I’ve been listening on quiet evenings to a beguiling new solo album from the Albanian singer-songwriter Elina Duni. With its pared-down arrangements, Partir is an intimate and plaintive album filled with pure pathos. The songs on the album range from chansons and ballads to traditionals from Armenia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Switzerland. The Tirana, Albanian native plays all the instruments (piano, guitar, daf drum) and performs all the vocals herself in nine languages, reflecting the diversity of material.
After working collaboratively for many years, Duni began to focus on solo repertoire when her quartet parted ways after a personal break-up. It’s not surprising, then, that the universal themes of loss and longing tie the songs on Partir together. As Duni explains, “…any of us can, through circumstances we can’t control, find ourselves in a situation where we’re torn away from places and people we care about.” She compares working solo to “withdrawing to a monastery.”
Listening to Duni reminds me of Leonard Cohen, evoking his days on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960’s. He bought a house there in 1960 when he was 26, retreating to a world without electricity, plumbing, or telephone wires. He wrote his famous song “Bird on a Wire” after seeing the first telephone poles and wires going up. Hydra was a place of solitude, solace, and peace. In 1994, Cohen moved to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in Los Angeles in search of peace and centering. He was ordained as a monk two years later.
I find a calm but feral rawness inhabiting the music on Partir, French for “to leave.” The deep and soulful resonance in these 12 songs transcend language, in a voyage into the realm of pure feeling. This new album is a meditation to be savored in a quiet space.
Duni performs here a traditional from Kosovo called “Vishnja”: