On December 22, 2022, Albina & Familija Kelmendi won the televote of Festivali i Këngës, which gave them the ticket to represent Albania at Eurovision 2023. The Balkan nation continues its trend of sending powerful, female lead vocalists to the Europe-wide Contest. But this time there is a twist, as like the band's name suggests Albina will be joined by her relatives onstage. The group is the third Kosovar act to represent Albania after Rona Nishliu (2012) and Lindita Halimi (2017). It is an intriguing line-up, so let's find out more about Albina and the Kelmendi family.
Kelmendi family origins
Albina was born on 27 January 1998 in Peja, Kosovo, which was then part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Kelmendi family was full of musicians, including Albina's father Bujar and mother Albana. Albina has two other siblings - a sister Sidorela and brother Albin - who are also singers as well. As a child, Albina first learnt how to play the clarinet and the piano, before eventually taking up singing. Naturally Albina's family had a big influence on her musical developement, as she explained in an interview to Albanian Radio K4:
"My family has supported me but is also critical of my music, especially my father who constantly demands the best from me. But of course this helps me succeed."
When she was young, Albina and several of her relatives came together to form a musical act which they called 'Family Band'. The group often performed at weddings both in Albania and abroad. It would serve as a precursor to Familije Kelmendi, which would grace the Festivali i Këngës stage several years later.
The Voice of Albania participation
In 2014, Albina auditioned for the fourth season of The Voice of Albania. She took part to explore how far her vocal skills could go, and to see whether she build a future career of her own in the music industry. Her incredible performance at her Blind Audition made all four judges turn their chairs. After a lengthy deliberation, Albina chose Elsa Lila to be her mentor. It was a successful partnership with Albina eventually finishing runners-up in that series. You can watch Albina's initial audition below:
Albina's mentor Elsa actually participated in Festivali i Këngës in 2022 with the song 'Evita', where she won the jury vote and therefore the entire competition. It was Elsa's third victory at the festival, having previously won in 1996 and 1997. Albina & Familija Kelmendi finished second with the juries. All in all, it was an excellent week for Team Elsa at Festivali i Këngës!
Post-The Voice ventures
Seeking to capitalise on her The Voice appearance, in May 2015 Albina participated in the 12th edition of Top Fest - another prestigious and televised Albanian singing competition that was inspired by Festivali i Këngës. Many past Albanian Eurovision entrants have won Top Fest including Elhaida Dani (who represented Albania in 2015), Eneda Tarifa (2016), and Linda Halimi (2017). At the Top Fest finale, Albina performed the song 'Nuk ka ma mire'. 2015 was actually the final year of Top Fest, with the program reportedly being cancelled as viewers increasingly tuned in to Festivali i Këngës as it was Albania's Eurovision selection show.
On 25 November 2015 Albina released her first single as a lead artist 'Endrren Mos Ma Merr', which translates to 'Dream Don't Take Me'. At the time of writing, she has released 23 singles. Albina's first album as the lead artist, Nana Loke, was released on 25 June 2022 and features several songs that are a duet with her mother Albana including the interestingly named '6 Tetor 68' (meaning October 6, 1968).
Shortly before her participation in Festivali i Këngës, in October last year Albina married her long-term partner, businessman Valon Vataj. When she is not tending to the music side of her career, Albina manages one of Valon's businesses as a director. Given that performing at weddings is Familija Kelmendi's forte, we hope they were able to serenade Albina and Valon on their special day.
Festivali i Këngës 2022
On 27 October 2022 Albina & Familija Kelmendi, along with 25 other acts, were announced to be competing in that December's Festivali i Këngës. That edition of the festival was different because the participating songs would not be heard publicly until the televised broadcast, whereas in previous years they were released prior to the event.
Albina & Familija Kelmendi - which included Albina, her parents, and siblings - debuted their song 'Duje' in Semi Final 1 of Festivali i Këngës on December 19. The song was composed by Enis Mullaj, with lyrics by Eriona Rushiti. As they were a 'big artist' Albina & Familija Kelmendi automatically had a place in Saturday's final. However, all the big artists had to perform in Semi Final 3 on December 21, in a cover duet with another well-known Albanian singer. Albina performed 'Na lini të jetojmë' with Josif Gjipali, whilst Familija Kelmendi cheered her on from the sidelines.
In the final on December 22, Albina & Familija Kelmendi performed 'Duje' again, this time in the penultimate position in the running order. After the jury's top three were announced, and festival victor Elsa reprised her entry 'Evita', Albina & Familija Kelmendi were declared the winner of the televote held across Albania and Kosovo.
After their performances in Festivali i Këngës, many Albanian Eurovision artists revamp, translate into English or even change their song for May's Europe-wide contest. In an interview with Albania's Eurovision broadcaster Radio Televizioni Shqiptar (RTSH) Albina & Familija Kelmendi confirmed that while they may revamp the song, the lyrics will remain in Albanian.
What is 'Duje' about?
In the same interview with RTSH, Albina & Familija Kelmendi stated that 'Duje' is about members of a family separating, and not necessarily a couple. Further analysis of the lyrics reveal the separating family members are splitting over a disagreement, but they are forgetting about the well-being of their children. In the chorus the band implores the family to love each other unconditionally, especially the children, as if their life depends on it.
After Kalush Orchestra sang about a mother called Stefania last year, can Albania & Familija Kelmendi make it two years on the trot where a song about family wins Eurovision? We will find out in May.
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