One-on-one | Music

Let there be music

By - 21.06.2016

Kosovar artists discuss all things music on World Music Day.

Today (Tuesday, June 21) is World Music Day. Originating in France in 1982, today World Music Day (or Fête de la Musique) has expanded to more than 120 countries and 700 cities around the world. The principle is simple: that music should be accessible to everyone and celebrated openly, for free. In Kosovo, a whole program of concerts is being held throughout the day in Prishtina’s Zahir Pajaziti Square.

To mark the day, K2.0 spoke to 10 Kosovar music artists from a range of genres about what music means to them.

On musical beginnings…

Eremira Citaku (Flutist and innovative artist, and organizer of the international “Sounds of the Flute” festival): My attraction to music was natural. As a child I explored different instruments by playing with them, and later I went to music courses and got a proper music education. It’s not that I had a specific desire to play the flute. It was important for me to be close to music, but picking the instrument was just coincidence. In ancient times there were many categorizations of different types of music that placed the flute among the instruments that represent the Dionysian impulse, which is often suitable to express the free character of music, irrationality, confusion and return from nature.


Eremira Citaku. Photo: Cristina Mari.

Shpat Deda (One of Kosovo’s best known contemporary songwriters): [I played music] from the moment my fingers could press buttons. 12 years ago I started being less shy about it. It was a fun game I liked to play. It still is. Melody and music for me are ways to express what I can’t convey in any other way. Words help give the context, but I really find the truth in the music itself.

Toton (Sound engineer and one of the region’s club scene’s most popular DJs): I started organizing parties at the age of seven. Now I am almost 40 … So I have always been connected to music, be it in a passive manner or an active manner. People know me as a DJ, but I think that is the least of what I am. I’ve been a sound engineer ever since the ’90s, and I think I am a musician’s best friend. I’m not a musician, although I’m a musician’s best friend. We make it possible for the person who created the song to launch it in the market.

Blerta Kosova (Young Mitrovica-born musician and composer, using vocals, computer-based creations and synthesizers): The beginning of my music career was at the Mitrovica Rock School, where I played a little bit of guitar, a little bit of keyboards, and mostly I sang in bands, mostly doing covers, and then I just got sick of it. I decided that it was really hard working with people, at least the people that were around me, so I decided to do the solo thing, buy my own sound equipment, and started writing my own songs, and recording, mixing, doing all that. And then I started with Bicalko, and then I got involved in Zhaba and the other things that are happening right now…


Blerta Kosova.

Faruk Banjska (Experimental guitarist, plays with bands Gipsy Groove and Offchestra): I started to know the guitar and to be educated musically at the age of eight in Tefta Tashko music school in Mitrovica. Now I am 28 years old, and for 20 of those years I’ve had a guitar beside me.My first contact with the guitar was at a very young age, three or four years old, in my uncle’s house where they kept it more as a decorative item. My parents wouldn’t let me touch the guitar. They’d say, “it’s not a toy.” It just added to my interest in the forbidden apple, and whenever I’d get a chance to be alone with it, I’d take it into my arms. So at a very young age I was attracted to the guitar, and later to rock and roll — a genre in which the guitar plays a key role. So I didn’t have to think long and hard about what instrument I would be playing.

Alban Nuhiu (Former owner of the underground Prishtina bar “Tingell Tangell,” world music aficionado and occasional DJ): I am not a DJ. I simply love music. You could say that it became more or less an obsession, searching for and finding new music non stop. If I would discover a new band, I would have to find something else; it couldn’t stop there. People liked the music [at Tingell Tangell] because it was different from other places. It was not ordinary music that is played in bars. I tried to offer people music that is… less commercial. Maybe it’s not right to say more artistic. I simply tried to offer people something different — no matter if they like it or not. I did not care about that. I played the music I liked and I wanted people to find themselves in it, and they did.

