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As far as Albanian music festivals go, Za Fest stands on its own. Created by the clearly passionate Albanian singer/songwriter/composer Vlashent Sata, Director of the Festival, organized by creative agency Pik Creative, and supported by various local and international institutions, you feel the heart and soul at the core of this event. Three days (July 20-22) of music, poetry, film, hiking, and yoga bring thousands of travelers and participants to the otherworldly mountainous village of Theth. The sounds of Albanian and international folk songs, mostly reworked with soft electronic contemporary sounds, vibrations of cellos and tambourines, join the already beautiful natural sounds of the village.
Sounds of lahuta and çiftelia (traditional Albanian string instruments) lure you into the guesthouses. Guests dancing valle (traditional Albanian folk dance) stop you on your way to the breathtaking Grunas Waterfall. “Come, dance!” their voices echo behind you, like Odysseus’ sirens, as you journey on to your destination. “Follow the water,” tourists tell us enthusiastically as they climb down the steep path.
The journey to Theth is reminiscent of the Odyssey with its unpredictable twists and turns. As you wander around Theth, tirelessly absorbing its rare beauty, awe-struck by the dreamy morning light of this blessed place, you inevitably hear a variety of beautiful voices and endless sounds, not the kind that can be digitally reproduced, as we would like to believe. Wind, a cow mooing, horses neighing, a river flowing, fresh drinkable water flowing around every corner, human voices and music. In Theth, there is always music. This is how Sata knows that Za Fest belongs here!
It is the Albanian word for “voice” or “sound” that gives this festival its name. Specifically, “za” in the northern Gheg dialect, is one of the most beautiful words of the Albanian language. It is at the root of “zana,” which refers to both “fairies” and “multiple voices” in Albanian. Indeed, “voices that travel far and wide, like fairies in the legends, and echoes between mountains” is how Sata explains his choice for the festival’s name. He sets up the stage in such a way that performers stand perfectly between the mountains, so that the sounds travel across Albania and the continent, inviting more and more people to this legendary place. This is Sata’s vision of Za Fest’s future and, judging from this year’s magical atmosphere, this event’s echo will be heard for years to come.
Though this is only its second edition, Za Fest has already won the hearts of thousands of Albanians and internationals. It holds a universal appeal that, through its particularly beautiful music selection, makes all participants feel that they have finally returned home, no matter where they are from. A return to nature, surely, but also to innocence and childhood. This explains the highly diverse participants in the crowd.
It seems that this is precisely what Sata had in mind. He likens the atmosphere of this festival to a grandmother’s lullaby. “Theth already possesses a certain magical energy, welcoming and loving people, beautiful mountains that embrace you” Sata claims, “and the festival simply absorbs this energy and runs with it, giving Za Fest its magic and positive vibe.” After a very successful first edition in 2017, Sata embarked on the journey once again this year with more activities in mind. He explains how this year’s edition was more complete. The entire area around the iconic Church of Theth was occupied by Za Fest. Several stages were set up as well as a small fair of local products.
The first day began with the soft soulful sounds of Linda Rukaj, actress Ema Andrea interpreting poetry, legends, and tales from the area, Vlashent Sata’s unplugged uniqueness, and a magical open-air cinema. The second night began with an energetic performance by the eclectic duo Oborri. It quickly transformed into something otherworldly by the powerful and soulful Hasa-Mazzotta. Sata jumped on stage and kept the crowd going with a beautiful impromptu performance as the final act, the haunting songs of Andrra, began. The last and final day of the festival began with organized yet independent morning yoga sessions across Theth’s central valley. For a few hours, guests and visitors roamed around Theth to absorb the last few notes of magic.
A compilation of Hasa-Mazzotta’s songs at Za Fest , video by Intoalbania
Approximately 1500-2000 participants attended Za Fest this year, confirms Sata, an abnormally large number for such a small village. Tens of camping sites set up along the village’s central area were occupied by hundreds of tents. Theth’s famous guesthouses were all fully booked. Sata’s desire to bring music and activity to the quiet village, in return for their magic, worked. This is to say that if you plan on attending next year, you should book early and carefully plan your visit.
One of the main reasons Sata organizes this festival is for the village children and elders. With a road that is closed for 3 months out of the year, making access to and from Theth limited, the locals lead a fairly isolated life. This event brings the world to their doorstep and what a welcoming doorstep it is! Be careful, stopping for a morning coffee at Shpella Guesthouse, for instance, for us turned into a day-long immersion into family life, inclusive of some playtime with one-week-old kittens.
According to Sata, the success of Za Fest is clear from the magic reflected on the participants’ faces. It is a kind of magic that cannot be recorded or preserved through photos or videos. You simply must go there! Among the mountains, the fresh air, the ever-present moon and the sounds of music, you will know you have finally made it home.
When booking your trip to Theth, make sure to properly review travel agencies that take you there as well as hotels and guesthouses. The quality and itinerary vary so only choose the top rated ones.
We suggest staying near the church (center of Theth), facilitating moving around the village. Locations that are not positioned around the church may take a toll on your time and energy.
Good hiking shoes are necessary. Hiking around Theth can be fairly challenging and, in some cases, the terrain is quite steep. Ask your guide for details so that you are fully prepared.
We strongly suggest that you book your trip early for Za Fest 2019!
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