In 1998, Fatos Dërguti and Fatos Bejta decided to leave Kosovo. With hardly any money in their pockets, the two 17- year-olds initially arrived in Hungary and proceeded with their journey through the help of illegal networks that would lead them to their final destination: England. The United Kingdom granted their request for residence based on their adverse living circumstances as a result of the repression by the Serbian regime during that decade.
The two pals from Vushtrri would receive their education there, all the while keeping in constant touch with each other.
Almost one year before they departed, Ard Kelmendi was already living in London — after having left Prishtina for the same reasons. The two Fatos would meet Ard in gatherings organized by the Albanian community in London, where their shared passion for music kindled their friendship.
After getting their bearings somewhat, the lads would begin playing music every once in a while, at first only with each other. Years later they would start recording their music, as well as performing at pubs owned and frequented by fellow Albanians.
“Fatos and I sang almost every Friday,” Dërguti says, recalling weekends from back in the day. In the beginning, they only covered Albanian songs as they were often teased for having “foreign blood,” thus calling themselves The Bloody Foreigners.
Photo: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.
A few years later in 2010, they would hold their first concert in Kosovo, where people had already gotten wind of their music. What distinguished them were their satirical lyrics full of humor and mockery. They would go on to hold at least one concert per year In Kosovo for the next five years, coming back every now and again for festivals and other events.
They published some of their songs on the 2015 album “Oh, Oh, Oh / Jadec” — a total of 17 original tracks produced over years. Now, they are working on a new song called “Baba Jonë,” calling to mind and interpreting the parting wishes they received before leaving Kosovo over 20 years ago.
With much teasing and banter, K2.0 spoke with the members of the Bloody Foreigners about Rita Ora and Dua Lipa, Kosovo’s representation abroad, their song lyrics and most of all about Kosovo itself. The answers were true to their style.
K2.0: We could start the interview by mentioning that you are all well-educated — with Ph.D.s, no less. I do not believe that this bit of information is especially important to the interview, but since you have talked about it over and over again in almost every interview given in Kosovo, I thought we could get over it right off the bat.
Ard Kelmendi: I’m not actually a learned man.
Fatos Dërguti: They [the journalists] wanted that in; we did not use this but it was used by the media.
They would tell me: “What are you doing, working here at a pharmaceutical company instead of really raking it in?”
Fatos Bejta: We are indeed educated, but our schooling has nothing to do with the music we make. This whole school thing was staged like that. We were invited to Besim Dina’s talk show on TV to speak only about our Ph.D.s, but we did not accept it as such: We’ll only come to play a song or two.
We don’t come to Kosovo to put on airs about our education, but to share our music. I’m sorry to say, but almost 90% of the interviews we gave were very poor, disorganized and scripted in advance by bad interviewers who did not know how to showcase more interesting things about us.
Back to England. On October 15, 2018, Iggy Pop played your song “Katunare” on BBC Radio. How did you find out? And did it boost your ego?
Bejta: You can’t really ask whether it boosted our ego, because I’ve always had high self-esteem. During my upbringing, I was proud of the things I did and I grew up doing the things I love. Regardless, I remember being at work when somebody asked whether I recognized this song, and I realized that it was ours.
Kelmendi: When I told my co-workers, they thought that I’d give my notice the next day and leave.
Dërguti: They would tell me: “What are you doing, working here at a pharmaceutical company instead of really raking it in?”
Bejta: We always make music with the purpose of leaving an impression. The fact that our music impressed Iggy Pop was sort of a good feeling. His recognition made us feel very good — this is the work that we have been doing for 20 years.
Our ego was not boosted, but it served as validation for the work that we had done for many years. We knew that we’re kind of OK at music, and someone testified to it being good. But besides this, people send us videos of their children dancing to our music. That gives me the most joy. Then there are people who, I don’t know, have sex to our tracks, or even those who do drugs while listening to us. Various people and groups click with our music, and this is the best thing about it.