Liburn Jupolli (Composer and creator of innovative new instruments): My father was a sculptor and a painter, and he was also the drummer of Minatori. My mother was a music professor who lectured about the violin. And my sister finished her bachelor’s in graphics. I resisted initially as they sent me to violin lessons. Then I switched to the piano. From the piano, between the ages of seven and 12, I discovered composition, and it opened a new dimension for me. I started to write a lot. I worked in the theater. From the age of 12 I started to write music. In 2010, I invented an instrument, and these paths which I have followed, I am trying to bring to a more professional and more advanced level.

Liburn Jupolli.

Edona Vatoci (Songwriter and one of the most promising new artists in Kosovo’s alternative scene): My grandfather was very enthusiastic about music. Although he worked for a salary, he managed to buy almost everyone an instrument: a clarinet for my father, a flute for my aunt, a harmonica for my other aunt, and as such he introduced them to music. My father is the only one that pursued music… So I grew up in that spirit — my family members are music enthusiasts. I chose the piano because I was attracted by its sound. I started to sing very recently. It was kind of huhuhu, not really much voice and volume in it. I wasn’t a notable singer, because I never showed it. I was shy. But in 4th or 5th grade of music school, I began to sing and play the piano. I followed my progression carefully, and slowly I began to raise my voice. My parents found out that I can in fact sing, that I have an affinity towards music, so they supported me and I went to The Voice [of Albania]. Later I started to write my own songs.

On music style…

Eremira Citaku: I do not wish to label the music I explore because labelling limits its opportunity to grow. Especially during the creative process I try to define it very little, with regards to style. For me it is very important to follow the sound and feeling, follow it to where it takes me, and naturally this is always supported by and communicates with my whole experience in music until now.

Toton: When a person manages to describe music, I think that is when music ends. Music has no point, and has a point … It is something elusive, colorless. We do not see it, we only hear it. The only thing that never leaves you hanging … I listen to music for positive and negative feelings. I like to listen to dark music, to death metal. I am a metal-head, but I am also a techno DJ. It generates these two sides of me, the positive and negative side, a sort of yin-yang, a perpetual movement.


Faruk Banjska: With the bands that I work and create with, maybe we can define the genre, even though it is a mixture of different musical styles. But personally, when I want to create, I usually do not limit myself to one style, because I’ve listened to a lot of music and I prefer different styles like Jazz, Rock n Roll, Indie, Dance Punk, Ska, and many, many others. So I like to let music influence my subconscious and my taste, so that I produce something that is as original as possible.

Edona Vatoci: Alternative… just that. I am in a phase of exploration… and I do not want to label myself, to say that i am only about one style in particular. It’s good to have a trademark, but an artist must always be evolving, and this is the only way to grow and develop as an artist. So that is why I cannot label myself.

Edona Vatoci.

On musical influences…

Blerta Kosova: I would definitely mention Radiohead as the number one band that influenced me since I was a baby. I practically grew up with them, they are my number one, I can also include Bjork. From the new bands I can say that I am totally brainwashed with Tame Impala, I really love them. I also like Grimes, Connan Mockasin… He is really weird and I love him…

Faruk Banjska: Mitrovica was definitely a huge influence. Even as a child in music school I was attracted by Rock n Roll, specifically to the creativity and the improvisation that is related to it. However classical music does not allow improvisation, and there was no school for other genres in Kosovo. Luckily, at that time in Mitrovica, every week jam sessions were organized, and I think they were the best kind of school. One of the organizers was my guitar teacher Leonard Canhasi [from the band Jericho] who, upon noticing the students’ interest in other genres, started to work with them out of class. I am very grateful for that.

Faruk Banjska (Photo courtesy of Jetmir Idrizi).

Alban Nuhiu: I have an older brother, and I was encouraged and nurtured by him… He introduced me to bands like Talking Heads, Led Zepellin… and slowly I started to explore… I started with rock, because jazz and the like are things that people see as more serious. You need time to value them. I’m hooked on funky and African blues. It’s a unique culture. Like tuareg music for example. It’s a mixture of music from Algeria and Mali. This is music that impressed me. Folk music. These different cultures. Pop music in Ethiopia is interesting for example. I’m sure kitsch and commercialism exist there as well. They probably hear it and say, “ah this pop music is becoming so dull” just as we say about our music here. But the important thing is that their music is valued across the world. People study that music: blues in Mali, jazz in Ethiopia, music in Algeria and Ghana.

