Music Preview – Albania 2020: Festivali i Këngës Final

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Over Thursday and Friday nights, thousands gathered to watch the 20 acts that performed in the semifinal stage. Of those 20, 12 remain and will vie for the chance to represent Albania and succeed Jonida Maliqi and the song “Ktheju tokës” (Return to the Land), written and composed by Eriona Rushiti and arranged and produced by Enis Mullaj. As before, we will use this time to give short previews of the songs. Some of the thematic material may be different depending on official translations. The order will be given as listed on the RTSH finalist announcement.

“Me gotën bosh”

Titular translation: With the Empty Glass
Artist: Tiri Gjoci
Lyrical themes: Relationship breakups
Official video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dta_534QucM
Song credits
Lyrics: Pandi Laço
Music: Everest Ndreca

Musical analysis:
Dark, brooding piano ballad beginning. Slow build. The bass and acoustic guitar join at the beginning of the first chorus, and increasing percussion, starting with bass drum and continually adding. The second chorus has these elements as well, but the percussion is much more present by then. After the second chorus, Gjoci sings a G4, leading into a guitar solo playing what Gjoci had been singing. Strings enter at the end, and the song ends on a D chord in the context of G minor, which invites resolution but never receives it, similar to the vacillation in the lyrics. The lack of resolution is almost as if in the final chorus of “Rise like a Phoenix” (Conchita Wurst), the music stopped at “you’re my”. This is not the only song in this final that does this sort of word painting, in which the music supports the lyrical message.

Conchita Wurst’s “Rise Like a Phoenix” from Eurovision 2014 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Stopping the music in the way “Me gotën bosh” did would be like concluding this song at 2:58.

“Shqiponja e lirë”

Titular translation: Free Eagle
Artist: Gena
Lyrical themes: Pride in Albanian heritage and symbolism
Official video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDxfIGxzdC4
Song credits
Lyrics: Endrit Mumajesi “Muma”
Music: Gena

Musical analysis:
Gena’s deep voice is set over battle montage-style drums, ethnic vocalizations, something resembling a zurna (a type of horn-like instrument), and rhythmic strings. This musical setting is slowly combined with EDM claps and synthesizer elements and then goes into a full-out EDM chorus. After the chorus, a bağlama or other lute instrument plays with microtonal intervals (sounds outside of what a tuned piano would play). This nationalistic song takes a different approach to combining modern and ethnic elements than respected songwriter and two-time Eurovision top 3 finisher Željko Joksimović (2004, 2012), who while blending modern elements with ethnic elements puts strong qualities of melodicism and piano backing (the acoustic version of which sounds more traditional) more in the forefront than in Gena’s song, whose usage of Phrygian mode in the bağlama parts may be heard as more recent-sounding despite the instrument’s older origins, as modes – in particular Aeolian – have risen in modern usage. One of Joksimović’s songs that combines these elements in a possibly less modern-sounding fashion, “Zvezda”, is linked below for contrast.

Music video of “Zvezda” by Željko Joksimović. While combining both modern pop and more traditional Balkan elements in the song, there is a clearer preference for the traditional elements when compared to “Shqiponia e lirë”.

Ku ta gjej dikë ta dua

Titular translation: Where can I find someone to love?
Artist: Albërie Hadërgjonaj
Lyrical themes: Breakup sorrows
Official video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ie3mUxx_gbc
Song credits
Lyrics: Timo Flloko
Music: Adrian Hila

Musical analysis:
The song sounds like a breakup song. First, she sings in very hushed tones, and the syllables are broken by the amount of breath behind the words. The pre-chorus is six measures, which feels unstable – usually, musical phrases are 2^n measures – for example, the chorus of this song can be split into 8 bars/measures. The strings doubling her voice in the chorus (playing the same thing she sings) adds to the expressive quality of the song. The song keeps on building until a completely different section comes in at 2:06. The accordion, low vocals, and tresillo (3+3+2 groove found in “Replay”, “Fuego”, “She Got Me”, “Superhero”, and more) all add to a general feeling of waves. The song ends on a D major chord, which is striking in contrast to the E minor key. In ending the song away from the home chord of E minor in the key of E minor (similar to what “Me gotën bosh” did), there is a general sense of unfulfillment behind the song’s ending, fitting with the lyrical themes.

