Since their debut at Eurovision in 2004, Albania have used popular Albanian music festival 'Festivali i Këngës' as their National Selection process. The first contest took place in 1962 and since then has kept to its orchestral roots. Last month the dates for the contest as well as the list of participants and their respective songs were released and accompanying the mostly young and fresh lineup of Albanian stars competing at a press conference earlier this week more details were announced including some big changes in the hope of renovating the song festival and making it more modern.
The first announcement presented at the conference was the executive team in charge of this years three-night concert:
Festival Director: Martin Leka
Artistic Director: Inva Mula
Musical Producer: Sokol Marsi
Screenwriter: Pandi Laço
Director: Bledar Laço
Festival director Martin Leka may be familiar to some readers as being the festival director in charge of Festivali i Këngës 2011 which saw Rona Nishliu win with her emotional jazz ballad 'Suus'. The song went on to secure Albania's best ever placement at Eurovision with 5th place. Operatic soprano Inva Mula, who has previously worked on the festival as a jury member in 2016 but has also performed previously at the song festival as an invited guest. Inva is hoping to restore the song festival as a fresh competition which appeals to young as well as old. She said:
"My objective is to restore the freshness, the enthusiasm of the Song Festival on RTSH to a public who, perhaps for many reasons, is disconnected. We want them to look back and have the desire to attend the Festival and perhaps to sing along with the most beautiful songs. For this reason, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, we will established a group with the best students of the 15 high schools of Tirana. They will follow the songs and will become a jury that will evaluate the best song"
In an attempt to change public perception of the contest, instead of the typical two semi finals which split the participants in half, all 22 performing artists will perform on nights one and two of the festival. On night one, as is tradition they will perform their song alongside the orchestra whereas on night two they will perform with a backing track and utilise staging that will build a more 'Eurovision' environment giving the panel and audiences a better look at how the song may be performed next year in Tel Aviv. The jury of experts and high school students will then select the finalists - typically 14 in recent years - to perform on the third and final night which will take place on 22nd December 2018.
Furthermore, unlike in previous years, the songs will not be fully released ahead of the first night of the song festival. Short previews will be released over the month of December as a teaser for the actual show. Last year, Eugent Bushpepa won with his track 'Mall' which got Albania back in to the Eurovision final for the first time since 2015 - ultimately finishing 11th.
These changes could mark a change in direction for Festivali i Këngës - moving towards similar Albanian music festival 'Kenga Magjike' which see's a much more diverse range of performances. Check out Soni Malaj, one of the competitors for this years Festivali i Këngës competition, with the song 'Per vete me mbaj' which she presented to Kenga Magjike in 2016.
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