Edona Vatoci: My influences changed over time. When I started to write my own music and songs, I was really fascinated by Bjork’s album. My influences were mainly women, because I am also a feminist… I was always more attracted to the culture of female artists. I constantly listened to albums by Bjork, PJ Harvey, Radiohead… Blerta Kosova was an inspiration to me as well at the time. [We have been friends] since 2008/9, and by hanging out with her, I saw how she writes her own songs, and it inspired me a lot… as did the concept of being a female in Prishtina, as there are not many alternative artists here, unfortunately. We have two: Zana Nimani and Violeta Rexhepagiqi, from the alternative scene, and unfortunately that is where it ends. Elinda Duni as well… there are not many. And the concept of being a woman singer attracted me, so I gave myself the power, and grew confidence. As such I started to explore and write my own stuff.

On music in Kosovo…

Shpat Deda: There is a lot of talent and there is movement going on in the scene, especially in Prishtina. I am constantly inspired by the blooming internet generation, not only in music but in general. They were raised with borderless influences and have all the tools at their disposal, and there are already flickers of magic happening here and there. It’s an exciting time to be alive, wouldn’t you say?

Shpat Deda (Photo courtesy of Jetmir Idrizi).

Toton: We are tribal people. So music has always played a positive role. It has always been a part of us, be it authentic or not, it has been a part of us. We went through almost all forms and eras of music. From classical music, to Rock n Roll, to techno today, and who knows what the future holds. You hear music wherever you go here.

Blerta Kosova: I would like to have a space where we could, collectively, record and work together. Everyone who is interested in playing, and creating and forming a platform where we can all just work together because I know that there are lots of great musicians here but we lack the communication and the togetherness and that would be really awesome if we could have this house and all the equipment, and work together.

Alban Nuhiu: We had musical capacity, but now we have too little. It is as if that music was buried, as if it is stuck in an archive, as if it is covered by dust. No one is taking it and putting it out there to be seen. For example, when you go online to download music, if you type Albanian music, you will find very little. Why has Albanian music not been exposed?… I don’t know. But we have good music. Like music from the South of Albania. Especially polyphonic music. It’s a culture in itself. It’s music that when you stop and listen to it, those different voices, it resonates a lot of spirituality, deepness. A special spirit. But people do not know of these things, and it is a pity that we did not push them forward. People had so much fun when I played them Southern music. They were proud: “Wow, [I didn’t know] we have such great music.”

Alban Nuhiu.

Edona Vatoci: It’s not easy for any artist, especially when you are an independent one like me. But luckily I am in good hands, the best ones actually… and my road has always been a challenge. It is a challenge to write on paper, to go to the studio… it’s a long process. Then there’s promotion, the people who listen to it. I am in really good hands with Genc Salihu, Arber [Salihu] and Tomor [Kuci]. They’ve always supported me. Genc is the person that is always our right hand, and plus he works on his own songs. He is the guy that is always behind us, no matter what we do, and he is great help. For my music video… with zero budget, everyone came together. Noar Sahiti, Dritero Mehmetaj, Lum Citaku. There were many people and they all helped so much. I am so grateful that I got to work with such talented people, who have so much willpower. We are making everything independently, with no budget, and they are all coming out as [good] products. We are a small community trying to keep the alternative scene productive, and trying to help each other… I help them with their songs, they help me with mine. It’s essential to stay together, keep the scene alive, and be the voice of this generation and the next.

On music and audience…

Bajram Kinolli – Kafu (Gypsy Groove vocalist, known for blending diverse styles and powerful performances): Every person is a creator of sound and a receiver of it. Language itself was born from sounds in forms that humans then gave to it. The audience has a very important role, because it is informed, and then they value the artist. Especially when the audience is enriched with information regarding music. When it is concentrated and sensual, to follow every sound or word. I know from our concerts and improvizations. The reaction I get from the crowd makes me feel like the king at that moment. When you are on stage, you have to lead the crowd, even when you do not know them. Because they came before the stage and the only objective is to give them something to remember. They set time and space for you. Music is what orientates their state.

