The rock band from Ferizaj reflects on their music as political and social commentary in post-war Kosovo.
In the late ’90s, as 18-year-olds, they started to write poetry, to play musical instruments and to preserve their creations; they hoped to transform it all into songs. A few months after the end of the war in June 1999, they returned to Ferizaj to pick up where they left off. Urim Veselaj, Betim Bekteshi, Adnan Hyseni and Zgjim Veselaj formed a rock band.
In the beginning, their passion for music was cultivated by singing covers from bands such as The Doors, Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chilli Peppers, in local bars and concerts that were organized in city squares and youth centers. However, recording songs and rehearsing was made difficult by the persistent power cuts at the time.
In addition to this, three of the band’s members were working for NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping force, and the other in a radio station in Ferizaj; they all worked full time, and this prevented them from completely devoting themselves to music. Moreover, they were yet to choose their band name.
It was at the end of 2000 when Bekteshi was talking to his barber friend about music and their band.
“We don’t have much time for music, we’re at work all day; we can make music only after 7 [p.m.],” he told the barber while getting his hair cut, explaining that since they were working for 12 hours a day, they were only able to get together to play from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m.
“Well from 12 to 12, or from 7 to 7,” the barber suggested as a name for their band. From then on, one of the most alternative bands in the city would be called “7me7.”
After this, the band started to record their first original songs, the focus of which was on political and social developments of the time. In 2004, they recorded “Eksperimental” — one of their most renowned songs — which combined statements by politicians in the context of the political developments of ’99, including the NATO intervention and the establishment of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
Some of their other songs include: “Nëse,” “Qielli,” “Flutra” and “Vagoni.” Throughout their time and music, they persistently commented on the socio-political developments of the initial post-war years. For example, according to Veselaj, through their song “Keq” they conveyed the message that “any bad things we did brought us more bad things.”
The lack of socio-economic perspectives forced most of the band members to migrate in search for work. With the start of the war in Iraq (2003), Adnan Hyseni went to work in camps of U.S. troops, leaving the band without a guitarist. Ilir Bekteshi then joined 7me7 as the new guitarist, but even he left for Sweden in 2009, where he still lives to this day. And when in 2010 lead singer Bekteshi went to work in Afghanistan for five years, the band was forced to stop.
After all these years, however, some of the members are thinking about making a return to music together. K2.0 spoke to Bekteshi and Veselaj about their plans for the future, but also about how socio-political developments and circumstances in the early noughties affected their music, and how they also used it as a means of protest and revolt.
K2.0: How long has it been since you took a break from music? You completely disappeared from the music scene in the last few years. What happened with 7me7 in these years?
Betim Bekteshi: We prioritized our welfare. This was one of the reasons that we didn’t release new songs for a long time. We started making music at a very young age, but at a certain point, it was time to focus on our family obligations.
Music was always our passion, but we had to take a break from it. Nevertheless, we didn’t quit for good. Whenever we were together, we talked about music, made plans, sung in nostalgia, but we were unable to dedicate 100 percent of our time to music.
Listening to some of your songs, especially those from your early days, gives the impression of being closely related to the revolts and protests in the political and social context of the early 2000s. At first glance, we can say that a few things have changed since then. Could this be the reason that you decided not to be active in music?
Bekteshi: Even today, our songs fit quite well with reality. A few things have changed, but not too many. Still, the same song is sung. It is more so about what I mentioned earlier; many of the band’s members left the country in search of [greater] welfare. Some went to the Middle East [Afghanistan and Iraq] to work, and others to European countries. Migration scattered our group.
Urim Veselaj: I can say that migration “scattered my group!” Because I’m the only one [from the group] who didn’t leave Kosovo. I worked here.
Does this mean that your revolt stopped for this reason?
Bekteshi: When we were active in music, we were a bunch of crazy youngsters, we protested and did different things, but eventually we gave up — except for Urim!
So the protest failed?
Veselaj: Realistically, the protest always fails. I believe that it is constructed so that others can move it further with the same objectives. Perhaps someone else is inspired and continues, as we were also inspired by others. It would be an achievement for us if we have managed to inspire someone to be rebellious and persistent. But the very fact that there is a protest shows that something has failed. Everything starts from failure.
Perhaps we can apply some of your verses to today’s context. In the chorus of the song “Eksperimental” you say: “We are people/We are a test/We are a complex/Experimental.” How did you reach this conclusion? How did these verses come to mind?
Veselaj: They were thought of as they were said. Why? Anyone who takes it upon themselves to conduct an experiment will initially take a sample. As a society, we are not many in numbers compared to other countries in the world, and all this creates the impression that we are an experiment.
When I analyze history, I get the impression that again and again, we’ve been nothing but a test. The song is a historical exploration, which we experienced and recalled. The lyrics — besides the chorus — were taken from the words that were said by public figures in different circumstances and periods. We combined the words ourselves.
"We saw a Kosovo in which everyone was doing whatever they pleased, and anyone who came acted like it was their own house."
For example, it starts from the ’90s: “A great devil has entered here,” which was said by Rrahman Morina [head of Kosovo’s Communist Party during Milošević’s time]. Then, “This place is a ticking time bomb,” was taken from the series of warnings that were given to Milošević by Croatians before the [armed] intervention in Kosovo. Furthermore, the phrase that was constantly heard in the media, “Kosovo is the cradle of Serbia,” which we changed into “someone’s cradle.”
Bekteshi: The lyrics continue with words by other figures, for example “sacred place,” which was said by Ibrahim Rugova, or “the biggest prison,” which is a reference to the mass imprisonment of Albanians, with Kosovo having the biggest number of political prisoners [during the time of Yugoslavia].
Veselaj: “If I don’t die from nature,” is related to UÇK (Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës / KLA – Kosovo Liberation Army) and [renowned KLA figure] Agim Ramadani’s poem. “A free voice speaks to you,” refers to the time of war and what was being said on Radio Free Kosovo. Then, “From the skies they come,” refers to NATO, and “They migrate,” to refugees. “1244” is a reference to the United Nations resolution regarding the administration of Kosovo after the war.
There is a connection, despite the different circumstances. Do you also see the post-war period as an “experiment”?
Bekteshi: I still think internationals say: “Let’s try this. It might work.” Sometimes it does, and sometimes not. But going back to the lyrics of “Eksperimental,” that period [early noughties] was dominated by words like “tolerance” and “corruption,” and they were closely related to the projects of Kosovo. That is why we used them.
The song goes on to mention a “public state.” Naturally, the state is public, but why does the verse associate it with “public house?” Is there a connection here?
Veselaj: This connection was not unintentional.
Bekteshi: I remember when my late father asked me if I was aware of how it sounded. I responded with a question: “Do you not think that Kosovo’s institutions resemble a public house?”
We saw a Kosovo in which everyone was doing whatever they pleased, and anyone who came acted like it was their own house. Just like in a public house. Whoever has money does whatever they want. We had presidents and prime ministers, but other people made the decisions. Naturally, we as a society contributed to this situation — a lot in fact.
7me7 performing at Hard Rock Caffe in Prishtina in 2009. Photo courtesy of the band.
We could have done a few things differently, but it seems that we started from the premise that we were victims [of war], and now that the war has ended and they saved us, we have to do what they say. It shouldn’t have been like that, at least not in all aspects. Naturally, we should have been advised — we were a nascent state — but not every piece of advice was for our benefit. The advice should have been tailored to this context.
So, I believe we are still an experiment. We lost our way; and with the knowledge that I have, I don’t trust anyone in politics anymore.
Did the “experiment” bear fruit at least?
Bekteshi: A friend of ours said, “It seems we have an intrinsic instinct to survive, because if it were up to the state and our power, we would be doomed.” We have a strange fate. It seems that nature has decided to spare us a bit, because as a society, without rules and many other things, we are progressing, despite everything.
But the people who have been in power in the last two decades must retire — both locals and internationals. They should retire, and a new generation should come, one that has a vision and new knowledge. When I say new, I mean people who think outside the box, not younger people.
Veselaj: But there is no box. The issue is that we think there is a box, and then we think about how to think outside of it. We should start from the premise that there is no box. But to go back to the “fruit of the experiment,” I can say that from the ’90s up to today, some results have been achieved.
I experienced that time and I often take as an example the fact that you needed to know the Serbian language to get your ID, to find a job, to cross the border, etc. Today, I only speak Serbian to my wife, when I don’t want the kids to understand us. We’ve seen changes.
7me7 performing in Skopje in 2007. Photo courtesy of the band.
Let’s talk about another song. In the music video of “I Lost It,” we see kids playing football. The song starts with the kids shouting “Score a goal! Score a goal!” The song was made more than a decade ago. Did you ever meet those kids again? Did they actually score a goal?
Bekteshi: They probably grew up to be good people. I met some of them and said: “You were in my music video, eh?” The whole situation was interesting. Two years ago I talked to one of them through his uncle. Today he is around 20 or 22 years old. Did they score a goal…
Veselaj: I don’t think they became astronauts or scientists or anything like that. It’s not that they achieved much. They scored goals, but goals in their neighborhood.
I believe we have stagnated a lot, especially in education. If the war was “ground zero,” from there we should have oriented ourselves toward education. And if we had, many of them [the children] would have been at least a bit better off than they are today. They scored goals, but only in the neighborhood.
Bekteshi: Add to that that penalty kicks are easy!
Let’s talk more about this. Seeing that, at least in your city, you started to make music that was more related to politics and revolt, today do you see young people who are moving in this direction or who can further this cause?
Bekteshi: We experienced the ’90s as a group, and I believe this seasoned our music, influenced it. Today, I don’t see any resistance [through music]. People only care about their work and their profit. I see this [approach] in other work as well. I don’t see ambition. I constantly hear the phrase “it’s none of my business.”
It’s normal for everyone to take care of their own work, not to go beyond it, but in a country like ours, I believe we need to go beyond. We need people who go beyond, because our society is not yet on the right path. We need to work hard to get to that point, where it’s OK if everyone deals solely with their own work.
I think we’ve all given up. We’ve become very egotistical. We’ve lost our spirit.
Speaking about loss, in your song “I Lost It,” you say: “Stay here, do nothing/A flying fool/Oh I lost somebody today.” Today, 10 years after the song was released, what have you lost?
Bekteshi: We could have done much more, and even today we can do a lot more than we’re doing. I think I’ve also given up because I’ve come to a point where I ask myself: “Why? For whom? How? Was it worth it?” And on the other hand, I believe that we still have the “will of a fool.” We often get together and make plans… I see that we’re getting our will back, and that we’re hoping to replenish our power, to continue to go beyond, to express what we have within. I believe that in the near future, we will release our musical archive, which will also contain new releases. But today, when my daughter hears those songs, she says, “Dad, change it!”
Veselaj: We’ve all lost something. But whatever we’ve lost, we have to somehow carry on.K
Feature image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. The interview was conducted in Albanian.