Albania - Mike Whalley

The Festivali I Këngës is an Albanian song contest which has been running in various forms since 1962. In 2003, it was used for the first time to select the Albanian entry for the ESC. Whilst in recent years a combination of jury and public voting chooses the winner, this year it returned to a jury only decision.

The structure has provided two Top Ten Eurovision hits - in 2004 (7th) and 2012 (5th), but it’s interesting that with 5 of the last 7 entries not making it through the ESC semi-finals that they continue to use this method. Anyway...

Late December 2017 sees the contest take place over three nights - two semi finals, each hosting 11 performances. At the end of the first semi final there were no announcements - who the finalists would be were only announced after the second semi final, and there were 8 from the first semi, and just 6 from the second, leaving 14 performances to take part on the final the following night.

After the 4hour extravaganza (even longer than the ESC Final!), third place went to Inis Neziri, 2nd to Redon Makashi, and the winner was Eugent Bushpepa.

‘Mall’ by Eugene Bushpepa is an upbeat soft rock number performed in Albanian. Lyrics include “nothing in this world can express the feeling when hearts join and beat like one. I’m away from you, let me fight when my powers are exhausted, I even dream it when I’m awake…”

He’s a handsome chap, who cleaned his act up from a tattoo’d disheveled look dressed in black for the semi, to slick hair and a sharp white jacket for the final. It’s simple but stirring, with some ‘big notes’ scattered throughout (which got bigger for the final - he went a bit Mariah!) The chorus has a somewhat catchy lilt and the backing singers give it a bit of a war-chant feeling. The live orchestra version played in the final is heavy on the strings, drums and guitar. The ending does drift away a little, but I’d imagine in the edit from 4m31s to 3m they’ll fix that. All in all a solid song. The big question though- will it make it to the Saturday night in Lisbon?

You can check out the performance here.