The first night of Festivali i Këngës 57 brought a wide range of styles and performances from the 22 artists vying for a spot in Tel Aviv. In this first night of the semi-final, performances were accompanied by a live orchestra, which provided a spectacular backdrop for ethnic divas, emotional ballads, quirky duos, and soaring opera-tinged songs. And yes: there was more than a fair share of shaky notes and long-winded host banter.
Below you can read our impressions of each act, and see some footage our man Diego filmed inside the concert hall. Then vote in our poll and let us know who you thought slayed the hardest.
FiK 57: Night One
Bojken Lako got the night started on a slow and deliberate note with his song “Jeto jetën”. Through a performance bathed in yellow and white light, he displayed good vocals and a somewhat confident presence, but perhaps lacking a real “wow” factor.
Next up, Alar Band, with their modern and jazzy, yet traditional “Dashuria Nuk Mjafton”. They delivered easy vocals and staging that was bright and energetic, but one might argue that they didn’t bring enough energy to match the staging.
Following Alar Band, Lidia Lufi graced the Festivali stage with her offbeat, yet engaging song “Rrëfehem”. Wearing an..interesting.. one sleeve off/one sleeve on number, Lidia delivered the first vocally confident performance of the night. But between her distracting wardrobe choice and the lack of pop in the staging (featuring white back lighting and an LED that seemed confusing in its intended effect), it’s difficult to assess whether the judges or the public will get behind her.
Following Lidia (and after some endlessly painful and awkward host chat), Kujtim Prodani continued the stripped back theme, and went minimalist with his traditional sounding ballad, “Babela” — using only some scant white back-lighting onto a purple and blue LED that seemed to evoke a weird cross between planetary bodies colliding out in the universe, and cell division, and working the “I’ll just sit here” mantra of stage presence on the lone chair center stage. Given all this, it’s hard to see most fans getting behind it, unless he has more support than we know and proves he can bring more life to it on the following performance nights.
Gjregj Leka turned back the clock with his throwback easy jazz number, “Besoj” — easily and calmly delivered, with a HUGE LED piano (complete with eerily real piano player hands — that oddly looked to be VERY off the rhythm of the song itself), Gregj delivered a admirable performance in its simplicity, but probably something too simplistic and old style to get most younger fans especially behind it.
Next, Dilan Reka attempted to amp up the energy with his dance bop “Karma”. With an LED evoking both fire and thunderstorm lightning, Dilan kept the mood high, giving the lyrics life, but may have gone TOO far, as there were a couple of bum notes that really made the performance feel more clunky than it perhaps should have (especially the ending high note). We’ll have to wait to see how this affects his standing in the competition.
Hello drama, hello Mirud. His operatic anthem “Nënë” showcased his vocal range and power (and with a forest-themed falling leaves LED that effectively focused your attention on him). There were a couple of moments in his higher register where his voice seemed to struggle slightly and some of that power was lost. Will this hurt him with voters?
After Mirud’s quiet power, one of the pre-competition favorites, Soni Malaj, took the stage with her confident empowerment theme, “Më E Fortë” — and instantly made you take notice! Soni brought presence and power that none before her could match, and the red-tinged backing LED (with obvious self-portraits going on) continued to evoke that strength. It wouldn’t be a stretch to consider her one of the leaders of the pack (if not THE leader) after her delivery on this night….
Jonida Maliqi, arguably the other super pre-competition favorite, attempted to get your attention with her powerful historical anthem, “Ktheju Tokës”. Jonida surprised (and seemed to underwhelm) as the staging really seemed to lack the fire many had expected her to bring. Wearing a diva-ish gold evening gown with big earrings with the same hair as in her promo vid, the orchestra-provided backing seemed to take the power out of the song, something the song really needs to be effective, and the lack of power of the staging also seemed to affect her voice. Perhaps it’ll be different the next two nights….it’s going to need to be if she has hopes of gracing the stage in Tel Aviv.
Next on the Fesivali stage was Elton Deda, who attempted to lighten the mood with his feel-good song, “Qetësisht” . One wonders if he really provided that, with some shaky vocals, and bare bones staging that relied on an LED featuring a universe full of stars that magically (and weirdly) featured a woman’s torso and a huge hand. It remains to be seen what his team can add to give his song and staging more oomph.
Elona Islamaj attempted to sway voters and judges with her song, “Në Këtë Botë Kalimtarë” — and she swayed and slayed! Elona displayed a confidence and ease and emotion that not many were able to combine successfully on the night. The shimmery star LED gave it all a bright, yet moody glow that helped focus attention on Elona’s pitch-perfect emotional delivery. Could she see her Eurovison “star” rise as a result?
