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Lyrical side to Kosovo's war

Folk tunes change to fit the conflict. Some heal while others instilldefiance.

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From his cluttered house in the hills above the Kosovo capital, Hashim Shala writes history.

Not with pen and ink, but with a qiftelia, a two-stringed instrument resembling a guitar, and a high-pitched, quivering voice that speaks of war, death, and heroes who fight for independence.

In this traditional society of ethnic Albanians, where songs spread through the rural villages faster than books, musicians like Mr. Shala often have the final word in how the past is remembered. And what they say is not always comforting.

"The women and children are crying," he sings.

"They are escaping the police and hiding in the trees.

"A worse thing could not happen to anyone.

"Because of the Serbs we left our homes."

Shala and other musicians in Pristina say that there has been a dramatic change in the Kosovar Albanian music scene since war broke out a year ago. The trend extends from the traditional folk music that Shala plays with a qiftelia, to hard rock played with electric guitars and synthesizers. What they have in common is an overpowering war motif.

While some songs speak of healing and reconciliation, others are lined with feelings of revenge and defiance - an unsettling tendency as world powers try to bring peace to this poor southern Serbian province, where a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants independence.

"I always keep a tear in my eye to see a free Kosovo," sings Adelena Ismajli in her hard-rock song called "UCK," the Albanian language initials for the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

"But from today, we have a bullet for their [the Serbs'] heads."

Ms. Ismajli, who, as a model, sometimes poses in KLA fatigues, explains, "In the beginning I was afraid of war. Now I'm not. I want to give people hope that we're not poor children who are afraid. We can fight back."

Many of the singers come from the central region of Drenica, which has always been the heart of ethnic Albanian resistance. Drenica is where the KLA first sprang up, and it is also where last summer the Serbs carried out their strongest offensive to date.

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