After this historic moment for your band, will you become the pride and joy of the Albanians, or will that still be left for Dua Lipa and Rita Ora? If and when you achieve this, will you forget the Albanian language and “represent us worthily in the international arena?” Plainly said, when will you also become ambassadors for Kosovo?
Bejta: I don’t have the balls to do concerts like Rita and Dua, [do interviews] with nasty people like yourself, or to play gigs all night and then wake up in the morning, over and over again.
Dërguti: To take loads of drugs, drink tons of raki…
"We just know a lot of people in Kosovo, we also send money back to Kosovo."
Bejta: Do you realize how much pressure that is? We play music to amuse ourselves. It’s all an escape from everyday life, somewhat of a break from the routine. If you find something that you enjoy, it’s as good as it gets for us. We have found something mutual between us, we do it when we go to Kosovo, we have fun and come back incredibly energized and we can barely wait to do it again. This is what gives us pleasure. If today someone offered me a record deal, I wouldn’t take it. I don’t believe I would.
Let’s talk about some of your songs. Among other things, the track “Po pe merr bre” (“Yet, he takes drugs”) says: “He’s a proper boy/ and has a job/ He’s a from a good family/ and fasts [during Ramadan]/ He’s one of a kind/ Does well at school/ He has a lot of friends/ and sends us money…” Then, it continues with “Yet, he takes drugs.” I’m unsure about how this all is linked to you: You guys did well at school, and I have the feeling that you send money back home. Did any of your parents find your drug stashes or what’s the deal here?
Bejta: Hold on — first of all, we’ve never taken drugs. You may not believe it, but that’s your problem. Secondly, we would study but other people had a lot of time to kill, in Vushtrri for example, and they’d say “he’s a good guy and all, but he takes drugs.”
So one night, Fatos (Dërguti) and I were hanging out at a place in London with other Albanians and we were all having pints. I was sipping a Guinness. One of them took a look at what I was drinking and concluded that I’m a druggie, and that’s why I was drinking dark beer.
Ignorant people are not interested in figuring out what’s going on and when they can’t understand what’s happening, they either say “God only knows” or “he’s a drug addict.” For example, when Albanians earn money by working hard, they say: “He sold drugs, it’s all drug money.”
Dërguti: “He got it all from nose candy,” they say.
Kelmendi: It’s simply a social observation of a mentality that surrounds us. We just know a lot of people in Kosovo, we also send money back to Kosovo, we know people who take drugs and people who don’t.
Dërguti: After we started writing our songs and singing about a few taboos, people got the impression that we actually do those things. Then we started telling them that we do not do these things because we go to school.
Bejta: We got our Ph.D.s so that people don’t find out that we’re doing drugs every day.
Kelmendi: This is our best camouflage.
Did you send money to somebody in Kosovo so that they can go on vacation? Or, better said, knowing that you take drugs, is there anybody in Kosovo whose vacation you haven’t paid for?
Dërguti: It’s not like we’ve sent a lot of money back: We transferred whatever was left from the drugs. It’s not much, really.
"This is an exploration and exhibition of a class of men who are not confident in themselves and always need to add more in order to feel more important."
Kelmendi: But I’m sure somebody went on vacation with that money.
I remember, even before the war in Kosovo, there was a sort of fascination with going on vacation to the beach. When the time came to go to the beach, everything had to be alright and we’d leave our troubles and problems behind.
When they went to Ulcinj, especially after the war, it was a type of paradise for Kosovo Albanians. And it’s still like that.
Bejta: The thing with the beach is that they were the most important two weeks of the year. You get a long holiday and go to the beach, you build a personality for yourself and say “this will be the promised land.”
This is somewhat of an exploration and exhibition of our category [of people], especially of us as men, but here you have to know that Albanians are not too different from other nations. This is an exploration and exhibition of a class of men who are not confident in themselves and always need to add more in order to feel more important — this is the pinnacle of a man.