Following Elona, Klodiana Vata came to the stage with her ethnic bop, “Mbrëmje e Pafund”. While the lighting and LED attempted to give flair, fire, and energy to her performance, Klodiana seemed to struggle at times vocally, losing some vocal control, and getting shakier towards the end (hitting one particularly clunky note). It also seemed surprising that her dress choice was of the pantsuit variety, going a bit conservative for a song that seemed to scream for something vibrant, feminine, and flowing. It all remains to be seen whether she can regroup and slay the stage.
Next up, Klinti Çollaku offered up his heartfelt “Me Jetë”, and delivered everything — except for the high notes. Standing strong, and trying to deliver the lyrics with clarity, confidence, and emotion, Klinti didn’t waiver OTHER than on the high notes, and possibly may still have a shot, if he can back it up with stronger performances on night two and three.
On the heels of Klinti, Artemisa Mithi and Febi Shkurti could have wilted — but to their fans and the FiK audience’s luck, they did the complete OPPOSITE. Complimenting each other beautifully, they both delivered a confident and fun performance, that collectively was probably the performance of the night, at least vocally (especially in Artemisa’s case, as she seemed the star of the pair). One might wonder if their outfit choice (especially her formal style long dress) really reflects the spirit of the song, but with two nights of different arrangements (and surely different looks) to come, there seems plenty of time, and little worry, about tweaking (except possibly some urging to use the stage more).
Next up was Kelly with his song, “A më ndjen” , another one attempting to set a mood on the Festivali i Kenges stage. His presence and the staging together just didn’t seem to have a collective “wow” factor that clicked, and might inspire a big collection of voters to go for him if he makes it to the Eurovision stage in Tel Aviv. Off key moments on some notes did little to help.
Next it was Bruno Pollogati with his catchy “Nuk Ka Stop”. While one couldn’t be blamed for finding it over-the-top corny and blah, Bruno’s stage presence did give it a certain “a-dork-able” quality that might get SOME voters on his side. However, it’s hard to feel too bullish about a song like that having success on the main Eurovision stage, if it happens to get there (a BIG if).
Then we turned to Marko Strazimiri & Imbro with their love song “Leyla”. It’s absolutely an off-beat choice, but the LED highlighting the song’s story of a little girl struggling in life was an absolute emotional eye-catcher — one might even argue it makes the song much more than either of the performers on stage (whether that will end up being it’s selling point OR it’s downfall remains to be seen).
Following next, Lorela Sejdini sang her song “Vetmi” — unfortunately, lots of vocal struggles seemed to prevent her from connecting with her song. Hopefully she can rebound and slay on nights two and three!
Eliza Hoxha took to the stage next with her emotional ballad, “Pengu”. Looking more modern and sleek than might have been expected, she delivered a powerful vocal and genuine feeling — but one might wonder if this song and it’s “fado” echos, wouldn’t have been a better fit for LAST year in Lisbon? Can Eliza take it to even higher heights?
Eranda Libohova delivered her nostalgic “100 pyetje” — a calm and emotional performance that seemed to instil good feelings in your soul. However, the question mark LED in the background provided more of an ironic tone to the song. One is tempted to ask, “How would this POSSIBLY do if it even MADE it to the Eurovision stage in Tel Aviv?”
After Eranda (and yet another host exchange that seemed to do more for the case of why they SHOULDN’T be hosting together), Aurel Thëllimi took to the stage to sing his emotional song, “Të dua ty” . Accompanied by a beautiful changing seasons LED that lent sweetness and texture to the song, Aurel delivered his song with a cool calmness and confidence that just set you right at ease — but with two more nights of different arrangements coming, it is hard to imagine how any other set up (sans orchestra) would bring the song up to more than it already is?
Wrapping up the long evening was Orgesa Zaimi with her modern jazzy bop, “Hije”. While Orgesa definitely did NOT disappoint vocally (giving one of the strongest performances of the evening), her gender-bending tuxedo and hat look along with the crazy always-moving LED in the background seemed true to the song as a whole, but ironically, a bit disconnected from each other — Could something be added or tweaked here for the next two performances that will ultimately decide her fate?
Which of the Festivali I Kenges 2019 entries impressed you the most on night one? Who were your growers, and your disappointments? Have tonight’s performances (or the prospect of two more nights worth of performances in different styles) changed your mind about the act that should be sent to Eurovision 2019? Let us know in the comments below!