Jonida Maliqi will represent Albania in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv with her song “Ktheju tokës”. It’s a powerful and mysterious ballad with ethnic vibes. It carries a strong message about migration, not only in Albania but around the world.
Albanian broadcaster RTSH selected Jonida through its annual Festivali i Këngës competition. She beat out 21 other acts during the 57th running of the event in December 2018. In the process, Albania became the first country to select both its song and artist for Tel Aviv.
As we get closer to Eurovision 2019, we’ve compiled 10 facts you need to know about Jonida Maliqi. So le ta bejme kete, that’s “let’s do this” in Albanian.
1. Her sister is her idol and muse
Xhilda, Jonida’s sister left Albania many years ago to study in Russia. She returned for a while before moving to Cyprus with her husband. She’s Jonida’s toughest critic but they share a special bond. Sometimes there are secrets that can be shared only between sisters. That’s why her Eurovision entry is so personal to her. We can actually feel when she sings “Ktheju tokës tende ti e di një zemër të pret/Return to your land, you know there is a heart waiting for you”.
2. She is a businesswoman and fashionista
Best known for her showbiz success, Jonida is also an accomplished businesswoman. She owns an exclusive boutique in Tirana. “Everyone thinks that I have a giant wardrobe but it isn’t so”, Jonida tells us. The fashionista regularly recycles her wardrobe giving items away to relatives or charity. Recently, she and her partner created an online store where they sell clothes they don’t use anymore, like a secondhand store for fans and customers. She has also starred on TV shows. Her past gigs include hosting Dancing With The Stars and judging on The Voice.
3. She is always helping others
Jonida doesn’t like to brag about her charity work, but she has participated in several benefit concerts. The causes range from breast cancer to Down syndrome. Often at the end of the year, she donates food and clothing to help orphans.
4. She has an Italian flare
Jonida speaks and writes Italian fluently. She learned the language at school. She’s also adept at English but is completely self-taught, picking it up on her travels and through business collaborations. “I understand it very well but I need to practice more”, she tells us.
5. Kosovo is in her heart
Jonida has been performing on music stages in Kosovo since she was a teenager. She adores the Kosovan people for their hospitality, nationalism and love of art. Many of her friends hail from there. “I love them because they are a part of us, we speak the same language and we share the same traditions”.
6. She’s not a masterchef
Jonida possesses a love for many things, but cooking is not one of them. Nonetheless, she’s capable of rustling up some antipasti, salad, soup or pancakes. But must of the time she prefers to order in. “I have tried to cook different recipes but I am not so good in measuring ingredients accurately”.
7. She’s a trained teacher
Before her days coaching up-and-coming artists on The Voice, Jonida taught in a more conventional setting. The songstress secured an Academy of Arts degree for canto under the guidance of the renowned Nina Mula. And in 2013, she returned to the classroom, but as a teacher. Students remember her as disciplined and dedicated. Some also recall her scent, Tom Ford’s Black Orchid perfume. She used to put on so much that people used to joke: “Oh we know Jonida is at school today because we can smell her fragrance in the air”.
8. She is a mother
“Without my family I wouldn’t be the person I am today, I am blessed to have such a wonderful parents”. She felt their support from the beginning, even her ex-husband influenced her artistic career for the 17 years they spent together. Her son Dan is seven-years-old. He’s her biggest inspiration and number one priority. After Eurovision, she has promised to take him on vacation to make up for their time apart.
9. She’s fond of tattoos
Jonida got her first tattoo at 16. And she’s acquired plenty more since then. Some have changed and transformed in line with her personal evolution. On her right arm, she has a Maori tattoo mixed with an ethnographic design with her sister’s lips on it, a puzzle with a piece of a heart missing, and a sketched couple kissing with the words “I feel”. Further up, she has a genderless guardian angel. Her left arm depicts her dark side, including the Aries fire sign, a phoenix, a portrait of a woman with a night butterfly (it dies upon sunrise), and a full moon representing hope. On the back of her neck she has her and her son’s initials. On her spine she drew Dan, her son’s name and five roses and a lotus. “Tattoos are my passion and I find peace anytime I get one. Any single tattoo has a special meaning and is related to beautiful or painful memories. My tattoos are like my personal diary written on my skin”.
10. She is steeped in music
Jonida’s musical education began with a violin, a guitar and singing. She started at the age of nine. At just 13, she made her Festivali i Këngës debut. Ever since she’s been an unstoppable presence on the Albanian music scene. She would go on to compete on many more occasions and even hosted the event in 2010. Elsewhere she has won Kënga Magjike and TopFest, and racked up an impressive back catalogue of hits.
Do you think Jonida Maliqi can maintain Albania’s qualification streak? How high can she soar? Let us know in the comments.