What about “Nuk po du banane” (“I don’t want bananas”)?
Bejta: I don’t know how this song came into being. When the song was done we had literally no clue what was being said. Then Dritëro [Nikçi] came over to hang out and said “this song has been stuck in my head for two days.” And I said “OK, I guess we did it since we managed to torture someone [with it].” But the lyrics don’t actually mean anything, it’s just a conglomeration of words.
Dërguti: And grapes are somehow an Albanian thing: You eat bread with grapes, you break your fast with grapes, grapes are everywhere. You may eat bananas every once in a while or for New Year’s Eve, or maybe when you’re ill people bring bananas. We don’t eat bananas too often.
Some of your other song lyrics have also been widely discussed, what’s your writing process?
Bejta: Our lyrics come from conversations we hear in cabs, on the street, from people who have their opinions and are the smartest folks around. They talk to you about America, I’m not sure if you heard.
Dërguti: They [taxi cabs] are an extraordinary forum, conversations are being had all the time. Somebody gets off, then in Novosella someone else gets on and changes everything.
Since I don’t drive I’ve been using public transport constantly for the past 22 years. The absolute bangarang there… I love it. With the pandemic now it’s really bad, because you always hear something — all sorts of things and tittle-tattle. The difference between the metro in London and the people in Kosovo is that here they speak English. The simplicity, the craziness… they’re all the same.
The lyrics of your songs are full of symbolism, and they can be easily misunderstood. There were accusations that your lyrics are sexist, homophobic or culturally racist.
Bejta: We’ve always wanted to clash with taboos…
Everybody, regardless of who they are, has a sort of a guilty conscience and we want to give it a nudge. So, through song and through satire, we want to really pry out their true selves. In “Shabani” for example, Shaban exposes the homophobia and machismo that people have. Then in “Pek Pek Pek” a play on hypocrisy: We’re devout Muslims, but don’t give a fuck when nobody’s looking. On the one hand they’re afraid of god, and on the other they do all sorts of shit…
Dërguti: That’s exactly it: Are they more afraid of god or society?
Photo courtesy of The Bloody Foreigners.
You haven’t lived in Kosovo for decades, but your lyrics give the impression that you know a lot about how people live here.
Dërguti: Perhaps that’s why I’m friends with Fatos. Our recorders are always running. When we’re walking on the street, we just look at each other and say, “Did you see that?” Then we discuss it later.
Bejta: For instance, our song “N’deti”: “On table number 8/ you see a hot woman/ you get close and tell her/ that you’ve been working abroad for 13 years/ the good girl on your hook/ you took her home, it wasn’t hard/ you’ve been hitting it for two weeks.” The song ends and it just makes no sense… then he goes back home and he’s in the red. He went on vacation to dominate someone, yet doesn’t realize that the girl went there to have fun. They go to the beach and pose as someone else.
Dërguti: I remember someone pretending to be Italian or Croatian, but we knew who they were. Then another time, we were flying to London together and some guy was telling me that he smuggled a suitcase full of Marlboro cigarettes. When we landed, they busted his suitcase… then we saw that they were actually Ronhills. And I told him: “What a relief, they only got your Ronhills, it’s good that your Marlboros are safe.”
The same goes on in London, everybody’s in debt. You can get 20 thousand pounds with three or four credit cards and travel around the world with that. And that also holds true in Kosovo: They tell you what they have, not what they do or what they love?
Is the music also the same?
Bejta: We have some incredible musicians, some of them are also our friends. There is a lot of musical talent in Kosovo, it’s interesting. Now, the rap artists, I’m not gonna mention anyone by name, are very sick of the music they do, they say “I feel like crying every time I have to go on stage and sing this stuff.” But when someone pays you 5,000 euros to sing for an hour, it’s what you gotta do. If they paid me that well, I’d dance with the devil.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity. The interview was conducted in Albanian.
Feature image: A screenshot of the music video of “Le të m’shkelë kerri.”