One-on-one | Music

ANDRRA: Exploring Albanian rhapsodies gives meaning to my parents’ pasts and my own future

By - 13.01.2017

Chart-topping music artist discusses her upcoming album, folk music by women and cultural conformity.

The poster of Yasujiro Ozu’s cinematographic masterpiece Tokyo Story is easily recognisable on the wall of Fatime Kosumi’s Berlin apartment, as K2.0 catches up with the singer over Skype. The 1953 movie, which explores the story of family and relationships between past and present over different generations, greatly coincides with Kosumi’s work as well, who in her new project explores the impact of traditions and older generations on contemporary life.

The 36-year-old artist of Kosovo origin, who is also known as ANDRRA, released the video of her latest single “Kalle Llamen” on January 2, and it has quickly topped music charts in both Kosovo and Albania. The song is the first single of her upcoming album “Paline,” which tells the story of Albanian girls that are married off at an early age — a practice that persists across Albanian speaking regions.

Kalle Llamen lyics

ANDRRA’s latest single “Kalle Lamen” has topped charts in both Albania and Kosovo and features on her upcoming album, “Paline.” “Photos courtesy of ANDRRA”

The upcoming album, supported by the Berlin-based music producer and composer PC Nack, is comprised of five songs. The title song, “Paline,” is based on the story of 14-year-old Paline, the protagonist of an old folk song from Ulqin, who is being married off by her family. Throughout the album, ANDRRA uses lyrics taken from the traditional kanagjegj songs, which are sung to young brides by her relatives the night before the wedding.

A singer-songwriter and film producer, ANDRRA was born in Rosenheim, Germany, as the daughter of Kosovar Albanian parents. She left her German hometown in 2001 to move to Kosovo, where she lived until 2010. As Fatime Kosumi, she has been a well-known member of Kosovo’s pop music sphere throughout the decade.

“There is a transition from songs I made as Fatime Kosumi, and songs I make as ANDRRA,” she explains to K2.0 “Fatime Kosumi was everything — a compilation of genres. That is why I had the need to create an artistic name where I start from scratch.”

Her artistic identity as ANDRRA began after moving back to Berlin in 2011, and as her interest in old Albanian folklore lyrics — and for incorporating them into her own music — began to grow. She describes the result as “pop-avantgarde.”

“The folk music in the new album and ‘Kalle Llamen’ is only in the content, in the words,” ANDRRA says. “Nothing else is folk. Maybe occasionally there is an instrument, like fyelli (the traditional Albanian flute), but it comes in a very subtle form.”

Together with French filmmaker Vincent Moon (who has also worked with Arcade Fire, REM, Beirut and others), and with the support of the Musicboard Berlin state institution and the Municipality of Prishtina, she traveled across Kosovo in May 2014 to find and record almost forgotten old folk songs. They were particularly in search of a specific approach to folk music, that of rhapsodies sung by rural women. This search and journey will be depicted in a short documentary “Kang e Defa — Female Rhapsodies of Kosova,” which will be released alongside the album in May.

K2.0 talked to ANDRRA about her chart-topping single “Kalle Llamen,” her journey of discovering rhapsodies sung by Albanian women during wedding rituals and her ambition to see the social issues she addresses in her music such as child marriage become part of mainstream discourse.

K2.0: When did your interest in exploring the lyrics of Albanian folk music begin?

ANDRRA: Since I came [back] to Berlin, almost seven years ago. It was then that I started to listen more to Albanian music. When I lived in Kosovo, I didn’t listen to Albanian music.

It sounds like a nostalgia of an immigrant longing for home…

You start to feel love for your country, love for songs. Music is the thing that unites you with your country when you aren’t near. I always found folk music very interesting, but not in the same way as while [I’ve been] in Berlin. It is not that I liked it with a nationalist patheticness. But when I started listening to [folk songs] and analyzing them musically, I liked them because they are courageous as compositions. And they also reminded me of the storytelling in blues music, which I deeply like. It made me listen more to blues music, which reminded me of our country, our music. So I focused on songs of this kind, which for me are very similar to American blues that was mainly widespread in poorer areas and groups, same as with the rhapsody songs in Kosovo.

I also liked the lyrics because they were more sincere, more authentic. Rhapsodies are not necessarily beautiful, but they are genuine. And that is what I liked, the severe truth.

You paid particular attention to the rhapsodies sung by rural women…

I remembered some tapes that belonged to my mother, from when I was growing up in Germany. My mother had some tapes with songs with defa (traditional Albanian tambourines), which were sung by my cousins and recorded at different weddings of my relatives in Kosovo. But unfortunately, in that time, we were interested in anything other than the Albanian language and culture, and we didn’t speak Albanian very well. We didn’t understand anything from that [Albanian] music and replaced those recordings with Courtney Love and “Hair,” or whatever we liked at that time. I remembered those tapes two years ago, and now I regret that we don’t have them [anymore]. So those tapes have disappeared, they no longer exist. We have vanished them ourselves.

But then I started to research defagjikeve (women who play the Albanian traditional tambourine) songs on the internet, and I found many songs. So the idea for the documentary came about, as well as to travel through villages and to ask who knew those songs, so I could take them and create something new.

But we didn’t find many songs during our research. We found songs from different rituals that are part of the movie, but not kanagjegj songs, which were my main interest. Afterwards, I found many books published by Rilindja [publishing house] in the ’80s, with lyrics compiled by [writer and folklorist] Anton Ceta from different Albanian regions. There is no melody, rhythm, no idea how the song was, but at least it is known what kind of words it had.

"When I listen to rhapsodies, in one way, my past gets explained."

So this is how you came to Palina…

Palina came to me through these books, and a song that is dedicated to Palina. It starts with “Çke Palinë që je idhnu? Po don baba me më martu.” (“Palina, why are you angry? My father wants to marry me off.”)

These lyrics are sung to Palina, and I liked her name very much. It’s a song from Ulqin, sung to Palina, who is about to get married in an arranged marriage.

The album with the five songs found in different Albanian [speaking] regions will tell the story of Palina. It’s Palina’s life cycle, from the moment that Palina understands she was given into a marriage, until the moment of her revolt where she pleads to her mother not to open the door to the krushqi (the intermediators) that are coming. It is the same fate of many girls, but I took Palina as an example.

The description on your “Kalle Llamen” music video reads that your mother had an arranged marriage as well. Has this personal family story influenced your work?

My mother got engaged at the age of 14 and married when 17 years old. For me, these topics aren’t exotic, like [someone] from Germany saying, “Oh so interesting, there were people who got married at 14 years old.” This is not my approach. My approach is that through these songs I find my mother’s stories, my father’s stories. When I listen to rhapsodies, in one way, my past gets explained. And to be honest, I think us as individuals, as children, we carry traumas and experiences of our parents if they didn’t give meaning to their experiences. I think some traumas are carried through our DNA, and if we as a society don’t deal with the past in order to give a meaning to it, it will get repeated. In one way, I am trying with all of this to give a meaning to the past of my parents in order for my future to have a meaning.

The ritual of temena [a ritual of respect by new brides toward the groom’s relatives] is used as a visual element in the video. It is also the title of one of your previous songs that is based on folk music lyrics. What does the act of temena represent to you?

When I was very young, temena embodied suppression. The fact that [brides] were told “raise your hand” and then she would raise her hand — I would get all rebellious when I saw temena. Now I look at it also from an aesthetic point of view. There is a form of beauty in it, but in Kosovo, unfortunately it has the meaning of suppression.

The music video of “Kalle Llamen” was made with your family and in your family village of Bajqine, Podujeve. How was that experience?

It was extraordinary. It was like a family engagement. We were a very small professional team — me, Alban Nuhiu, who is co-director of the video and cameraman, Jetmir Idrizi, who made the photos, and Dardan Zhegrova, who was Alban’s assistant. The makeup girl was my first cousin, then my mother made us food when we would go home [after shooting]. All the girls seen in the video are my cousins and would sleep over at our house. So, it was a lot of fun, because we would wake up there, there were no long trips, or many people in the team. It was very easy.

Photo Jetmir Idrizi. Still from the video

ANDRRA made the music video for her single “Kalle Llamen with her cousins in her family’s home village. Photo: Jetmir Idrizi.

About the girls in the video — in the first half, they have more of a rebellious look and style, and then we see them more conformist and dressed the same as each other. Then the choreography, the identical movements of girls…

I think that in some environments young girls are often individualists, with strongly emphasized characters. They have special features and each girl is special in her own way. She is herself, as is Palina until she gets married, until she is given away and then she becomes uniform. She becomes a bride and loses her individuality, and then they have the same movements, the same clothes and hairstyles. If you are not the same as others, you stick out.

The movements by the girls, the modest choreography, is taken from “Vallja e Çlirimit,” (“The Liberation Dance”) or “Vallja e Ushtarit,” (“The Soldier’s Dance”), which apparently is a very old dance. I found a very old record of it on YouTube, but enough to see some movements that I needed, because the dance there symbolizes liberation from the occupation, the Ottomans at that time. Those movements of dancers that are occupied and not free — I liked those movements and they were adopted to the context of Palina.

Arranged and child marriage is the main topic of the album “Paline.” Do you think that Kosovar society should treat it more seriously?

I see it more as a global topic. I think it is estimated that there are around 700 million women alive today who were married as children. And 700 million is a huge number to not have this topic as part of pop culture. I think that pop culture is very poor in general globally in the aspect of storytelling. We see different genres, aesthetics, but the same themes in storytelling.

I miss diversity in storytelling, there are more different lifestyles [than what we see]. I see it as a global topic, which I wanted to approach from an Albanian perspective. I don’t have my focus in Kosovo, but I am from Kosovo and want to put this topic on a global scale.

There aren’t many movies and works in this topic and even when they are, it happens in some aesthetical form that doesn’t interest us much.

I find it important to address these topics that have preoccupied, and still preoccupy us, to participate in the cultural debate, and also having my mother as part of these stories, and my cousins. The mothers of my cousins that are seen in the video, all of them got married at a very young age. But when they listen to today’s music they listen to songs that aren’t relevant to them, with a lifestyle that has nothing in common with their lives. I find it a little absurd to have around 80 percent of rural women who are married at a young age, and they cannot find themselves anywhere in pop culture. Their stories don’t appear in pop culture.K

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. The interview was conducted in Albanian.