Category Archives: Success Stories

Ylfete Fanaj – The new President of the Council of the Canton of Luzern

The long list of the Albanian role models in Diaspora has added a new name…that of Ylfete Fanaj.

Even though she was born in the beautiful city of Prizren in 1982, when the social crisis started to grow in Kosovo, Ylfete and the rest of her family moved abroad to Switzerland, where her father was first working as a seasonal worker. She studied Social Sciences at the University of Luzern, and immediately engaged as a social worker, relating mainly to issues regarding the youth, such as integration and addiction.

Her political career started in 2007 when she was first elected to the Lucerne city council on the Social Democratic Party (SP) list, and from 2011 she has been part of the Council of the Canton of Luzern. In 2019, she served as vice-president of the forementioned council until this June.

On 23rd of June 2020, she got elected as the President of the Council of the Canton of Luzern thus becoming the first-ever Albanian to be elected in such a prestigious position in the political scene. The inaugural ceremony was a really special one, which drew many plaudits from the outsiders. Former President of the council, Mr. Josef Wyss during his speech complimented Mrs. Fanaj before the ceremonial handover of the Presidency, and he also congratulated her on the new position.

The ceremony turned into a really sentimental one for Mrs. Fanaj, when two Swiss artists acoustically performed the song “Moj e bukura More” which is an old Arbëresh song that has been sung by Albanians since the medieval times.

Ylfete is added to the long list of powerful and inspiring Albanian women around the world who continue to set the standards for future generations and serve as excellent ambassadors of the Albanian community where they live.

Gazmend Freitag – Portraits of the Famous

Fascination and respect – portraits of the Famous by Gazmend Freitag

What motivates an artist to draw the portraits of historical and contemporary figures? Fascination and respect, is the opinion of the painter Gazmend Freitag, whose portfolio celebrates the successful, courageous, kind, creative and beautiful people of the world.  A special place in the heart and the ever expanding collection of the artist is reserved for those poets, fighters and philosophers, whose life and work is crucial to the identity and history of the Albanian people.

  1. Aleksandër Moisiu
  2. Ali Podrimja
  3. Bekim Fehmiu
  4. Behgjet Pacolli
  5. Çun Lajçi
  6. Dua Lipa
  7. Gjergj Kastrioti – Skënderbeu
  8. Havzi Nela
  9. Ibrahim Rugova
  10. Ibrahim Kodra
  11. Ismail Kadare
  12. Klara Buda
  13. Krist Maloki
  14. Lasgush Poradeci
  15. Martin Camaj
  16. Shën Tereza
  17. Nexhmije Pagarusha
  18.  Pjetër Bogdani
  19. Princesha shqiptare Fevzia Fuad
  20. Rita Ora
Alexander Moissi
Gazmend Freitag: Aleksander Moisiu, 2017
Ali Podrimja
Gazmend Freitag: Ali Podrimja, 2016
Bekim Fehmiu 1
Gazmend Freitag: Bekim Fehmiu, 2014
Behxhet Pacolli.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Behgjet Pacolli, 2016
Çun Lajçi
Gazmend Freitag: Çun Lajçi, 2017
Dua Lipa
Gazmend Freitag: Dua Lipa, 2018
Skanderbeg
Gazmend Freitag: Gjergj Kastrioti – Skënderbeu, 2013
Havzi Nela
Gazmend Freitag: Havzi Nela, 2016
Ibrahim Rugova
Gazmend Freitag: Ibrahim Rugova, 2013
IK
Ibrahim Kodra by Gazmend Freitag, 2017
Ismail Kadare
Gazmend Freitag: Ismail Kadare, 2014
Klara Buda.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Klara Buda, 2016
Krist Maloki
Gazmend Freitag: Krist Maloki, 2016
lasgush-poradeci
Gazmend Freitag: Lasgush Poradeci, 2016
Martin Camaji
Gazmend Freitag: Martin Camaj, 2015
Mutter Teresa
Gazmend Freitag: Shën Tereza, 2013
Nexhmije Pagarusha 1.jpg
Gazmend Freitag: Nexhmije Pagarusha, 2013
Pjetër Bogdani
Gazmend Freitag: Pjetër Bogdani, 2016
Princess Fawzia Fuad
Gazmend Freitag: Princesha shqiptare Fevzia Fuad, 2016
Rita Ora
Gazmend Freitag: Rita Ora, 2014

