The Albanian Final was held on December 22nd at the Palace of Congress in Tirana, hosted by Viktor Zhusti & Ana Golja. Before the final there were two shows, where the 22 selected entries were performed with a full orchestra, then in ‘Eurovision form’ before being shorted to a final of 14. The winning entry, chosen solely by the jury, was "Ktheju tokës" (Return to the land) sung by Jonida Maliqi.
The song was presented slightly differently on the three different nights but I am going to concentrate on her final performance. Jonida is centre stage in a very striking large 80s style metallic dress which fits snugly down to her calves, The shiny fabric is nice but the colours and patterns make her look much bigger than she is. Her heavy bob hairstyle could be scraped back into a tight bun with statement jewellery to make a better and clearer presentation. She does not move very much from the spot and at times the stage, even with backing singers and orchestra behind her, feels empty. On the video wall behind her is a representation of a street scene, which is sometimes covered by a train passing and changing into a collage of street signs and traffic lights.
The song starts off with some echoing drumming, almost like a heartbeat. Jonida joins in although her words mirror the speed and rhythm of the drums. Her vocal production is also quite bassy and echoing. After the first part it starts to become a bit free form and lamenting and you start to wonder where this is going. The beat kicks in a little more during the chorus and there s also a little more in terms of tune here too. The changes in chords here are quite nice and offer a little more optimism although still in a minor key. After another short verse and another rendition of the chorus, the song ends in a kind of whimper which is a shame. I honestly think there is too much filler and groaning in the song which could be replaced by a reprise of the chorus or at least part of it. The song builds very slowly and I could find many casual watchers getting bored after the first 45 seconds.
Unlike many Albanian entries chosen via Festivali i Këngës, this song a feels a stage ahead of those gone before it. The rule change meaning songs were performed two different ways meant all involved have had to have an preparatory eye towards Eurovision before the national final rather than afterwards. This song still needs some improvements and some possible re-framing to make it more accessible and memorable to a wider audience. It is still a few seconds too long and the instrumental parts could be shortened, nay cut out, and more chorus put in to keep the tune firmly in your head.
This is very much a song for Albanians, in particular those ethnic Albanians who have left of their own volition or those who have fled due to conflict. In this context I can see that this song will very much appeal to the wide spread Albanian diaspora or to those sympathetic towards them. To everyone else this song, as it stands, is lacking a clear thread. If I had not read the lyrics before hand I would have no idea what the song was trying to interpret. Yes, the backdrop gives a sense of moving but not much else. During the second night of performances, 4 female dancers were also on stage which I think helped to interpret the song more visually and made the stage a little less bare.
A song for Albanians – but is it for the rest of Eurovision-land? It’s not a winner…
ARTIST – Jonida Maliqi
SONG – Ktheju tokës (Return to the land)
MUSIC - Eriona RushitiLYRICS - Eriona Rushiti