Festivali i Këngës
Festivali i Këngës is an Albanian song contest, organised by the Albanian national broadcaster Radio Televizioni Shqiptar (RTSH). Various singing presentations have been used throughout its history, beginning with radio-only performances in the first few years, live interpretation, playback, remakes and even duets featuring other singers. The winners have traditionally been selected by a jury, however other voting methods have also been applied, such as televoting or regional juries. At times, the head juror has carried twice the voting power of other jurors. Since 2003 it has been used to select Albania's entry for the international Eurovision Song Contest.
The contest has developed over time, from its humble beginnings of neutral themes in its entries to a tool for the governing Communist Party of Albania in promoting its ideals. The 1972 contest became a turning point for the contest, in which dictator Enver Hoxha prosecuted the organisers of Festivali i Këngës 11 after they were declared "enemies of the public" for accusations of endangering the country with "immoral aspects" in the songs and their performances. Afterwards the ruling Communist Party imposed many sanctions on the contest's creativity, with a strict censorship on anything deemed inappropriate by the government.
After the fall of communism in Albania in 1991 the contest was again allowed to diversify the themes of its entries, with many competing and winning songs featuring current developments, such as immigration/travel and religion (both illegal under the communist regime). One of the most distinguished trademarks of the entries competing in Festivali I Kenges remains the strength in lyrics.
Until 1999 Festivali i Këngës was the biggest music event in Albania, however its popularity began to waver after the introduction of other competitions such as Top Fest and Kënga Magjike, which began to produce higher ratings. However with Albania's introduction in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004, Festivali i Këngës once again became the center of attention after Anjeza Shahini, winner of Albanian Idol, won the contest in 2003.
The incentive of winning a chance to compete at the Eurovision Song Contest was followed by great controversies such as a lack of transparency between 2003 and 2006 to allegations of jury bias, fraud and even racism, as was the case in 2007. The contest has however gradually started to regain its reputation of excellence after a series of positive changes made in recent years, including improvements in technology and presentation, more carefully chosen and diverse jurors, especially international jurors related to Eurovision, an increased role and quality of the RTSH Orchestra with the contribution of expert composers, as well as generally accepted and uncontested final results. A combination of jury and televote is still widely requested by fans of the show noting that an increased chance of winning the public vote will compel more commercial artists to participate, further increasing the potential for an optimal entry and result at ESC.
Festivali i Këngës, began on December 21, 1962 in the ILA Venue in Tirana, Albania. 20 songs competed in its semifinal round, but only 12 made it through to the final. The first winner of Festivali i Këngës was the legendary Vaçe Zela with her famous song "Fëmija I Parë" (The First Child). Vaçe Zela is the singer with the most victories in FIK history to date, an impressive 11 times.
Singers with consecutive wins include:
- 1. Vaçe Zela (1966, 1967, 1968 duet; 1976 & 1977)
- 2. Alida Hisku (1974 & 1975)
- 3. Manjola Nallbani (1992 trio & 1993 solo)
- 4. Elsa Lila (1996 & 1997)
Before 1972, the songs had a neutral nature, covering many topics of life. However, after Festivali i Këngës 11, dictator Enver Hoxha intervened by imprisoning the main organisers of the show and unjustly accused them of consipiring against the country and corrupting its youth. The contest dwelled in a period of extreme pressure and censorship. The songs were highly monitored and the topics were generally related to the country's development and even the government. This oppression continued all the way until 1984 when the dictator died. The following year, the change in lyrics was very abrupt, and censorship was not as strict.
The Winds Of Change
With the fall of dictatorship during the 1990s, Festivali i Këngës had a temporary boost in both quality and diversity. The winning songs reflected the status of the country at the time. The 1991 winner "Ardit Gjebrea - Jon" and the 1992 winner Osman Mula's song "Aleksandër Gjoka, Manjola Nallbani & Viktor Tahiraj - Pesha E Fatit" were both songs with an "immigration/freedom" theme, which was the reality at the time in Albania as well. During this period, the contest was also introduced to the word God for the first time. Prior to that, religion was illegal in Albania and the word God was not allowed to be pronounced in public. The participation of Albanian singers from outside the borders was also an addition to the history of the festival in this decade. Before that, the country was in a period of isolation.