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Returning home to develop a vision and mission through MIK (Made in Kosovo)

For Valon Asani– born in Switzerland to Albanian parents – summer was the only time he could get to know and connect with Kosovo. The little time he spent there was enough to convince him to pursue a career in Kosovo. Valon graduated from the Technical Business School Zurich.  During his studies, he started creating his websites and became interested in web development. After graduation, in 2011, he moved to Kosovo and started his initiative of promoting Kosovo in Switzerland by using the outsourcing-model and hiring people from Prishtina through his web and creative agency – based in Kosovo but serving clients in Switzerland. His decision to come back came as a result of growing up with parents who were always nostalgic about living in Kosovo and talked about Kosovo and its culture in daily bases. Valon claims he always felt connected to Kosovo.

https://www.mikgroup.ch/
MIK’s working environment in Prishtina Offices

In the last seven years, Valon has been testing himself in many fields and that has allowed him to get a broader knowledge in different industries such as IT Outsourcing, Call Center services, the production line of pellets in Kosovo, and he even bought a dental clinic with 10 employees in Prishtina. In addition, he has managed small projects like the dating app “Albanian Friends” which won the first place in Get in the Ring in Kosovo. He currently leads mikgroup.– a digital marketing agency with its focus in lead generation and ROI. MIK which stands for Made in Kosovo, and means ‘friend’ in Albanian is more than business. As an outsourcing destination, MIK is an amazing promotional company for Kosovo.

MIK Group is a digital marketing agency with a focus on Performance & ROI. They offer SEO, Google Ads, Social PPC & influencer marketing. They are Google Partner and are certified by Google, Facebook, and different Digital Marketing Institutes. MIK’s headquarters are at the Zurich Airport and their fulfillment team is based in Prishtina. In addition, they have a small team in Berlin for Influencer Marketing. MIK Group today is the digital partner for many national and international customers. They’ve worked for companies such as Philips, Beiersdorf, Hunkemöller, Novartis and BMW. Valon mainly works on creating a strategy and products he makes sure to be the latest marketing trends because that is key to bring ROI to their customers. Moreover, mentoring and developing his team members is a priority for the leader of MIK. “I’m inspired by the idea that one person can benefit the lives of a large number of people if they have the will to do so, ” notes Valon.

Dream Team

When asked how he manages to stay organized Valon says that what he usually tries to do is: “Keep it simple. Develop routines, implement systems. Have a place for everything, and put everything in its place.” Valon is an individual who takes control of his routine and focuses on top revenue-generating priorities rather than spending time with reactive actions such as emails, phone calls, and other interruptions. “I continually set goals which serve that to serve me as a roadmap and without them, you lose focus on where you’re going and you end up running in circles getting nowhere.”

“I continually set goals which serve that to serve me as a roadmap and without them, you lose focus on where you’re going and you end up running in circles getting nowhere.”

Seeing MIK’s clients succeed and managing a business that is growing and provides for the team is amongst the achievements of MIK what makes Valon proud of the work they are doing. A hallmark for their business is the collaboration they have with three multi-billion dollar companies Philips, BMW, and Beiersdorf. Valon highlights also their partnership with Google Partners which made MIK the first and only agency in Kosovo to achieve that. An additional milestone for MIK is the development of a team and company certified by Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, the Digital Marketing Institute and other well-known organizations.

However, doing business in Kosovo comes with many challenges. Lack of professionalism in public institutions, customs procedures, low purchasing power obtaining loans, high-interest rates, and a shortage of higher qualified staff are problems Valon faces every day. Coming from Switzerland, Kosovo was obviously a difficult environment to navigate. Overtime, Valon has learned how to be more solution-oriented in order to avoid mental breakdowns every time he lacks the Swiss infrastructure he’s used to having. Valon tells us about some of the obstacles he keeps encounters and fights, sometimes even within his own team. “I have mixed feelings and thoughts when it comes to the business environment in Kosovo. On one side we have some small business hubs making positive impacts and we have a lot of skilled young people most of who are bilingual. On the other side, unfortunately, we have no quality, no love for details and for doing the right things the right way.”

“I have mixed feelings and thoughts when it comes to the business environment in Kosovo. On one side we have some small business hubs making positive impacts and we have a lot of skilled young people most of who are bilingual. On the other side, unfortunately, we have no quality, no love for details and for doing the right things the right way.”

