Since 1962 the Albanians celebrate annually around Christmas time their music competition "Festivali i Kenges", since 2004 the winner of this competition represents Albania at the Eurovision Song Contest. The 50th edition of the festival was one of the strongest competition in Albania's history.
Albanian musicians seem not very impressed by Anglo-American mainstream pop or any supposed strategies for success at the ESC. They carry out their music program in their special way so that this event is more and more regarded as an iconic cultural event with an own established fan-base. Very exciting: When watching the show you wonder constantly whether the Albanians are still far behind or 25 years ahead.
One of the most charming performances of the final was Xhensila Myrtezaj with the song “Mbledh Lulet by Henen”. This is a song for fans of European chansons and folk music. Xhensila's dramatic gestures give the song an exquisite kick, even if - or precisely because – her strapless gown slips a little bit ;-)
For purists of the Eurovision Song Contest the strict requirements of local language, small stage with close contact to the audience, especially the background choir and the orchestra, each song with different conductors, are highlights of this Albanian festival. But is this simply nostalgia? We also have to check the benefits of the relaxed forms at the ESC. Above all, what advantage did we gained musically? Except of a couple of new electronic sounds - which can be built into the Albanian show, too - nothing. Finally the results of Festivali i Kenges are of high quality and stand any competition with the Italian San Remo Festival.
I think that for trained musicians in the orchestra it must be very entertaining to play at the festival a variety of pop styles. On the other hand: Which more or less unknown rapper would not be happy to be accompanied by background choir, orchestra, timpani and trumpets? The result is a moving experience for the audience and cannot be realized with play-back music: Dr. Flori with "Personale".
Play-back music... Unfortunately this will be the fate of the winning song "Suus", by the way the hit of the evening. The song is likely to be readapted to the lower level of the ESC. The arrangement will be smoothed and the text will be translated into English. In addition, it must be feared, that Rona Nishliu will follow strange advice for her performance.
The Festivali i Kenges can be summarized under the term "anti-commercial". It seems to struggle against established rules of the music industrie by challenging people to accept radically new forms. For example the winning song is not percieved as a song. Basically, it's an entertaining and sensual, delightfully meditativ and tragicomical vocal performance of the Kosavan singer Rona Nishliu.