Albania - Mike Whalley

From 2003, Festivali I Këngës has been used to select the Albanian entry for the ESC. In this 57th edition of the annual Christmas-time show, a change this year meant that each ‘semi-finalist’ performed their song twice – on night one they sang with the RTSH Symphonic Orchestra; on the second night the final version of their song. I quite like this approach, which harks back to the days when Eurovision was performed with a live orchestra. 14 songs made it through from the 22 semi-finalists to sing on the third and final night, from which the winning song was chosen.

After a superb performance in ESC18 by Eugent Bushpepa with ‘Mall’ finishing 11th in the grand final in Lisbon, Albania must be hoping for big things from their 2019 entry. As per last year, the winning song is chosen by a professional jury only.

There was an eclectic mix of songs in the final on 22nd December, including ‘Leyla’ - a typically Baltic sounding male duo ballad performed with heart and soul; ‘Më e fortë’ which featured a fierce female performance by Soni Malaj; ‘Hije’ a much more contemporary if slightly schizophrenic Albanian-English hybrid; ‘100 pyetje’ which came in 3rd place, which sounded more like a Belgian or French entry than something from Albania; and ‘Rrëfehem’ a fabulous ‘bang-it-out’ female performance with big notes and great sax overtones, which came in second place overall.

The winning song is performed by Jonida Maliqi, a well credentialed performer in Albania – she has taken part in Festivali I Këngës multiple times, has been on big Brother, on the Albanian Dancing with the Stars, and been a judge on The Voice of Albania. She certainly has stage presence, which will be helpful through the long wailing sections of the song.

Ktheju Tokës, which translates as ‘Return to the Land,’ is a fairly familiar Eastern-European-handwringing-pain-death-and-hostage track. Nothing particularly unique or refreshingly new, but I’m sure it will play well with a subset of Eurovision viewers. Apparently it was written "for Albanians, for immigrants, for all the people around the world" dealing with the topic of Albanian emigration, especially in relation to the Kosovo War, which definitely comes through in the feeling of the song. Whether it will be performed in Albanian or English is as yet to be decided – and I’m not sure understanding the lyrics really adds to the song.

I expect big wind machines, big hair and make-up, and big visuals on the LEDs, if the final performance is anything to go by. Whichever language it is performed in, it feels like a middle-of-the-table track unless they liven it up in the few months we have until the ESC.

You can watch Ktheju Tokës here.