As a well-established entrepreneur, Valon is a fond believer that businesses in the diaspora and the ones in Kosovo should cooperate more, exchange knowledge, skills, and ideas in order to improve the image of Kosovo. For Valon, every Kosovar living abroad is an ambassador who can promote Kosovo as an outsourcing destination for IT-services, digital marketing, engineering, architecture, customer center services, and many other services.

“I think the best way to help the people in Kosovo is to help the economy. And to do that for me it is to talk about Kosovo whenever I get the chance to do so. With our customers, partners, family, and friends. This way I was able to motivate also other entrepreneurs to come to Kosovo and create businesses and jobs opportunities. Promoting Kosovo as an outsourcing destination is one of my missions and my way of making a long-term impact.”


Arta Ramadani: Journalist and Author reflects on past, present and future

Arta Ramadani is an award-winning German TV journalist and author of Kosovar descent. Ramadani spent her childhood in Prishtina and later grew up in Germany. She has now found herself in Mainz, currently working at Europe’s largest TV station ZDF. It doesn’t stop there. Ramadani is also the author of the young adult book, “The journey to the first kiss: a Kosovar in Kreuzberg.”

The following is an exclusive interview with Ms. Ramadani for KosovoDiaspora:

KD: Tell us a bit about your background and the work you do.

AR: I grew up in Mannheim, a city with a large immigrant population. This means that you live with Italians, Portuguese, Turks, Greeks, and Germans. My childhood friends are from countries all over the world. I’ve always loved that. This way I learned to respect other religions and cultures from a young age. My family is open minded and loving.

Education was always important to my parents. Being independent. Getting ahead. Having dreams and fighting for them in an honest way. This is what my parents taught me at home. I’m very grateful for this, as it can’t be taken for granted. I love my parents, my brother, and sister. I owe them so much.

I always wanted to tell stories. When I was a teenager, I acted in a lot of plays because I was thinking of becoming an actress. But when I was 17 I became interested in radio journalism. I had my own radio shows for two years. In that way, I have improved my pocket money. When I was a student, I became more and more interested in serious journalism. I wanted to tell true stories about the people we live with. I did a lot of internships in television and independent production companies to gain experience. I moved often and lived in different cities. With all this and my academic degree under my belt, I applied to the ZDF, where I am still working today.

I’ve worked at ZDF for 9 years now. I mainly am a reporter for our morning-show “Volle Kanne.” I love our TV-Show. We are a creative band, very close to the spectators. We report on everything, our show is very popular in Germany. I love my job. It is exciting every day.  

I get to meet many interesting and important people when I film my pieces, from whom I learn a lot. The topics vary quite a bit. Sometimes it will be on discrimination, sometimes mental illness or sometimes I’ll meet girls from traditional patriarchal societies, controlled and oppressed by their parents. Unfortunately, the topics can be tough to deal with. Some topics affect me deeply — make me sad, but objective and honest coverage is always my job. That’s what they pay me to do.

Photo provided by Arta Ramadani.

KD: What has been your favorite experience as a journalist?

AR: I interview many interesting and important people. But I have to say, my meeting with Dua Lipa was a very special one for me. I immediately took her into my heart.

She had a concert in Frankfort in 2016, at the very beginning of her career. I had heard her song “Be The One” on the radio and was absolutely taken by her voice. So I arranged to meet her for our morning show.

I knew nothing about her until I started researching. I found that she has Albanian parents and that she lived in Prishtina for a few years. I was so surprised and happy, that I greeted her in Albanian during the interview. She was my first interview partner in Germany to have Albanian parents. For me, that was something special because I rarely meet people with Albanian background in my job.

Now, Dua Lipa is a star. When I hear her songs on the radio today, I smile every time because I know how cute, smart, funny, charming and warm Dua is. I wish her the absolute best.  

KD: What projects are you working on now?

AR: At the moment I am preparing the shooting on the topic: “Double Life.” It’s about a girl from Kosovo who was born and raised in Germany. She is 22 years old and must lie to her parents to live the life as she wants. For example, she cannot have a German boyfriend or sex before marriage, nor can she move out without being married. So many girls in Germany have a life exactly like hers. Girls from Iran, Iraq, Greece, and Russia have parents that come from traditional patriarchal societies.

