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🇦🇱 Slideback Sunday: When Albania gambled their hearts

Last week we took a look at one of Finland’s past entries, and this week we go from the far north to the very south of Europe as we revisit Albania, and their 2008 entry “Zemrën e lamë peng” sung by Olta Boka.

Albania debuted at Eurovision Song Contest 2004 with “The Image of You” which finished in 7th place. Their initial success seemed to be a one-off occurrence; in the three years that followed, they failed to qualify from the semi-final twice.

Olta Boka brought Albania back to the final with “Zemrën e lamë peng”, a ballad with rock elements with an impressive performance, especially considering that Olta was only 16 years old at the time. The translation of the title is roughly “We gamble our hearts” and while I’m not sure if this song choice was a gamble, I can safely say it won my heart.

Europe seemed less impressed – it finished in 17th place in the final and only barely qualified. That’s humbug, if you ask me.

Depending on the day, I’d call this my favorite Albanian Eurovision entry, rivaled only by “Ktheju tokës” and “I’m Alive”. I find it to be vastly underrated by the fandom – but maybe I’ve been living under a rock and haven’t noticed the appreciation for this gem. The fan taste seems to favor Albania’s aforementioned debut entry or “Suus” when this is, in my opinion, so much better, but I guess that’s what personal taste is for…

Speaking of taste, here’s what the team thinks!

Wiv

Is there even anything not to like about this entry? Apart from its utterly undeserved result, that is. Even though the 2008 final was veeeery strong, I think this entry ought to have finished top 10.

  • It’s in Albanian, which is a really beautiful singing language. The feel of the song is also Albanian; double “national sound point”.
  • It’s got interesting rythms; not a “canned drum” in sight.
  • The instrumentation is stunningly gorgeous. And so is Olta.
  • The melody is haunting and makes you (at least me!) wish the song was much longer.
  • Olta’s voice is just perfect for this song; at the same time soft and powerful.
  • The performance is low key and classy, and I love the simple, colorful heart on the backdrop.

One of my very favorite Albanian entries!

Tom

On the cusp of Albania’s double success in 2009 and 2010, Olta Boka’s song brought Albania a reasonable result. A result that was matched by a much stronger song in 2009, their Belgrade entry was just a bit “meh”. It wasn’t bad, but then again it wasn’t great. It was somewhere in between and I think that’s what makes it just “okay”. The song is good. The performance is good. The staging is good. But nothing is special, which is why I just find it a bit forgettable. I wonder if others will agree with me.

Rodrigo

Zemrën e lamë peng is the song my mind immediately goes to if I think of Albania at Eurovision. To me it’s their strongest and a true testament to the authenticity they tend to bring to the table. The presentation was perfect without trying to throw the kitchen sink at it, and I’d say Olta’s performance was one of the most heartfelt and memorable of 2008

Borislava

I have a soft spot for entries in Albanian as I think that it is such a beautiful language and this entry is already off to a good start. Olta Boka’s voice starts soft but builds up and becomes stronger as the song progresses and ends in a beautiful culmination. Vaguely reminiscent in vibes to Eugent Bushpepa’s Mall as well, this song should put Albania in an incredibly effective niche of its own – power ballads with strong vocals accompanied by the classic rock instruments. While it might have been overshadowed a bit by flashier entries, it is nevertheless a song I would add to my Spotify likes and continue to listen to for years to come.

What do you think about Zemrën e lamë peng? What’s your favorite Albanian entry? Let us know in the comments on on social media @ESCXTRA.

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