Our seventh Possible Artists article is focused on the nation which has blessed the ESC stage with Rona Nishliu, Juliana Pasha, Kejsi Tola in the past, to name but a few. No pressure, then, Albania! This article will focus on the Albanian artists which I would personally recommend for their upcoming participation in Denmark, which will be their eleventh in total.
So, in their brief but frankly brilliant Eurovision history, Albania have never strayed once from the December “Festivali I Këngës” selection format – which can prove to be entertaining in itself, owing to the incomprehensible chit-chat between performers and presenters, the Microsoft Office scoreboard and the abundance of “ë”s which are all staples of the competition each year. In spite of all this, they’ve managed to come up with a diverse set of entries which pretty much all hit the spot for me one way or another (can we all just take a step back and have a “” moment please? … … … good. Moving on.)
The Albanian entry – even when translated into English or taking stylistic influence from more Western genres – always seems to come across as an authentic portrayal of Albanian music in some way… not surprising when you consider that Festivali I Këngës has been a household name in the country for over fifty years, and has become something of a cultural year-end ritual; its association with Eurovision now attracting a wider pan-European audience. However, for all that they have sent ten authentic entries, I wouldn’t say they’ve ever gone as authentic as this…
Cue Maya Aliçkaj. This lady could be described as the queen of Albanian traditional folk music; and unlike the Bulgarian chalga stars I wrote about last week, there isn’t any attempt at genre fusion here. This is just straight down the line folk, complete with chanting and insane flute solos. As a vocalist, Maya stays true to her regional singing style, showcasing her contralto voice in its element. She has evidently been brought up around the genre, as she has such a rapport with her backing band that she can pull off charming improvised performances like this – in Philadelphia of all places. Her charisma and enjoyment of the music would undoubtedly create an almost Flor-de-Lis-esque charm to any prospective Albanian entry she would front, however the genre is more than a little left-field.
That’s where infectious melodies like this one would come in handy:
I do believe this one isn’t an original, but it demonstrates the sort of thing that I would hope for in a Maya Aliçkaj ESC entry. The focus is on the melody, both in the vocals and the sublime violins. There’s an interesting percussion section, and clever incorporation of the traditional male backing choirs (who, for some reason I’m imagining would look a bit like Nelly Ciobanu’s hora dancers?!)
Of course, I fully appreciate that this genre is a “love-it-or-loathe-it” kinda thing. I am part of the former, but judging by the dire results of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Croatia in 2013, it could be inferred that folk isn’t exactly the best route to go down in the modern-day contest. Have we ever had anything as folky as Maya before? No. Have Albania ever tried anything along these lines before? No. Would it work? Jury’s still out.
So, if I were to suggest a more reliable proposal for Eurovision 2014, I’d hope that RTSH would turn to an artist like Blerta Gaçe:
Before you ask, yes: she is related to Aurela – and as I’ve only just discovered, they are in fact sisters. (thanks to Rinor for that one XD)
This song, which was entered into last year’s “Kenga Magjike” festival in Albania showcases a much more Westernised sound than her sister’s 2011 ESC entry – and indeed Maya. Such an internationally popular RnB/Dance song such as “Sky Is The Limit” would undoubtedly be installed as a fan-favourite, which would at least give some momentum to the Albanian entry. And, who knows, if Blerta’s live vocals are anywhere near as stunning as those of her sister, then she would certainly be able to perform the socks off a song like this. Give her a bunch of ripped male dancers to provide the energy and eye candy, allow her to concentrate on the vocals, and we would have an Albanian entry like none they have ever sent before. Bang up to date, and catchy as hell.
Although, Blerta, Alenka Gotar called and she wants her hand-light thing back. Tut tut.
From an outsider’s point of view, you’d assume that Blerta’s participation in “Kenga Magjike” would indicate that she is open to the idea of other music festivals such as FiK – however there is a difference between the calibre of artists who take part in both of these festivals. “Kenga Magjike” produces music specifically aimed at the charts, and generally features more well-known signed artists. In FiK, a more traditional stage, the majority of singers are unsigned or less renowned in Albania, indicating that perhaps Blerta would be above such a show. However, Aurela’s 2011 participation shows there is precedent for a big name at FiK, so I wouldn’t rule her sister out just yet!
If you have time, have a listen to these other Albanian artists who we would both recommend!
Rinor Nuhiu from Albania: Elvana Gjata, Samanta Karavello, Alban Skenderaj or Kamela Islamaj for me! Even though, none of them will compete in FiK! I haven’t heard Blerta Gaçe live yet but maybe, who knows…
Shelly Eurovision from Germany: I love such songs. (Maya) But for ESC perhaps too traditional folk. Unfortunately.
Michael Romano from Australia: I would personally like to see Juliana Pasha representing Albania again
Bessa Halimi from Kosovo: PLEASE RTSH SEND ELHAIDA DANI NEXT YEAR!!!!!
The views on Albania have, I think more than any other country we’ve featured so far, highlighted how many popular artists could potentially be chosen. It seems like I’m alone in the Maya camp, but it’s a very niche choice and I wouldn’t expect many people to share my enthusiasm for her music. In this case, the fans have come up with a wealth of other names that Albania would do well to consider in 2014! Do you agree with them? Feel free to leave your opinion below!