It is very sad that there are still many girls from Kosovo who are not allowed to lead a self-determined life. Only clarification helps. We need to talk about it. Taboos need to be broken not only in Kosovo but also in the diaspora communities around the world.  

KD: You made the leap into a new media genre! In March 2018 you released your first young adult novel. The book is called “The journey to the first kiss. A Kosovar in Kreuzberg.” What is this book about? How did you come to the decision to process this story as a novel and not as a television report or documentary?

Credit: Drava Verlag

AR: I have already made reports about Kosovo. I kept an eye on it from a journalistic perspective and as a Kosovar, I am interested in the social and political developments there. But as much as I love my work in television, I wanted to create something very special with the novel. Writing, inventing stories… that’s something that is easy for me. I don’t need much for that… there is only me, my PC, my thoughts and a cup of tea. No cameras, no long train rides, no hotel rooms, no time pressure. There are no borders. I can give free rein to my imagination. I think that’s great because I have a lot of ideas in my head.

So I started writing about Era, a girl who lives in Prishtina in the 90s who really wants to go to a Madonna concert. The 90s were a difficult time for the Albanians in Kosovo. They were discriminated against and oppressed everywhere. They lost their jobs and were even persecuted and killed. Era’s parents are political activists who campaign for the freedom of the Albanians. They love their daughter very much, so they protect her by only telling her half-truths.

Era is awake, so to speak. She suspects a lot but does not really know what’s going on. So she flees her world with Madonna’s songs. Madonna’s music saves her. One day the family has to flee to Berlin. There, a Madonna concert is not so far away…

My book is a declaration of love to my parents, but also to Madonna and Germany.  This is a book for all Albanian parents who raised their daughters freely and lovingly.  

KD: Do you process your own story in the novel?

AR: “The journey to the first kiss” is a novel – a fictitious story. But of course, it also has a lot of my own experiences. I spent my childhood in Prishtina too. My father was also in political detention for campaigning for democracy and human rights in Kosovo. In my youth Madonna, Michael Jackson, Take That, New Kids on the Block and the Spice Girls played a big role. Music shaped my life as a teen very much. So, my protagonist Era and I already have some basic data in common. Nonetheless, the book is not an autobiography.  

KD: Germany is considered a rich country in Kosovo. Your protagonist is learning in Kosovo that there were also wars in Germany and that people were persecuted there as well. Why did you make life so difficult for Era?

AR: Eras’s family, who are Sunni Muslim, saved Jews during the Second World War. This is historically proven, which many in Germany don’t know. Many Albanians in Kosovo, but also in Albania –Christians and Muslims– have saved Jews. This has nothing to do with Islam, but with the code of honor of Albanians. 

Era learns about it from her grandmother. So Era develops an idea of Germany as a country that does not welcome all people. She flees Kosovo with many prejudices in her mind about Berlin. Her mother had to laboriously convince her to flee in the first place.

I did not want to make Era’s life difficult but I wanted to show her that people in Kosovo are not the only ones that have experienced suffering, misfortune, and death. Many others have experienced much worse things. What happens in Kosovo is not an isolated case and Era learns that relatively early.

KD: What would advise would you like to give young women, especially those from Kosovo?

AR:  I can only advise every young woman to have a solid education and to be financially independent. Financial independence, for me, is the key to a self-determined and free life. So girls, stay faithful, earn your own money, believe in yourself, never let yourself down, don’t spend time with idiots, go through life curiously and openly and meet all people on equal terms. This is something that really matters in a woman’s life.

Suzanna Shkreli gives a voice to the voiceless with her motivation and success

The daughter of Albanian immigrants from Montenegro, Suzanna Shkreli is the embodiment of the American Dream thanks to her hard work and dedication.  After finishing law school at the age of 24, she became a lawyer in Macomb County, Michigan prosecuting homicide, drug crimes, assaults, and domestic violence. Her determination propelled her in the national limelight when she ran for the U.S. Congress in 2016.

The congressional race for Michigan’s 8th district was important, not only for Suzanna but also the community that she sought to represent in Washington.  When asked about the main points of her campaign, she said:

“I fought for Michigan’s middle class families by focusing on the issues that affected them. I wanted to help grow the economy, by supporting small businesses that would create good-paying jobs, and strengthen our middle class. I spent my childhood helping my family’s diner grow and I know that small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities.