Bajram Kinolli – Kafu (Photo courtesy of Jetmir Idrizi).

Bajram Kinolli – Kafu (Photo courtesy of Jetmir Idrizi).

Alban Nuhiu: What I found most interesting was offering people something different, something they had not heard before, different musical cultures. That reaction when people hear something and think, “wow, I never knew this kind of music existed” is very interesting. It is nice when a person learns something new. We feel good emotionally when we hear something. This was important to me. To impose music on people a bit. To experiment with people. To see how they react. Because most people are exposed only to commercial music, because they do not explore music. They listen only to what’s offered to them. There were cases when I played Ethiopian pop music and people were interested, but even the people that it annoyed found it interesting. Beauty and ugliness are not always the most important. What is interesting is important. Interesting things are less forgotten than beautiful things: Interesting things stay in the subconscious more. And I find this important. People often say to me, “What is this you’re playing?” or, “Where are you finding this music?”

Edona Vatoci: As for the public… mainstream is mainstream. But the fact that I have been nominated in this kind of festival [Top Channel Awards] amid mainstream music performers, means that the public is evolving, and that it is requiring change. The public is thirsty for new things and to me it is sinful for the generation not to have something to relate to, artists to relate to, because not everyone wants to listen to pop. That’s why I see change. The youth is very enthusiastic. I have my people. The number of people who listen to me is growing. You can achieve anything if you have enough willpower and nerve.

On World Music Day…

Eremira Citaku: It’s important that people are in more direct contact with music; music has always brought people together and made them happy. This year I plan on taking my daughter to see the “Peter and the Wolf” symphony, a very interesting piece that enables children to know orchestra instruments through characters.

Bajram Kinolli – Kafu: World Music Day is necessary, but is made even better when it has such a good aim. Of course concerts in closed spaces are more intimate, and the people that attend are not only people who simply happen to pass by, in contrast with public spaces. Prishtina, as a capital, still does not have a space for closed concerts, and that is not good at all. There are many closed public spaces that belong to the citizens, but we are not allowed to use them because of the bureaucracy that is in power. It is one of the things that every city in Kosovo lacks. This I believe is an issue that must be discussed more, so that we can use those spaces that are currently just there as footnotes.

Luan Durmishi (Tenor, member of Kosovo Philharmony and director of Rexho Mulliqi orchestra): Such concerts are absolutely very important, because there is a need for our public to listen to qualitative music. Tonight there is the concert of the Kosovo Philharmony in Zahir Pajaziti Square. It will be an outstandingly beautiful concert, and I hope it will attract the public, because the program is attractive, and it is free. In fact, virtually all classical music concerts that are organized in Kosovo are free of charge. However, the idea of organizing them in open spaces I think should have come earlier in Prishtina, because there are many reasons why they must be done in open air venues. The public is directly faced with quality and values, and as such it is educated, and moreover the level of quality in art is increased.

Luan Durmishi.

Liburn Jupolli: [Tomorrow there will be] a French-Albanian edition of “Kampionati sintor,” which is a musical brand that serves as a platform for bringing together musicians of different genres, ages, generations, to celebrate keyboard music. It is a celebration of keyboard instruments, but also of the role that they play and have played in world music. We invited two musicians from Paris to perform with seven local musicians of different genres and generations. We also aim to expose the brand, and through it, to connect musicians from around the world. It is the first time we are doing it on a big stage [outside]. Concerts in closed spaces are much more intimate, you have the people in front of you, you feel them more or less, you smell the place. [Performing outside] is a completely different experience. You address a much bigger mass. All those people are synthesized.K

Additional reporting by Valmir Mehmetaj and Cristina Mari.
Photos: Atdhe Mulla (except where credited individually).