November 27, 2023 | Monday

Peja Jazz Festival – A Symbol of Hope and Unity in the City of Peja/Peć

The fourth edition of Peja Jazz Festival carried out by Anibar took place between November 16-19 in Peja and featured local and international artists. In the blog below, Vita Kasapolli from Anibar offers a glimpse of how this EU funded festival became a cultural landmark in Peja/Peč.

By: Vita Kasapolli, Communications and Festival Programme Coordinator at Anibar

Photo credits: Elmedina Arapi

What started as an attempt of breaking the ice of social distancing in 2020, now is continuing as the most exciting event in the city of Peja, during the cold month of November.

We surely didn’t expect that Peja Jazz Festival would become so present in the city, and would have this impact among the locals in such a short time.

Being the first jazz festival in this area of the country, Peja Jazz started in times of division, confusion and unclarity. When cultural life in the city of Peja had already started having some consistency and was flourishing with events, the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic had forced these cultural activities to either stop or find a new model of existing. That is when the pandemic indirectly gave birth to a new phenomenon.

As an initiative within and through the Jusuf Gervalla Cinema it was followed up with high hopes and online meetings. Initially supported through Goethe Institute International Support for relief fund, over the past years, the festival has been supported by Anibar, Cinema Jusuf Gervalla and the European Union Office in Kosovo. 

The first edition of Peja Jazz Festival was almost like a social experiment. It was seeking union but not gatherness, it was welcoming people, but not quite inviting them, it was about being present, but also staying away. It’s almost comical, when you remember this scenario, of judging your coworkers for not putting their masks on. Yet, if it hadn’t started at that exact time, I don’t know if it would be this close to people’s hearts today. The first edition was one that brought Ilir Bajri (Peja born jazz composer, pianist) back to his roots. A truly heartfelt moment when he happened to be performing in front of his elementary school teacher. Together with Enes Beu Quartet, Duo Dukagjin Muhaxheri & Visar Kuçi, and Armend Xhaferi Trio, the line up was composed by some of the main names of the jazz scene in Kosovo. When you think about it, it’s a pity that they didn’t get to perform (yet) in front of the huge audience that the festival has today, but it wouldn’t be this audience, if those jazzers didn’t dare to light the spark back then. 

Photo credits: Elmedina Arapi

Fast forward, the second edition, was maybe even weirder than the first one, but it went through a perfect transition regarding its development. Post-pandemic meant hybrid, and hybrid meant international musicians performing live. Daniele di Bonaventura and Roberto Zechini came all the way from Italy, to offer a jazz session in front of a half-full hall. The famous jazz band of Albanian music scene, AJO Quartet, traveled from Tirana to get to the stage of Jusuf Gërvalla Cinema, and so did Kejdi Barbullushi from Shkodra. These were musicians that had either never come to Peja for the first time, or hadn’t been there in a long time.

2022 marked a great momentum for the future of Peja Jazz Festival. We finally achieved the real joyfulness and unity that this initiative had seeked from the beginning. The news that there was going to be a third edition was quickly spread. Echoing even further when we actually announced the line up composed of Elina Duni, Rona Nishliu, Vinicio Caposela and Anna Carla Mazza. It was a deserved celebration after two years of being isolated and distanced. The space got a completely new look with people running to reserve their seats. We got to see how much the jazz music had been absent and missed, especially by the 70s – ‘90s generations. Ever since then, we are convinced that this genre has no boundaries, something that we had already stated when we primarily started the festival, but that was fully understood after the 3rd edition. 

Photo credits: Elmedina Arapi

Today, four years later, Peja Jazz has become something that we have been cultivating all these years. The tradition has it that the team behind Peja Jazz  – which Jusuf Gërvalla Cinema is also part of – gathers up soon after they recover from summer festivities – to start preparing for the city’s famous winter-ish festival. 

Inviting Vjollca Robelli Mripa together with the band AJO, this year, Peja Jazz challenged new progressive branches of jazz music, bringing a mix of folkloric Albanian music and modern jazz for the opening night of the festival. On the second night, the duo Golnar&Mahan shared their way of storytelling through elements of contemporary jazz, Southwest Asian microtonal modes, poly-rhythmic grooves, and experimental music. Sheki&Friends, a kosovar band composed of the famous bassist Sheki Hoxha, vocalist Donika Dugolli, saxophonist Arian Randobrava, guitarist Driton Bejta, and drummer Tomor Shkoza, performed in Peja, on the third night of the festival. All five of them are active musicians of the jazz scene, working and educating the younger generations of musicians. For the end, the Stockholm-based performer, Ikiz, brought a completely experimental play on drums, mixing with oriental instruments, and sharing original rhythms. 

All together, the four nights of Peja Jazz once again brought the focus to the city of Peja, both on national and international level. For this, we aspire to make our spot a welcoming and warm space in the cold seasons, enhancing our artistic program and continuing to challenge new progressive ideas for the upcoming years.