I fought for the full development of our renewable energy sources, and sought to move us closer to full energy independence. By utilizing new technology and reconfiguring our energy sources, we can create new good jobs and serve as an example on combating climate change without sacrificing economic growth.

Another major issue that was foundational to my platform was fighting to build a strong public education system that will provide students with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century global economy. Improving schools and ensuring the best education possible for Michigan families starts with investing in our schools from pre-kindergarten to high school graduation and beyond. Access to quality educational opportunities is key, but affordability issues must also be addressed to ensure every child in Michigan can succeed. As a product of Michigan’s public schools and universities, I believes we must make college and higher education more affordable for everyone who wants to earn a college degree.

I fought for women. In Congress, I wanted to vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which protects domestic abuse survivors. I wanted to pass legislation like the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which further prevents discrimination in the workplace. Most importantly, I believe women are able to make their own health care decisions and am dedicated to fighting back against politicians who want to outlaw a woman’s right to choose.

Suzanna has since returned to her job to give a voice to the defenseless by prosecuting crimes against children in the Child Protection Unit. When asked about her job, she says this with full confidence: It is a difficult job and heavy on my heart, but I find a great sense of fulfilment in being able to advocate for children in the courtroom. I am in a position to defend the defenseless, to give a voice to those who might not otherwise have it, and to give those children a piece of mind that their perpetrator won’t be able to hurt them again. That work has been the honor of my life.”

Suzanna is thankful for her parents who worked hard to ensure that their children could pursue in a high-quality education that would open doors to a bright future. As an Albanian-American, she is conscious and proud of her heritage.  Her background shaped her political identity from an early age. As a child, she watched President Clinton’s statement and commitment to end the ethnic cleansing and humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. This solidified in her the values and principles of what it means to be American – that a democratic, free and independent nation would stand to protect those in need.  

During her congressional campaign, Suzanna was endorsed by President Obama, who understood and appreciated the history of friendship between Albanians and Americans. She also introduced President Clinton at a rally in Michigan during Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.  

Many young Albanians, especially girls, reached out to Suzanna to tell her the positive impact she had made on their lives by emboldening them to fight for what they believe in.  “Losing is hard, but moments like that fill me with pride and remind me of how vital it is to keep going,” she said. “The fight for justice and a better tomorrow is an honorable fight, and an achievable reality no matter where you live, and that we owe it to one another to pursue it together.”

Albanian Diaspora in America

Suzanna believes that the role of the diaspora in America and abroad should be to create organizational support for Albanians across the world to advance in all areas of life such as growing businesses or running for public office.

“The diaspora should be unified as first and foremost, we are all Albanians, regardless whether we are originally Malesia Madhe, Macedonia, Albania, or Kosovo,” she said.

She remembers how the diaspora came together to help during the war in Kosovo and calls for similar mobilizations for other causes. “The diaspora has not coalesced around a cause of that magnitude since, and it is time to do so again. There are many causes for Albanians to fight for, whether it be integration into the EU or access to medical treatment in Albanian lands. These issues need the attention and dedication of the diaspora, and we cannot wait until there is a tragedy to spring into action. There is a new and vibrant generation that is eager for change and opportunity, and with the commitment of the diaspora, a better tomorrow exists for Albanians worldwide.”

She suggests that Albanians should strengthen their own networks by providing opportunities to the younger generation, their communities and abroad. For example, business owners can provide the chance for young Albanians to work at their facilities and have them learn their trade and hone their skills.

It is evident that Suzanna is committed to contributing to making the world a better place. She has the will to fight for what is right and the fire to carry on.

Dr. Kadriu’s Successful Landing at the Forefront of Science

Within the corpus of inspiring articles about successful professionals from Kosovo, the story of Dr. Kadriu is a must. Born and raised in Kosova, Dr. Kadriu attended the University of Prishtina where he received his doctoral degree from the Faculty of Medicine in 2004. Witnessing the horrible ravages of war and its psychological impact on people’s minds, he noticed that each individual’s experience of the same trauma was fundamentally different. Intrigued by questions related to the neurobiological substrate of mental illnesses, Dr. Kadriu decided to pursue his career in the United States.

