Elina Duni: Songs of Love and Exile

© Nicolas Masson

Elina Duni Quartet © Nicolas Masson

Elina Duni moved to Switzerland when she was ten, five years after she’d first stepped on a stage to sing in her homeland, Albania. Later, studying music in Bern led to a crucial meeting – with pianist and composer, Colin Vallon. It’s Vallon, along with drummer Norbert Pfammatter and now Patrice Moret on bass, who held a mirror up to Elina so she could see who she is and be free to draw on the rich cultural soil of the Balkans.

Elina’s second album for the major label ECM is Dallëndyshe (The Swallow) and listening to it immersed me in a bubble of ancient and distant lives where women call their loves ‘Ylber’ (rainbow) as they watch them leave green hills for work or, war. With titles such as ‘Nënë moj’ (O, Mother) and ‘Kur të pashë’ (When I Saw You), Elina describes them as ‘songs of love and exile’ but somehow the purity of the melodies and simplicity of delivery make them timeless.

What were you driven to express and explore in this album?

Elina Duni I think the word ‘timeless’ is very important in this case…You can feel the songs’ strength because they’ve crossed centuries and the melodies are archaic and deep. It’s this mixture of the contemporary perception each one of us has being a musician living in today’s world and the fact [the songs] are related to something that concerns all of us – we are all migrants, it’s the fate of all human beings: leaving behind something you love, going abroad, going from countryside to city, themes that are universal.

Where and how are did you find these traditional songs?

Elina Duni You may be surprised or maybe not, I found them on YouTube! Albanian friends are always suggesting songs and a friend of mine living in Greece put ‘Fëllënza’ on my wall on Facebook.

‘Fëllënza’ has a melody that has my dopamine triggers firing like Dirty Harry and Elina’s voice is so intimate you feel she’s singing with her head next to yours on a single pillow. Colin Vallon’s tangential arrangement steers it clear of saccharine-slush whilst on ‘Unë në kodër, ti në kodër’ (Me on a Hill, You on a Hill) he hypnotises, plucking piano strings like a cimbalom.

Elina Duni This is one of the songs where Colin wrote the arrangement with the bassline and the ‘mantra’, I had the melody and rhythm but he takes the song to another level…The three of them are wonderful musicians, they never play ‘1st degree music’. For me, art is the distance we take from things, it’s playing or looking at them in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree…Balkan music can be so pathetic [evoking pity] and it’s really a trap, somehow this distance from the pathos is the art.

When I started singing these songs Colin told me to imagine how Miles Davis would sing these themes – as simple as possible. When I do an ornament then it’s really thought out, I try not to do too much so when I do something it stands out. It’s the manner for the whole quartet.

You said that we live in a time where there is a need for poetry, say more about this.

Elina Duni Poetry has its own music, you can listen to a poem that you don’t understand and still cry with it… [the language] Albanian has something very interesting, it has a lot of sounds in it and it is a very, very old European language. It has Latin and Turkish words and, they say, also from the Celts, and it has something very deep and at the same time, strange.

Tell me about your childhood in Albania and how you feel about your homeland now.

Elina Duni There is a phrase, ‘there are two tragedies in life: to have a wonderful childhood and to have an awful childhood’. So, I had a wonderful childhood. In Albania it was another time that doesn’t exist anymore, there were no cars, no consumerism, no Coca Cola, no aluminium…we used to be happy when we could eat a chewing gum because it was very rare, or chocolate. We were raised in the neighbourhoods, everybody was going to everybody’s houses…and we were free. We grew up jumping, climbing the trees and running and fighting and being outside all the time…the imagination played a very important role. Everyone was writing poetry and reading…I think this was a golden time.

© Blerta Kambo

© Blerta Kambo

For me Albania is always inspiring, I go very often, it’s like all the countries that are transforming themselves, they have something alive there. Unfortunately Albanian society is still macho and patriarchal, it’s changing slowly, but there is a lack of models for women…The best thing is to educate women…and to show that being free is not being a sexual object which is hard because the media promotes this – and the singers too. There are so many in Albania, every good-looking girl puts on a mini skirt, makes a video clip and she’s a ‘singer’. I try to do my best to promote another model of woman.

What other projects are you doing?

Elina Duni I’ve been doing a solo project where I sing Albanian songs with guitar but I also did an album a year ago as a singer/songwriter where I wrote songs in Albanian so I’m going on writing, in French and English too…I love the quartet but I am trying to diversify so I’m writing as much as possible to find my way into music – which is not as simple when so many things have been done and you want to find your own original way at looking at things.

I still don’t know where all this is going to lead, the thing is I love acoustic music so maybe this can be a duo with voice and piano, it depends on who your partners are on the adventure, who you find. I would like to go more electric because it is a sound that really attracts me. These days there are no boundaries and you can explore without losing your identity. I love to sing my songs, that’s my biggest dream.

Elina Duni website

Elina Duni Solo
12.04.15 Cully Jazz Festival – Cully, CH
Elina Duni Quartet 
21.04.2015
 Jazzkaar Festival – Tallinn, Estonia
22.04.2015 
Viljandi Folk Music Center, Estonia
24.04.2015 
Salle des Fêtes de Carouge – Genève, CH
26.04.2015 
Dampfschiff – Brugg CH
29.04.2015
 Centralstation – Darmstadt, Germany
09.05.2015 
Treibhaus – Innsbruck, Austria
10.05.2015
 Bee-Flat im Progr – Bern, CH
27.05.2015
 Moods – Zürich, CH
29.05.2015 
Paradox – Tilburg, Netherlands
31.05.2015
 Rote Salon – Berlin, Germany
13.06.2015 
Schloss – Thun, CH
21.06.2015 
Bibliothéque Universitaire et cantonale – Lausanne, CH

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: