ESC 2023 Song Review: “Duje” by Albina & Familja Kelmendi

1) The Result

In recent years, Albanian entries have regularly just made it across the line to the final, usually finishing 9th or 10th in their semi. Last year saw the end of a three-year qualification streak as Ronela Hajati and her song “Sekret” came in 12th — 9th place in the televote was not enough to compensate for 14th with the juries. There was a fair amount of drama around this entry as a whole, which I’ll leave to look up yourself if you’re interested.

2) The Process

Like Sanremo over in Italy, Albania’s Festivali i Këngës (FiK) is more of a music festival for Albanians, with the side-effect that the winner goes to Eurovision. Often, songs are revamped to make them more accessible to a broader audience. This year there was a significant change to the format: while the jury chose the winner of FiK as usual, this did not end up being the selection for Eurovision. Instead, a public vote determined the act to be sent to Liverpool, and they choose Albina and her family over FiK winner Elsa Lila with her song “Evita”.

3) The Artist

In what appears to be a Eurovision first, singer Albina Kelmendi is not only joined on stage by her brother and two sisters, but her parents as well. She first came to the public’s eye in the 2014 season of The Voice of Albania, ultimately finishing runner-up. After this she released a string of singles leading up to her debut album Nana loke in mid-2022.

4) The Song

“Duje” is what we call a classic Balkan ballad — dramatic and highly emotional in a soap opera kind of way, with Albina engaging in the kind of vocalising we’ve almost come to expect from an Albanian entry to the contest. Her family act as support, both vocally and emotionally; this works particularly well with the lyrics, which describe a marriage on the edge of a breakdown, and the desperate attempt by the singer to prevent this.

5) The Verdict

For those of us living in countries with a more Western perspective, it’s easy to underestimate how popular this kind of genre is in the Eastern parts of Europe. In recent years, when Albania send something in Albanian they usually end up somewhere between 9th and 11th in the televote, meaning that in a semi without juries they are once again with a chance to sneak through to the final. They would be concerned by the absence of Montenegro, North Macedonia and Bulgaria from this year’s contest, though.

This kind of music has never been my cup of tea, so I’m afraid it’s all too easy for me to tune out (regardless of whether I want to) when this comes up on the playlist.

My ranking: 36th