From 2004-2011, Dr. Kadriu worked under the exceptional mentorship of Drs. Erminio Costa and Guidotti at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he examined the dysfunction of cellular brain changes in psychosis and mood disorders.  His time as a Postdoctoral and Research Scientist at UIC was highly productive and results in Dr. Kadriu publishing several works in high impact peer review journals. He then moved to New York City, where he worked for two years at the Kennedy Center in the Department Of Neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  

In 2013, Dr. Kadriu started his residency in neuropsychiatry, completing his first three years of his training at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine while working with some of the most challenging patients and gaining a strong, comprehensive foundation in clinical training.  During his residency, Dr. Kadriu won several awards, including Resident of the Year Award, Resident Teacher of the Year Award as well as the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Outstanding Resident Award Program. The last ultimately landed him in his current position as the Clinical Fellow at the National Institute of Health,  the world’s most specialized research center for medicine.

At the  NIMH, Dr. Kadriu and his colleagues are gathering pilot data to identify putative biomarkers for depression and suicidality. He believes that this work is at the forefront of global public health research. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 16 million Americans suffer at least one major depressive episode annually and about 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In fact, depression is the leading cause of disability and suicide in the US and worldwide. His ultimate career goal is to identify the most efficacious acute interventions for depressed patients. In close collaboration with Dr. Carlos Zarate (a world-leading expert) and his colleagues at the NIMH, he is actively working to develop new drugs that have rapid antidepressant actions such as ketamine. The final goal of the research is to identify the exact mechanism by which ketamine and its metabolites relieve depressive symptoms, thereby helping to develop the next generation of fast-acting (within hours) antidepressant medications.

Dr. Kadriu’s passion for science is palpable and steadfast. He wishes to pursue a career in academic psychiatry, combining basic and clinical research with practical work and teaching. In recognition of his accomplishments, this year alone Dr. Kadriu received several important awards, including a 2017 Career Development Institute for Psychiatry Award, a 2017 ASCP New Investigator Award and an APA research colloquium award. 

Dr. Kadriu has also already achieved two awards this year, the SOBP 2018 Domestic Travel Fellowship Award and the ADAA 2018 Alies Muskin Career Leadership Program (CDLP).  He will be speaking at the International College of Neuropsychopharmacology (CINP) in Vienna on the 19th of June. Busy, to say the least, Dr. Kadriu is currently a licensed physician in the State of Maryland, where he lives with his family.

After her family escaped the simmering turmoil in Kosovo to England, Gentiana started to pursue her passion for hair-styling at an early age. Working as a hairdressing assistant at the age of 16, she slowly worked her way and built the confidence to open her own salon. She now owns and runs Rush Cambridge, the Cambridge branch of the famous British brand Rush Hair. Gentiana manages a team of nine employees and works as a stylist for six days a week.

2Gentiana explains how she had initially contacted Rush Hair to open a salon in Cambridge and presented her ideas to senior management. The process happened swiftly as Rush Hair helped her to open a new location for the hairstyling brand. She believes that the right attitude is crucial to achieving one’s goals.

Gentiana hopes to open another salon in the near future.  She says that Kosovars living abroad can help improve Kosovo’s image by excelling in their professions and jobs.

Born in Bulqize, Albania, Mira Kaloshi is a young Albanian singer who moved to Belgium together with her family at the age of five. She learned of her ability to sing at a young age and often performed at school and local events. At the age of 14 she started writing her own music and at the age of 16 she decided to learn to play the guitar. These activities provided her with the opportunity to network with a number of people in the music business who helped her become a better singer songwriter. “Those couple of chords that I learned on the guitar helped me to write the music I have today,” stated Mira. After many recorded demos, Nightgames was officially released on her birthday, the 25th of October, 2016. Nightgames was, produced, recorded, and filmed in Antwerp.

Mira Kaloshi: Creating connections through musicMira’s music is inspired by her life experiences as well as a diverse set of music genres. Her music is not limited to any particular genre but is a is a mix of styles such as indie pop, alternative RnB’ and acoustic pop. Another single released, titled Far Away, is written by her and music producer, Wekho. Right now, she is working with different people, trying to put together an EP that will define her style. She anticipates that her EP will be out soon as she has finished working on it. She envisions an EP that is both artistic as well as visually appealing, having a movie feel to it. She notes, “like making people feel like they are watching a movie-trailer instead of just a video clip. That’s what I intended to do with Nightgames in the first place.”

