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A Journey of Music, Culture, and Hospitality: The Story of Albanian Eurovision Representative Albina and the Kelmendi Family

The Whispering Wind

After eight long years of absence, I returned to my homeland of Kosovo via a winding path through Ukraine. Upon setting foot on familiar soil, I was immediately struck by the looming threat of Russian aggression in the country’s northern regions. Nevertheless, I was eager to rediscover the rich cultural tapestry that had enticed me to call Kosovo home in the first place.

My sojourn in London had been marked by a relentless pursuit of journalistic excellence, as I documented the political upheavals of contemporary Britain and the protracted conflicts that ravaged the Middle East. But as I bore witness to the unprovoked aggression of the Russian military against Ukraine, I have stirred to action once again, drawn back to the front lines of war reporting.

However, my return to Kosovo also afforded me the opportunity to explore a more vibrant and uplifting side of life, one that I had not previously experienced as a journalist. During a leisurely afternoon tea in Prishtina, I was introduced to a talented musical family whose triumphs had earned them a place in the coveted Euro Vision Song Contest.

As I embarked on this new journey of discovery, I was filled with a sense of awe and wonder at the warmth and hospitality that still permeated the air in Kosovo. Here, amidst the tumult of geopolitical conflict, I was reminded of the enduring power of music, theatre, and the arts to transcend the barriers of language and culture and unite us in a common celebration of the human spirit.

I spent four months between December and March of this year. However, it was only last night that I was compelled to finally put pen to paper and publish this piece, after witnessing a heartwarming display of familial love from Albina & Familja Kelmendi, a tight-knit group of Albanian musical sensations. 

Led by the talented Albina Kelmendi, this family of musical dynamos is set to grace the Eurovision 2023 stage with their song ‘Duje’. Their vocal prowess was first showcased at Albania’s Festivali i Këngës, where they triumphed over 25 other artists in a four-night battle of vocal supremacy. The public overwhelmingly voted for Albina & Familja Kelmendi to represent Albania at Eurovision, and it’s easy to see why. 

The Kelmendis are a force to be reckoned with, thanks to their family bond and musical genes. Their recent performance in Liverpool was a testament to their vocal power, with dramatic lighting shifts amplifying their already impressive performance. But what truly sets this group apart is their complete harmony both on and offstage. 

This photo depicts the Kelmendi family at their family studio in the city of Peja in western Kosovo, taken on Saturday, March 4, 2023. From left to right in the front row are Bujar and Albanë, while in the back row from left to right are Albini, Vesa, Albina and Sidorela. (VX Photo/ Vudi Xhymshiti)

As I reflect on my time in Kosovo, I am struck by the deep sense of community and familial love that permeates the culture. The Kelmendis embody this spirit, and it was an honour to witness their musical talents firsthand. So, as we look ahead to Eurovision, let us not forget to vote for Albina & Familja Kelmendi. But in the meantime, allow me to regale you with more tales of my experiences in Kosovo. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

From Propaganda to Cultural Celebration: The Evolution of the Albanian Song Festival

The Albanian Song Festival, a cultural institution organized by RTSH since 1962, has undergone a transformation from a platform for socialist propaganda to a showcase of Albanian music and talent. In its early years, the festival was utilized by the communist regime to disseminate political messages and inspire productivity among the Albanian people. However, as the country evolved into a democratic society, the festival evolved with it, embracing a broader range of themes and topics.

Although censorship once plagued the festival, artists such as Vaçe Zela, Alida Hisku, and Parashqevi Simaku have created enduring hits that remain popular to this day. Today, the festival serves as a platform for emerging artists to showcase their talents, attracting talented singers and songwriters from across the country and beyond.

In its 61st edition in 2022, Albina Kelmendi and her family emerged as the winners, earning the privilege of representing Albania in Eurovision 2023. The festival’s continued success and popularity are a testament to its enduring significance in Albania’s cultural calendar.

Albina Kelmendi is holding her favourite musical instrument, the clarinet, in this portrait taken at her family studio in Peja, Kosovo, on Saturday, March 4, 2023. (VX Photo/ Vudi Xhymshiti)

Albina Kelmendi, a prodigious talent hailing from the western region of Kosovo, now finds herself representing Albania in the prestigious Eurovision Song Contest of 2023. From a tender age, Albina was drawn to the allure of music, her gift for the clarinet and piano evident even in her early years. Her passion for the craft was further stoked when she emerged as a finalist in “The Voice of Albania” at the age of sixteen.

Despite completing high school in 2016, Albina opted to forgo a university education to pursue her dream of becoming a full-time musician. Her commitment to her craft paid off, earning her first prize in the pop song festival “KOSOVARJA KENDON” in 2017/2018. Together with her father Bujar and brother Albin, Albina formed a family band that has since taken the Albanian music scene by storm.

Their triumph in the 2022 Albanian Song Festival, with their song “DUJE,” secured them the coveted opportunity to represent Albania in the Eurovision Song Contest 2023. Albina’s lead vocals, accompanied by her family’s musical prowess, proved to be a winning combination, earning them invitations to perform in a host of countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Israel, Poland, and Spain.

On the big night in Liverpool, Albina and her family band delivered a spellbinding performance that captivated their legions of fans. Their music, rooted in familial unity and the importance of maintaining strong bonds, resonated with audiences worldwide, cementing their status as rising stars in the music industry.

Behind the Scenes with Albania's Eurovision Representative Albina and the Kelmendi Family: A Journey of Hospitality, Culture, and Music in Kosovo.

This is a moment where Albina Kelmendi and her family are rehearsing at the "Publico" production company in the capital Prishtina, Kosovo, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. (VX Photo/ Vudi Xhymshiti)

With every note of “DUJE,” it was clear that the Kelmendi family’s musical prowess was unmatched. Their passion for their craft was palpable, and it was evident that their music was more than just a form of entertainment. It was a representation of their cultural heritage, their identity, and their unwavering love for Kosovo and Albania.

As I watched the video clip, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe at the level of care and detail that had gone into its production. The Kelmendi family had poured their hearts and souls into creating a piece of art that was not only visually stunning but emotionally resonant as well.

Admittedly, I felt a bit awkward in my reaction to the video clip. Since leaving Kosovo in 2015, I had not been familiar with Albina’s work and felt shy about my lack of knowledge. However, spending time with the Kelmendi family helped me to reconnect with the country, culture, and music that I had missed so much. During daybreak in my rented apartment in Prishtina, I took the opportunity to search for Albina’s songs and other family members’ performances on YouTube. I was amazed by Albina’s voice and authenticity in her live performances, and somehow it felt like she was destined for greatness.

In my opinion, Albania made an exceptional choice in selecting Albina and “DUJE” to represent them in the Euro Vision song contest. The Kelmendi family’s musical talents appear unparalleled, and it is my hope that Kosovo will soon be recognized as a full member of Euro Vision so that they can showcase their incredible heritage on the world stage. The Kelmendi family would be an incredible honour to both Kosovo and Albania, and I know that they will continue to inspire and delight audiences with their music for years to come. 

This photo depicts the Kelmendi siblings at their primary school 'Dardania' where they all attended in the city of Peja in western Kosovo, taken on Saturday, March 4, 2023. From left to right in the front row Sidorela, Vesa, Albina, and Albini. (VX Photo/ Vudi Xhymshiti)

The Significance of the UK Hosting the Eurovision Song Contest on Behalf of Ukraine

In its storied history, the Eurovision Song Contest has grown to become one of Europe’s largest and most beloved musical competitions. Beginning in 1956, the contest has evolved to welcome performers from across the continent, representing a diverse array of musical genres. Once solely evaluated by a jury of representatives from different countries, the contest now incorporates a popular vote that allows viewers to participate via telephone or text message.

For Albania, the contest has proven to be an opportunity to showcase the country’s extraordinary musical talent. Since their debut in 2004, Albania has sent a number of talented singers to compete, with Rona Nishliu achieving the country’s highest result in 2012, finishing in fifth place. This year, Albina Kelmendi, a Kosovar Albanian, represented Albania with her family band, marking the first time a family group has participated in the contest.

The UK is hosting the Eurovision Song Contest this May 2023 on behalf of Ukraine, the usual host country that has been beset by war and political tensions. The decision to have the UK host the event was made by the European Broadcasting Union after UK contestant Sam Ryder was the runner-up in the 2022 show, and Russia was expelled from the competition following its invasion of Ukraine. The contest already promises to be a thrilling celebration of international talent, and fans around the world are eagerly anticipating the performances.

The UK hosting the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine carries with it significant political, cultural, and economic implications. First and foremost, it is a powerful gesture of solidarity between nations in the face of conflict. By hosting the event on behalf of Ukraine, the UK is sending a message of support to the country and its people.

Moreover, the Eurovision Song Contest is a cultural event of immense significance across Europe and beyond. By hosting the contest, the UK will have the opportunity to showcase its own unique culture, creativity, and talent to a global audience. Finally, the economic impact of the event is expected to be substantial, with thousands of visitors travelling to the UK for the contest, generating revenue for local businesses and the wider economy.

All in all, the UK hosting the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine is a momentous event that underscores the value of international cooperation and provides an opportunity for the UK to shine on the world stage.

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