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Throwback Thursday: Olta Boka performs in the face of adversity

In 2008, a young Albanian singer arrived in hostile territory. Belgrade, the host of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018, was in the midst of a political sandstorm. On 17 February 2008, Kosovo declared unilateral independence from Serbia. The EBU had to take special measures in order to guarantee the contest could take place safely – and in fact at one point, there were suggestions to move the contest to one of the two previous host cities: Helsinki or Athens. RTS, the host broadcaster for Serbia, gained a guarantee of safety and security from the government for all visitors and participants of the contest.

However, despite all the provisions put in place for contestants to take to the stage safely, that didn’t stop Olta Boka, the Albanian representative being on the receiving end of a very loud chorus of boos and whistles when she took to the stage in the semifinal. 

You can hear the booing and whistling amongst the clapping before the performance begins and when her performance ends. 

To stand on the stage and receive that reaction before you get to perform in one of the greatest moments of your life… I don’t even know what I would have done, but I am almost sure that my reaction would not have been as defiant as Olta Boka.

Zemrën e lamë peng is my favourite Albanian entry because of its simplicity in structure but complexity in melody. Whilst the song effectively repeats its verse, the melody is altered to convey more of the emotion and passion of the story. The chorus has a catchy hook, especially for a ballad, in my opinion and I think the delivery of it is very strong considering the circumstances – any nerves are totally understandable. 

Of course, after qualification to the final, the neutral fans in the crowd made a strong effort to drown out any local influence… however at the end of the performance, it is still clear that there was a strong reaction against the Albanian entry.

The reaction from the crowd has been neutralised by the large number of neutral Eurovision fans in the crowd cheering for Olta Boka before the performance.

Finishing in 17th place may have been a somewhat disappointing result for Albania, but for me Olta Boka can be incredibly proud of representing her nation in such difficult circumstances.

But what do the rest of the team at ESCXTRA think about Albania’s entry from 2008?

Oliver

I really enjoy ‘Zemrën e lamë peng”. I can remember at the time it was selected liking it a lot more than Molitva. Times have changed and so have my views, but it still is probably in my top 5 Albanian songs. The camera work for the first half of the song was nicely shot, changing to a different camera at the end of each clause of the lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, this song marks the first time we have heard Albanian in the Eurovision final. I’m so glad they didn’t change the song across to English. The song depends on the certain syllables being emphasised – the plosive ‘t’ sound in the verses, for example – which helps to portray an impassioned performance. I’m unsure an English version would have done justice to the metrical requirements the song demands.

However, the song and performance does have a few flaws. I feel Olta could have afforded to have a backing vocalist to supplement her generally strong vocals. There are a few stray moments, though, that reveal the singer’s young age. This tends to be the notes in the higher register in the pre-chorus or big notes in the chorus itself. She tends to look up regardless of the camera angle, which reduces an audience connection. While the chorus is relatively strong, the second verse could have been enriched by the addition of a harmony. Similarly, I’m unconvinced that the final chorus packs the punch it was intended to have. Again, a backing vocal would have lifted it further. On a more superficial level, the outfits of both Olta and the backing musicians lack cohesion. I absolutely get what they were trying to go for, but there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of consistency between the two. Similarly, the intricately detailed heart shown on the LED is good and matches the general theme of the song… but some shots towards the second half of the song have such a severe angle they miss the heart or unintentionally crop the majority out. It is incredibly picky, but it’s a pet hate. You’ve made the effort to create this visual effect, why would you restrict how much the audience can see it? Nevertheless, Olta Boka, and Albania for that matter should hold their head up high for a quality entry.

Hlynur

I can’t say that “Zemrën e lamë peng” got my attention back in 2008. However, I do appreciate when people perform in their language since it usually comes out in more genuine way, and I think Olta Boka has a wonderful voice. Now when I was listing to this song this week, I felt like the voice needed to be raspier or somewhat more rock like to match the music better but I was proven wrong when I read the lyrics in English. With all said, I do now understand why Nathan picked this song because it is indeed beautiful and the voice matches the message.

Isaac

I suppose a good way to describe Olta Boka’s offering is that it’s a great mid-00s entry that I rarely think about. It’s a typically great Albanian ballad with a gorgeous rocky backing, and Olta gives the baseline of the song a rather lovely vocal, soft and just pleasant to listen to. Hard to argue that it should have done better, because there’s not much else to it, but a well deserved relative success for Albania, I love it when they enter something of this nature.

Sami

While “Zemrën e lamë peng” is not one of my favourite entries from Albania, I don’t have any reason not to like it. Olta’s voice is not my favourite though, it sounds very pitchy on the live performance. But the song itself is very beautiful and especially on the strong chorus Olta brings out a lot of emotion. I still think there were better songs in the semifinals, so I don’t think Albania really deserved their spot in the final.

Nathan Waddell

I am the Editor in Chief of ESCXTRA, a huge Melodifestivalen fan and love sports. You can find me singing along to Scandinavian Eurovision entries, listening to the latest chart music on Spotify or watching the football and tennis on two different screens at once.

Comments on Throwback Thursday: Olta Boka performs in the face of adversity

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