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Elina Duni

by Howard Lawes



Elina Duni



Albania map


Although born in Albania and achieving fame there as a child singer, Elina Duni has spent most of her life as a singer and musician outside her home country.  The country she was born in, the Peoples' Socialist Republic of Albania, has had an unsettled history. From 1944 until his death in 1985, the head of state was Enver Hoxha, known for his application of Marxist-Leninist ideology and imposed atheism.  Although prior to the 2nd World War Albania had a king called Zog, the country became increasingly under Italian control when it was led by the fascist dictator Mussolini. In 1939, Italy invaded Albania only to be replaced by German and then communist forces, resulting in Albania becoming one of many eastern European countries effectively under Russian control. Then, in the 1960s, Albania allied itself with the Peoples' Republic of China.  After all the misery and upheaval of war time and the subsequent cold war, Albania became more stable under its communist government; the population enjoyed increasing prosperity and literacy, but ethnic conflict continued in the Balkan region for many years involving the states of former Yugoslavia that border Albania and millions of people were affected as casualties or were displaced from their homes. Elina Duni's new album, is entitled Partir (Departure).



Here is an introductory video for Partir.




Elina Duni has happy memories of her childhood in Albania. She enjoyed fame as a young singer and left her home country at a time when the communist regime had been replaced with a democratic government and travel restrictions had been lifted, allowing her recently divorced mother to take Elina to Switzerland.  But the departure from Albania affected Elina deeply and it took her a long time to regain her love of music and singing; but in doing so, she encountered jazz and blues and like so many was captivated by the singing of Billie Holiday and the playing of American jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and his hugely influential Kind Of Blue album. 

Elina studied music and languages in Switzerland and then took a break from studying. In 2000 she began a career of writing music and performing. She also appeared in a play in Albania directed by her father Spiro Duni.  In 2004, Elina embarked on a university course at the Hochschule der Kunste in Bern studying voice and jazz composition, and during this time she formed a quartet with Colin Vallon on piano,Patrice Moret on double bass and Norbert Pfammatter on drums. Their music included Balkan folk songs and jazz and in showcasing music from her homeland Elina, won the first of several prizes for her music and composition.

On completing her studies the Elina Duni Quartet released the first of four albums, the last two Matanë Malit (Beyond the Mountain) and Dallëndyshe (Swallow) released through ECM records. 

Click here for a video of the Quartet in 2010 with the beautiful Ka nje mot e gjysem viti [It's Been A Year And A Half (since we fell in love)]

In 2014, Elina released her first album as a singer-songwriter in Kosovo and Albania, entitled Muza e Zezë (The Black Muse). Current projects are a duo with the highly acclaimed guitarist Rob Luft, a tribute to Billie Holiday with pianist Jean-Paul Brodbeck, and “Aksham”, a quintet featuring pianist Marc Perrenoud and trumpet player David Enhco.  



Aksham playing XVII.





Elina Duni Partir


Partir (Departure) is her first solo album on ECM records accompanying herself on piano, acoustic guitar and percussion. Partir is, if nothing else, a linguistic tour de force with twelve songs sung in nine different languages; a booklet is available with English translations. It is of course a lot more than that and the common theme stated in the album notes is "We are all departing in one way or another, bound to be torn away from what we love.  All we are left with is the unknown ahead of us".  Co-incidentally, when describing his new album The Journey, guitarist Lionel Loueke also talks of "a musical journey where the point of departure is known but the destination is an enchanted mystery".  Both Elina Duni and Lionel Loueke having left their respective homelands retain an unbreakable bond to their birthplace and are using their music and song to highlight the plight of others who have become separated from home, usually in desperate circumstances.

The first song on Partir, Amara Terra Mia, has a chorus "Goodbye, goodbye my love, I'm leaving, bitter land of mine, bitter and beautiful", a lament, and although sung in Italian, the passion and grief is very clear. Let Us Dive In is the only song sung in English, it is accompanied by some very nice piano but the line "We made it through 'til here" suggests a sad ending, while in Meu Amor (My Love) the sad ending is very explicit.



Here is a video of Meu Amor.




Lamma Bada Yatathanna is sung in Arabic accompanied with percussion and Duni performs it with just the right inflection. The sad theme of the album is unremitting but Duni's voice is absolutely exquisite, particularly so in Kanga E Kurbetit (The Exile Song), a traditional song from Kosovo sung a capella while other traditional songs from Albania and Macedonia are performed as folk songs.  The last two songs on the album, Je Ne Sais Pas by Jaques Brel and the traditional Swiss song Shonster Aberstarn are perhaps indicative of the singer re-locating to western Europe and yet these are still songs about lost love and impossible dreams that make one sincerely hope that the singer will find happiness eventually.


Listen to Je Ne Sai Pas.




The overwhelming theme of this album is one of sadness, lost love and leaving home, described in traditional songs and executed with an exceptionally beautiful voice.  There are similarities to the Portuguese style of singing known as 'fado' but the difference here is that Elina Duni sings in the traditional style of several different countries instead of just one. 

Perhaps this solo album is a one-off and future albums will be less melancholy, in particular Elina Duni's future co-operation with Rob Luft, previewed at Omnibus during the EFG London Jazz Festival should be one to savour.


Elina Duni and Rob Luft with Serge Gainsbourg's Couleur Café.





Click here for details of the album Partir. Click here for Elina Duni's website.


Elina Duni


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Other pages you might find of interest :

The Journey Of Lionel Loueke
Phronesis We Are All
Tracks Unwrapped
Jazz As Art

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