In 1996, the stage of Festivali i Këngës welcomed newcomer Elsa Lila in a performance that deeply touched the hearts of the public with the clarity of her voice. She won the contest with "Pyes Lotin" in 1996 and pulled off another victory the following year with "Larg Urrejtjes" in 1997. These songs were also a mirror to the country's difficult reality in those years after the collapse of the pyramid schemes, an event which wreaked havoc all throughout Albania. Despite the difficult times, Festivali i Këngës never stopped its broadcast and went ahead as scheduled in the final weeks of December every year since its start.
In 1998, Albërie Hadërgjonaj became the first Kosovar-Albanian singer to win the contest with the ballad "Mirësia Dhe E Vërteta". The song had a humanitarian anti-war message and is often referred to as a song for Kosovo, relating to the 1998–1999 war.
By the year 2000, Festivali i Këngës had lost many of its admirers to the competition of Kënga Magjike, a similar song contest taking place in the Fall, as well as Top Fest, which started a few years later as a reality series on Top Channel leading to a big Spring finale. However, another talented newcomer touched the stage of FIK in 2003, idol winner Anjeza Shahini. She had recently won the "Ethet e së Premtes Mbrëma" talent show a few months prior to competing in FIK and the public was highly impressed with her voice and her charming stage presence.
Anjeza Shahini won the 42nd edition of Festivali i Këngës as expected, placing hopeful professional singer Mariza Ikonomi in second place. Mariza boycotted the stage when the results were announced in sign of disappointment. Much was at stake in this edition since the winner would be the first ever representative of Albania in Eurovision. Anjeza went on to sing at the Eurovision Song Contest 2004, landing herself in a respectable 7th place with the song "The Image Of You".
Albania continued its Eurovision journey with memorable entries and performances by both established and recently discovered musicians, sometimes succeeding to qualify for the finals. Its best result to date has been by Kosovar-Albanian singer Rona Nishliu with the highly appraised performance of her vocally intensive song "Suus", ranking 2nd in the semi-finals and 5th in the finals of the Eurovision Song Contest.
- Some artists have won Festivali i Këngës more than once:
|Vaçe Zela||11||1962, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1967
1968, 1970, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1980
|Tonin Tërshana||3||1965, 1972, 1983|
|Manjola Nallbani||3||1989, 1992, 1993|
|Aurela Gaçe||3||1999, 2001, 2011|
|Alida Hisku||2||1974, 1975|
|Nertila Koka||2||1984, 1986|
|Parashqevi Simaku||2||1985, 1988|
|Frederik Ndoci||2||1989, 2006|
|Ardit Gjebrea||2||1991, 1995|
|Mira Konçi||2||1994, 2002|
|Elsa Lila||2||1996, 1997|
|2004||42||Anjeza Shahini||"The Image of You"||English||4 / 22||7 / 24|
|2005||43||Ledina Çelo||"Tomorrow I Go"||English||—||16 / 24|
|2006||44||Luiz Ejlli||"Zjarr e ftohtë"||Albanian||14 / 23||DNQ|
|2007||45||Frederik Ndoci||"Hear My Plea"||Albanian & English||17 / 28||DNQ|
|2008||46||Olta Boka||"Zemrën e lamë peng"||Albanian||9 / 19||17 / 25|
|2009||47||Kejsi Tola||"Carry Me in Your Dreams"||English||7 / 19||17 / 25|
|2010||48||Juliana Pasha||"It's All About You"||English||6 / 17||16 / 25|
|2011||49||Aurela Gaçe||"Feel the Passion"||English & Albanian||14 / 19||DNQ|
|2012||50||Rona Nishliu||"Suus"||Albanian||2 / 18||5 / 26|
|2013||51||Adrian Lulgjuraj & Bledar Sejko||"Identitet"||Albanian||15 / 17||DNQ|
- In the early editions of Festivali i Këngës, each song would be interpreted two or three times by different singers.
- In 1980, it has been rumoured that the government intervened in the selection of the winner, giving the victory to "Shoqet tona ilegale" by Vaçe Zela instead of "Njerëzit e agimeve" by Alida Hisku.
- In 1987, it was said that Kozma Dushi with the song "Lot me ty o djalë" was set to be declared the winner, however minutes before the jury made their decision, the wife of the country's ruler, Nexhmije Hoxha, declared that she did not want that song to win, so another song was chosen to win.
- In 1994, Mariza Ikonomi became the youngest singer to compete in the festival at the age of 12, in a duet with Françesk Radi and their song "Telefonatë zemrash".
- In 1995, the song "E Doni Dashurinë" by Luan Zhegu & Ledina Çelo was reported to be the most applauded song in Festivali i Këngës history to date, a total applause time of 7 minutes and 11 seconds.
- In 1997, Alma Bektashi had a wardrobe malfunction on stage when her dress fell off, revealing her breast. The cameras managed to avoid the incident, however the audience received a full view of the incident.
- In 1998 the first Kosovar-Albanian singer, Albërie Hadërgjonaj with the song "Mirësia dhe e vërteta", was declared the winner.
- In 1999, the song "Apokalipsi" by Irma & Eranda Libohova was claimed to be the real winner instead of Aurela Gaçe's "S'jam tribu".
- In 2004, Ledina Çelo was the center of attention when it was rumored that she had not done any stage praeparantion before her performance at the Eurovision Song Contest 2005 in Kiev, Ukraine.
- In 1963, Besnik Taraveshi was the first singer to be prosecuted by the Communist Dictatorship, ahead of many to come throughout the history of the festival. This was due to his interpretation and mispronunciation of a word in the song "Djaloshi dhe shiu".
- In 1964, head of the jury Llazar Siliqi decided that no first place will be awarded, due to the low quality of the songs. Instead, "Dritaren kërkoj" by Vaçe Zela was awarded second place, and two other songs awarded third place.
- In 1972, paranoid Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha deemed the organisers of Festivali i Këngës 11 to be "Enemies of The People", a name given to all the subjects who he considered a danger to the country. Unluckily, many of them were prosecuted after being accused of endangering the country's mentality by introducing an immoral aspect to the show, and plotting against the government by influencing the Albanian youth at the time. RTSH general director at the time Todi Lubonja, together with the festival's director Mihal Luarasi and singer Sherif Merdani were sentenced and would remain imprisoned for sixteen years until 1989, while many of the others involved were banned from working in television and/or were deported to remote Albanian cities.
The claims were out of context and these punishments were used as an example and a statement for future organisers. There is a whole book dedicated to this event: Festivali i Njëmbëdhjetë (The 11th Festival), written by Skifter Këlliçi.
- In 1999, Irma & Eranda Libohova protested against the jury by leaving the Palace of Congresses when it was announced that their song had come in 2nd place.
- In 2003, the same scenario happened, this time with singer Mariza Ikonomi, who was eager to represent Albania for the first time in the Eurovision Song Contest. She lost to Anjeza Shahini.
- In 2004, the producers of the song "Nesër shkoj" filed a lawsuit against Ledina Çelo because she had signed contracts with a phone company without previously consulting them. She was also accused of not attending the conferences set up the producers and that she had not rehearsed the song enough. The suit was dropped within the week that it was filed.
- In 2006, Greta Koçi was so disappointed from her 5th placing with the song "Eja zemër" that she burst out in tears, while her mother faced off the festival's 7 member jury with allegations of corruption and incompetence.
- In 2007, Blero dropped out of the competition, claiming that he was asked for a large amount of money in exchange of a victory by an anonymous caller. He also claimed that the first three positions were already decided by the organizers prior to the event. The jury and the festival administration replied in a press statement that it was Blero who had asked for the first prize by sending an SMS which stated that he would withdraw if his victory was not guaranteed.
- Also in 2007, Manjola Nallbani accused the festival authorities that they had sabotaged her song. Her voice was not heard at all in the hall, instead the public only heard the orchestra and the playback. This was confirmed by the general director of the festival Zamira Koleci. Nallbani declared that she would no longer participate in this event and called certain organizers mafiosos.
- The 2007 edition also provoked a huge public reaction and massive press attention after the song of "Jeta kërkon dashuri" by Flaka Krelani and Doruntina Disha placed second, prompting corruption accusations about the jury, namely Gjergj Xhuvani and Alban Skënderaj. These two judges did not give any points to this song, while four judges awarded it maximum points and Rudina Magjistari awarded it the second highest points. General Director Zamira Koleci in a press interview called the two judges "gangsters and racists" after their boycott of the song from the Kosovo Albanian singers. Edmond Zhulali, composer of the song and artistic director of FIK, submitted a request to the RTSH council for the jury's votes to be disqualified. The council however turned down this request after 2 hours of debate.
- "Të gjithë të ndëshkuarit e Festivalit të 11-të.(All the prosecuted after the 11th festival)". Transcripted article by Skifter Këlliçi (in Albanian). Retrieved 1 July 2011.
- "Ja "kokat e prera" në art e kulturë, pas Festivalit të 11-të". Transcripted article by Skifter Këlliçi (in Albanian). Retrieved 1 July 2011.