It [the Okarina of Runik/Rudnik] is a special one, its structure is unique. They have found many others around the world, but this one is different.” He said.
Gezim explains that learning about the history of the Okarina as well as how to make them is vital.
“All my years I learnt about other instruments, guitars, pianos and the like, but they are not ‘ours’ in this way. So, this is important for us, to learn about our history. It is important for Kosovo, everyone should have one in their house.”
The students are impressed by the many sounds the Okarina can produce, despite its simple form.
Taulant Sllamniku, 21, from Lipjan/Lipljan, compares it to the clarinet, his instrument of training.
“The thing is, there are only two holes and the mouthpiece, yet from only three you can make many melodies. This is what is unique [about the Okarina]. With the clarinet, there are many holes – too many holes – and you can many different sounds. But with this, if you hear the melodies that are made with only three holes, it really is special.”
Taulant begins to describe how to create the Okarina, “the easy part is the argjila [clay] itself, you have to mould it with water, because it is quite hard without it, the water makes it easier to manipulate, to change its shape.”
Both students explain that during the moulding process you must be quite careful and pay attention to any small rocks or particles within the clay.
“The clay can have these small rocks in it, and if it has too many of these the shape is ruined” says Taulant.
“When you put the Okarina to heat, these small rocks will make it crack, so you have to start the whole process again” Gezim adds.
Gezim and Taulant have hopes for the future and see themselves as instrumental in reviving and celebrating the Ocarina.
“I hope that this instrument lasts forever in Kosovo and that we continue, this is a good opportunity because we are the next generation” says Gezim.
It is not only young students learning how to create these precious instruments, but also two teachers from Kosovo's Bosniak community who seek to pass this knowledge onto their own students.
Ismail Kulici, is a music teacher in a small middle school. What he enjoys most about the Okarina is its ability to unite people of different backgrounds and cultures.
“I feel very pleasant when we work with instruments, because we are not separated, the music unites us” he says. “The Okarina is a fantastic instrument, it is the perfect instrument for the generations to come because it is easy to learn, but hard to master.”
Gafur Ibrahimii, also teaches music in a small village school. With the knowledge that he has gained at these workshops, he is hoping to teach his own students.
“They had the first session of the workshop, my colleague, Xhevdet, posted a picture on Facebook. All my students said they were interested by this [the Okarina] and how to make it” he says.
“I can’t wait to do this, to show my students. They know what it looks like now, but they have never seen it themselves, they have never heard it. I am enthusiastic to bring the knowledge back to my students.”
Shaqir Hoti has hopes for the future and wishes to see the ocarina become more popular not only in Kosovo, but all over Europe.
“I always think from my experience [in the orchestra]. Everywhere we went with traditional instruments, we had particular success. This Okarina, it is so simple. If children from primary school can learn how to play it, everyone will be appreciative of it, proud of it. It has a sweet voice.”
Eleonora Kelmendi, UNDP ‘Inter-community Dialogue Through Inclusive Cultural Heritage Preservation’ Project Officer, said “These workshops offer students from diverse backgrounds to understand the Ocarina, to gather knowledge, to see it, touch it, and to produce a sound symbolic of Kosovo’s heritage.
This is what the master and custodian Mr. Shaqir Hoti was able to offer to younger generations, and it was made possible by the support and dedication of donors who promote Kosovo’s unique cultural heritage.”
The workshop is a part of the EU-funded ‘Inter-community Dialogue through Inclusive Cultural Heritage Preservation’ project which is implemented by UNDP in Kosovo.