Nine languages – one sound

The young Albanian-Swiss jazz singer and composer Elina Duni is a force of nature. Her voice is just as impressive as her personality and appearance – captivating, multilingual, vibrant, lithe and filled with French charm and nimble wit. She is a dedicated performer who possesses depth and a feeling for melancholic music.

She was born in Tirana in 1981. Her mother was an author and her father a director, which meant she grew up in a creative home. She began performing on the stage at just five years of age, learned to play the violin and then the piano. She came to Switzerland from Albania when she was ten with her by then divorced mother, living briefly in Lucerne before moving to Geneva. “My poetic idiom is still Albanian,” she reveals, “but my intellectual language is French.” She also speaks Bernese German delightfully.

She studied song and composition at Bern University of the Arts. Here she got to know Colin Vallon, the acclaimed pianist from Lausanne, with whom she founded her quartet. Her idols included Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Shirley Horn and Sheila Jordan. But she also enjoyed listening to rock and world music.

Her new and third CD “Partir” has been released by leading label ECM. Elina Duni performs without her trusted band here and provides her own accompaniment, switching between the piano, the guitar and percussion. She sometimes also sings a cappella. She has selected 12 songs from all sorts of different countries. The album features folk songs from Kosovo, Armenia and Macedonia. She also includes Portuguese fado and an Italian track by Domenico Modugno. Jacques Brel is invoked with “Je ne sais pas”, while Switzerland is represented by “Schönster Abestärn”.

It sounds like a real global hotchpotch, but the opposite is in fact true. This album is a delight. It adopts a reflective tone despite representing a new departure. It is not a euphoric or frivolous change of direction but rather a considered and at times wistful one. Elina Duni sings about it with an earthy presence and masterful power.

“Partir” is much more than a secondary album. As a soloist Elina Duni gives her all here. She negotiates every potential pitfall without a safety net. She is captivating and a pleasure to listen to.

Manfred Papst



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