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Eurovision Insight Podcast: Tradition Versus Modernity At Festivali i Këngës Written by on May 9, 2019

Albania’s Head of Delegation Kleart Duraj sat down with Samantha Ross to talk Festivali i Këngës, its place in Albanian arts, and bringing the winner to the Eurovision Song Contest.

With over forty nations competing at Eurovision on a yearly basis, each delegation has their own method for selecting their song for the Contest. For those who opt for a national final, some nations seem to change year after year, refining and renewing their selection processes. However, a pair of countries have embraced festivals that actually pre-date their involvement in Eurovision: Italy with the Festival di Sanremo, and Albania with Festivali i Këngës. While plenty of attention has been paid to Italy and the contest that arguably gave rise to Eurovision as a whole, the story of their cross-Adriatic neighbor is even more intriguing.

For a bit of historical context, Festivali i Këngës first debuted on Radio Televizioni Shqiptar’s airwaves (as a radio program) in 1962, even before Eurovision welcomed such stalwarts as Ireland, Portugal, Israel, or Malta. Over the fifty seven years that FiK has been running, Albania has gone through more political and cultural transition than nearly any other nation at Eurovision, and the contest has reflected that in turn. What started off as a light entertainment programme soon morphed into a mouthpiece for the hardline Communist government of dictator Enver Hoxha, even resulting in the sacking, blacklisting, imprisonment, and alleged murders of those involved with the event’s eleventh edition. After Hoxha’s death in 1984, and a political turn towards a more liberal and capitalist society in the following years, Festivali i Këngës began to reflect a new Albania: turning towards Europe and the rest of the world.

When Albania first dipped their toes into the Eurovision pool back in 2004, there was no better way to select their artist and song than the festival that had meant so much to the country, as well as to broadcaster RTSH. Since then, Head of Delegation Kleart Duraj, the artists, and the Albanian team have managed to strike a balance between ‘a song for Albania’ and ‘a song for a global audience’, all while giving Eurovision fans one of the early highlights of the annual selection season.

How does a song festival with such strong roots in its nation’s past embrace the present, and look towards the future? I spoke to Kleart Duraj for insight on the relationship between FiK, Eurovision, and Albania’s greater identity.

About The Author: Samantha Ross

Vaguely aware of the Contest since childhood, a fanatic since 2008, and an ESC blogger since 2009, Samantha Ross made her first sojourn to Eurovision in 2011, and was quickly welcomed into the fold at ESC Insight. Over the years, she's been interviewed by BBC World News, SVT, LBC Radio, and many others. She was a semi-regular contributor to Oystermouth Radio's weekly dedicated Eurovision program, "Wales 12 Points". Furthermore, Samantha contributed to BBC Radio 2's coverage of the Copenhagen contest, and was a member of the official web team in 2014 and 2015. She also worked as a member of the Bulgarian Delegation, serving as Assistant Head of Press in Kyiv and Lisbon. When not at Eurovision, Samantha is a regular on the Twin Cities pub quiz circuit, and has volunteered as a moderator for the local high school quiz bowl for over ten years. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, but is wistfully looking for opportunities to get geographically closer to the heart of the Eurovision action. You can follow Samantha on Twitter (@escinsider).

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