Occur Goes Global - The Music of Albania

Much of the traditional folk music of Albania is “rugged and heroic,” according to World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East. The same goes for its current music scene. Someone like guitar virtuoso Bledar Sejko is as aggrandized as Paul Bunyan, and even pop stars like Elvana Gjata dare to protest human rights violations in song. New technologies such as synthesizers complement historical flutes called kavals and the double-stringed çifteli. Let’s explore five names you need to know below.





If Alice in Chains arm-wrestled Metallica, then slam-danced with System of a Down, you’d get Albania’s ballsiest outfit. These old-school metalheads have been raging against the machine since 1996, when they self-produced their debut album, Days of Rage. The licks of guitarist Ben Turku bridge Scandinavian and American thrash with the hypnotic swirls of Adriatic instrumentation. And in vocalist Ols Ballta, you get the sensation of a Layne Staley séance.


NRG Band


Right in the thick of the EDM movement, Albanian popsters (by way of Kosovo) NRG Band know how to throw a party. Evidence: They have a keytar player. Their pogo-ing sound, honed since 2000, recalls Ibiza and the Electric Daisy Carnival, accented by vocalist and drummer Besnik Qaka’s smooth singing. The three Qaka brothers (Besnik, Arben on guitar and Meti on bass) and keyboardist Xhengiz Boshnjaku also revere Albanian legacies-- their newest single, the R&B groover “As 1 si ti,” features a spiraling kaval flute.


Elvana Gjata


A former talent show winner and Albanian Dancing with the Stars champion, Elvana Gjata is the Beyonce of her nation. Her songs, such as 2013’s Bey-utiful bouncer, “1990,” are earworms unfettered by language barriers. And she’s not afraid to tackle controversial subjects. The M.I.A.-like “Fake” speaks of human rights issues within Albania.


Besa Kokedhima


Another alumna of the star-making TV competition circuit, Besa has similar inflections to Shakira-- kittenish in one verse and a lioness in the next. She comes from a family of mathematicians and is distinguished as the first artist to record multiple Christmas albums in the Albanian language, according to Besa records in her native tongue as well as English, and this year premiered the emotive single “#14.”


Bledar Sejko


He’s considered the godfather of Albanian rock music, launching his band Megaherz in 1990. Sejko, with his versatile voice and guitar-tapping wizardry, now gives lift to many Eurovision contestants. Within him lives a metal mentality with classical musicality-- hear how much his instrument sounds like a harpsichord in the video above. No wonder he’s been revered as a pioneer of modern tunes for his country.

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