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But beside the musical career she is committed and engaged in the diaspora community.  She has been a part of the student committee Vlera, that was created by Albanian-Kosovar students in Belgium a couple of years ago. Vlera is an organization that aims to help Albanian speaking students, such as helping them find internships, or by organizing events to communicate with each other. Currently, Mira is also focused on finishing her studies in Communication. She believes that Albania and Kosovo have some of the most talented people in the world. She considers the art scene in the region to be very vivid, changing and evolving everyday. She hopes that in the near future more art schools will open and more events or festivals will be organized in order to provide a space for many talented artists.

Mira Kaloshi: Creating connections through musicEven though Mira speaks Albanian very well, her songs are in English. She is often faced with the challenge of explaining why she chooses to sing in English. Having grown up in Belgium, she learned English from a very young age and listened to English artists. Therefore, English has become her her native language. She notes, “As much as I love listening to Albanian music, it’s hard for me to make it, because mentally I’m somewhere in the middle between Albania and Belgium right now.” Despite being in English, however, her single Nightgames was released by Albanian radio stations, and TV-stations. Another challenge for Mira is making connections in a country that isn’t her homeland. The specific art scene set in Belgium makes it a difficult place for Mira to develop her career as she envisions it. As a foreigner she finds it hard to be appreciated and recognized for her work.

On a simple dark stage underneath a single spotlight, the Albanian music artist known as Stanaj stands tall and confident ready to perform for his fans at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. He grabs the microphone and immediately the room becomes electrified by his powerful and smooth voice and his infectious presence.s4Stanaj, 22, has been performing for large audiences like this for quite some time now. Yet, he evokes such a level of pure joy and excitement when he sings that it feels like this could be his first big performance. It is with love, gratitude, and a huge smile adorning his face that Stanaj gives life to his beautiful songs and sends everyone home with a piece of his heart and a little bit of his charm. There is something truly admirable about the genuineness with which he performs.

Stanaj, born in New York to Albanian immigrant parents, has taken the music industry by storm and is quickly rising as a pop-star sensation. Within five months he successfully released two EPs, “The Preview” in 2016 and “From A Distance” in 2017. Aside from being featured on Spotify’s “Pop Rising” and Tidal Rising, he is selling out shows in every city alongside singer Jojo.

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The world was officially introduced to Stanaj in October of 2016 through his first official television debut on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. By his own admission, that debut to him was a dream come true. But, to many people, Stanaj was already someone to watch out for due to his large social media following. After performing in bars and small gigs, Stanaj began to steadily gain popularity on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. In a matter of a couple of years, he managed to go from a social media sensation to a respected recording artist. Stanaj has come a long way but he still thinks there is a lot of work ahead of him. “I am nowhere near where I want to be. However, I’ve been lucky enough to be recognized by so many people as a true artist,” he adds.

When he’s not on the road, Stanaj splits his time between New York and LA writing –he has written with some of the best writers and producers–and recording songs. But that burden is made easier by the tremendous support and the constant presence of his family—“my champions”, as he refers to them— to whom he dedicates his entire success to. In fact, his manager Mark is his brother. But the sacrifices his family has made along the way are finally paying off. Being a first-generation American and seeing the struggles that his parents have had to overcome inspires Stanaj to pursue his dreams and stay humble. His parents are Albanian from Malesia, Montenegro. “Having older siblings and parents who are so deeply involved in the Albanian culture helps me stay true to who I am, and my roots,” he says.

Growing up, Stanaj sang mostly Albanian songs, which he admits he still loves dearly. He often shares videos and images of his younger self joyfully performing in small Albanian weddings and gatherings. From a young age, his family has shared his passion for music. He says he developed a desire for singing from playing instruments with his brothers. “I am not sure that I would have had the same success without having my family guiding and supporting me every step of the way.”

When it comes to the styles of his music, Stanaj does not think he sounds like anyone in particular, but people have compared him to a mix between Sam Smith, Justin Timberlake, and Alicia Keys. Yet, he is unique in his own way. You have never heard anyone quite like him. You can listen to a song and immediately know it is his. This is a sign of a true artist and he plans to keep it that way. In a world full of mass-produced music, Stanaj thinks that being unique will prevail. As far as we are concerned, Stanaj’s dream built on hard work, determination, and team effort has already prevailed.