“Botë për dy”

Titular translation: World for Two
Artist: Olta Boka
Lyrical themes: Breakup or failed relationship
Official video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEwULqMtVG8
Song credits
Lyrics: Genc Salihu
Music: Florent Boshnjaku

Musical analysis:
If this is about a breakup or failed relationship, the text seems to indicate a burning world between the two people who are subjects in the song. This song juxtaposes mellotron-sounding strings and piano with synthesized sounds, which may give off an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic vibe.

“Ajo nuk është unë”

Titular translation: She’s Not Me
Artist: Robert Berisha
Lyrical themes: Processing the end of a relationship
Official video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfQrTWhI9tQ
Song credits
Lyrics, music: Filloreta Raçi

Musical analysis:
The tresillo is back, along with off-tonic beginnings (intro and derived sections). The melodicism reminds me of typical Balkan ballads, but there are additional synth and programmed drums on top. The ending is reminiscent of “Für Elise” but ending with a Gm6/9 chord (notes G B♭ D E A). Such a chord began “Rise Like a Phoenix” and can be seen more often in jazzy contexts.

“Me tana”

Titular translation: Everything
Artist: Elvana Gjata
Lyrical themes: Being in love
Official video link: https://youtu.be/wPIX3jhXxsE
Song credits
Lyrics, music: Elvana Gjata

Musical analysis:
The introductory vocalization is reminiscent of “Colours of Your Dream” (Armenia Junior Eurovision 2019) and “Oniro mou” (Greece Eurovision 2018). The rest of the song is most reminiscent of a combination of “Fuego” and “She Got Me”, between the prominent guitar part, the break, tresillo usage, and lyrical themes. There is also a pronounced use of either noise gate or track chopping, as the sound after most guitar parts completely cuts out. Usually, the sound of an instrument decays naturally and gradually disappears. However, after the electric guitar plays, the sound completely disappears, leaving a temporary aural vacuum (which is less noticeable live due to audience and ambient sound providing some natural decay of a backing track). The method of sound disappearance may stem from a noise gate, which cuts off all sounds that are softer than the gate allows, or from completely removing the audio from a track in some kind of editor, as shown in one of the rows in the program featured in this video, for example.

“Malaseen”

Titular translation: She left me unseen
Artist: Bojken Lako
Lyrical themes: ?
Official video link: https://youtu.be/paLKqpVaDPk
Song credits
Lyrics, music: Bojken Lako

Musical analysis:
The beginning first made me expect something like schlager or Rammstein meets Opera Skaala (UMK 2015) or Mozart l’Opéra Rock (a rock musical based on Mozart’s work. “L’assasymphonie” comes to mind). Lako had a deep voice reminiscent of Till Lindemann (lead singer of Rammstein), and the constant bass and bass drum reminded me of pedal point, holding down one sound through several different groups of notes. Instead, I was treated to trap drops and a combination of ethnic woodwind instruments. The percussion builds throughout the song, but dynamic range (volume contrast between sections) is not a focus of this song. This seems like a relatively original idea.

“Shaj”

Titular translation: (I) Curse
Artist: Arilena Ara
Lyrical themes: The weight of holding something weighty and unshareable
Official video link: https://youtu.be/LHvfwuAGLgU
Song credits
Lyrics: Lindon Berisha
Music: Darko Dimitrov, Lazar Cvetkovski

Musical analysis:
The beginning off-tonic beginning (starts with a Bm chord in F♯ minor) and chord progression is vaguely reminiscent of “Tourner dans le vide” (Indila), and there is a large vocal contrast between the verses and chorus. The electric guitar part features prominently, setting the stage for a pop-rock ballad at the FiK final. There is a vocal run in the background featuring the E major pentatonic scale (5 notes: E F♯ G♯ B C♯) and also A, followed by a run down and up by doubled strings, either two violins or a violin and a viola. The musical transitions between sections are minimal (vocals connecting between the first chorus and verse 2, one held instrument between some sections).

“Ajër”

Titular translation: Air
Artist: Sara Bajraktari
Lyrical themes: Living away from a loved one
Official video link: https://youtu.be/ziPZ1QV6Rx8
Song credits
Lyrics, Music: Adrian Hila

Musical analysis:
This song is in 6/8 time and features two prominent acoustic guitars: one in drop D, capo 5 (the lowest string is tuned to D, down from E, and a special clamp is fastened directly behind the fifth metal bar on the neck, or the long part of the guitar), and the other a classical guitar playing a countermelody (something somewhat singable in contrast with the main melody Bajraktari sings). The song is quite percussive, beginning from the cymbals and acoustic strumming in the first chorus into a rhythmically active classical guitar in the second verse and full percussive display from the second chorus onward. The 2017 Junior Fest runner-up displays restraint in her delivery until the outro, appropriate for the song’s themes of air and separation.

“Më ngjyros”

Titular translation: Paint Me
Artist: Kamela Islamaj
Lyrical themes: Flirting
Official video link: https://youtu.be/eU89EaSgJyY
Song credits
Lyrics: Megi Hasani
Music: Kamela Islamaj

Musical analysis:
This song also uses a tresillo pattern. However, it is performed very slowly. The combination of strings, active bass, organ, and drums is reminiscent of a Bond/”A Matter of Time”/sultry New Orleans swing vibe, particularly with the extended and altered chord vocabulary. The song was rather slow, but if it made Eurovision, it could be sped up.

“Eja merre”

Titular translation: Come Get It
Artist: Era Rusi
Lyrical themes: Flirting
Official video link: https://youtu.be/XeTepjbqjtE
Song credits
Music: Darko Dimitrov

Musical analysis:
The beginning chord progression is the same one in Green Day’s song “Holiday” but in C♯ minor. This song also features tresillo patterns. Rusi sings one pattern in the beginning of the chorus, and then the guitar repeats the pattern except higher in the chorus and drop. The end of the drop is an F♯ note instead of a chord. The drum part changes from duple divisions of the bass drum beat (4 per bass drum hit at fastest point) to triplets at the end of the transition around 1:58. The transition at around 2:15 seems to lose the rhythmic momentum built up from the previous section only to build again and end, just like “Me gotën bosh” and “Ku ta gjej dikë ta dua”, away from the tonic and without a final drop.

“Kutia e Pandorës”

Titular translation: Pandora’s Box
Artist: Valon Shehu
Lyrical themes: Fighting together for hope
Official video link: https://youtu.be/jP9UUqcnMtk
Song credits
Text: Elvis Preni
Music: Eugent Bushpepa (Albania 2018)

Musical analysis:
This is symphonic metal in the vein of The Dark Element featuring Jani Liimatainen (ex-Sonata Arctica, Cain’s Offering, Insomnium) and Anette Olzon (ex-Alyson Avenue, ex-Nightwish, as referenced in a previous article outlining the history of Nightwish singers and their interest in Eurovision). The intro riff uses predominantly C blues minor, which is part of C minor but with an extra F♯ for spice. The song then progresses to a verse supported by drums and octave synth bass, like the synth version of a disco bass line (“Love Rollercoaster” by Ohio Players is one example of such). This is heavier than Eugent’s Eurovision song, “Mall” (Yearning).

The Dark Element’s music video for their debut single “My Sweet Mystery”

Who do you think will win tonight? The judges will soon decide the fate of Albania, and 11 songs will be left in the national final stage, with one advancing in some form or another to Rotterdam in May 2020. Stay tuned through the ads to find out the results!

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