KOSOVO: Merrma Shiun E Prishtinës - Sabri Fejzullahu
Singing in his balladeering style, the Kosovan pop maestro manages to mix in traditional folk music with extraneous elements in a charming style
Balkan music has, so far, not disappointed during this musical odyssey, and the well-regarded Kosovan singer, musician, and owner of the best moustache in music, Sabri Fejzullahu, has ably continued this strong streak of albums. Despite Kosovo being the newest Balkan state, declaring official independence from Serbia in 2008, their musical traditions of course go back centuries, and are linked to those of its neighbours, Albania in particular. Though Kosovo had been functionally independent since the Kosovo War of 1998, it is still only partially recognised, with 99 countries (including Taiwan) officially recognising it. There is even an incredibly endearing website that thanks each country that has recognised Kosovo as independent, which quite frankly, if that does not motivate all nations to recognise this plucky little state, I don’t know what will. Fejzullahu himself was involved in Kosovan politics, serving as an MP during those difficult years in the immediate aftermath of the Kosovo War, and is himself a bit of a jack of all trades. Singer, actor, comedian, politician, he can seemingly do it all, but as we will see, this has been a crucial element in Fejzullahu’s career.
“Merrma Shiun E Prishtinës certainly manages to entertain, while also showing the versatility of Kosovo’s musical traditions and the innovations of its singer.”
Born in a small town in the foothills of the Albanik Mountains, Fejzullahu’s career is long and storied, and a career marked by diversification and creative growth. Starting out as a rock musician, he learned that if he was to stay relevant, he had to change with the times, which he did, keeping one ear in tune with the folk traditions of his youth, and the other picking up what were the trends of the time. This is very apparent in Merrma Shiun E Prishtinës, which has definitely a link to the music of the Balkans in its sound, but Fejzullahu and his composers have managed to combine it with pop, rock, and ballad elements in a way that, for the most part, feels natural and fun.
Fejzullahu has a very strong and clear sounding voice, and as such it manages to play over the different styles without sounding jarring. For example, in the first three songs alone we go from Fshatarja Ime, a folk rock song with Balkan folk rhythms, to the title track, which takes Kosovan folk instruments and overlays them on top of a generic pop beat, followed by Sytë Qiellor, which takes elements of synth rock and electro and manages to give it a Kosovan flavour. The album continues in this vein for the rest of its runtime, with varying degrees of success. While I like the album a lot overall, my own preference is for the songs that lean more towards the Kosovan and Balkan folk traditions, like Fshatarja Ime and Me Dashje Të Harrova, as they have aged better to my ears. The latter even mixes in some Arabic and Andalusian influences, with a really gorgeous flamenco guitar solo added in the mix. On the other songs, while Fejzullahu’s voice is always on point, some of the synths and electronic strings date it somewhat, in a way that can detract slightly from the rest of the musicianship. Nonetheless, there’s much to enjoy here.
Merrma Shiun E Prishtinës certainly manages to entertain, while also showing the versatility of Kosovo’s musical traditions and the innovations of its singer. One thing I can’t fault it for is trying to do something a bit different on each song. Fejzullahu has a voice which is full of power and emotion that nicely fits ballads and pop, and if he were to do an album that just fit those genres, I would have completely understood. And yet, it was nice to listen to this album, where clearly Fejzullahu and his team of musicians were keen to try to mix up genres into traditional pop. What’s more is that it remains a broadly crowd-pleasing album at the same time, never losing focus on the objective of making enjoyable music. It is undeniably dated, but nonetheless interesting for its quiet eclecticism, and certainly worth your time if either Balkan music or global pop are your thing.