Category Archives: Success Stories

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.”


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.


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.

Besa Neziri Rugova is a fashion designer from Kosovo whose work is characterized by a modern take on traditional elements. After finishing her studies at Parsons School of Design in New York and working at various fashion labels, she launched her own line in 2013. Besa describes her designs as “dreamy, ethereal, whimsical, feminine silhouettes.” Her signature touches are sheer fabrics such as silk organza, tulle and hand-made lace.

From Kosovo to New York, Besa brings authentic designs to the fashion world

© Arton Sefa

The following is an exclusive interview with Besa for KosovoDiaspora.

KD: Can you tell us a bit about your background and the work you do?

Besa Neziri Rugova: I graduated from Art Academy in Kosovo with a major in painting, before I attended The Parsons School of Design in New York, where I received a degree in Fashion Design.

After graduation, I worked in the fashion industry with various labels – where I gained a comprehensive knowledge on garment making and the business side of the industry. This really helped build the confidence to start my own line, something that I always wanted and dreamed of. In 2013, I launched my own line here in New York – with a small capsule collection. Since then, I have been expanding and evolving, as designers do.

Earlier this year, I opened up a studio in Prishtina, where I not only do my production – but I also have a curated showroom where I present my work, and meet clients. I also have private clients, for whom I do custom work as well. At the same time, I’m continuing my work in New York, and gathering inspiration and ideas that feed my artistic soul.

KD: What are some of the projects you working on now?

Besa Neziri Rugova: I just finished up a photoshoot for my new Spring/Summer 2017 collection here in New York, which will be in the store soon.  I have also started working on my Fall/Winter 2017 collection – by putting together my moldboard and initial rough sketches. Beyond that, another ongoing project, which is not that closely related to fashion, is coming to an end soon. I will disclose more information on that in the days to come. I am also back to school to get certified for bespoke men’s tailoring techniques, and I am absolutely in love with this class and learning so much.

KD: How do you see the art and design scene in Kosovo?

Besa Neziri Rugova: I think there are a lot of talented people in Kosovo, but succeeding there is still mostly contingent upon connections rather than merit, which troubles me. While being well connected is an important factor anywhere in the world, it shouldn’t be able to entirely substitute talent. I would love to see this change – and for young, fresh, talent to find more opportunities to present their work. Another challenge I see, quite often actually, is a lack of authenticity when it comes to some fashion designers in Kosovo. I have noticed a tendency to copy other’s aesthetics and ideas, rather than creating ones own. This is something that I find refreshing in New York- the underlying respect in the design community for individual authenticity and allowing others to retain their own ideas for themselves.

Maybe some fashion industry professionals, offering valid, authentic, unbiased critique- is needed to alleviate the above mentioned problems. This could really help improve the overall quality and respectability of the fashion scene in Kosovo.

KD: What are some of the challenges you face as an artist from Kosovo?

Besa Neziri Rugova: To be honest, I never faced specific challenges related to my Kosovar origin. On the contrary, I always felt and feel welcome, and people are genuinely intrigued by our history and country here in the US. In school, I did struggle a bit initially when I got here, due to minimal computer skills, poor English, and the challenges of adapting to a different school system. However, overall, being from Kosovo and another place in general, I really feel like I’ve come to develop a unique style, based on my native culture intermixed with the creative inspiration I access day to day, everywhere I look, being in a city like New York.

KD: How can diaspora members help better the image of Kosovo?

Besa Neziri Rugova: I think we are on the right track here, especially when it comes to the younger generation, represented prominently by Dua Lipa or Rita Ora. It’s important to lead by example, conveying proper values and authentic talent as the key to success, no matter what field you may be in.

To see more of Besa’s designs, check out her Instagram or Facebook page.

We just finished the football fiesta in France and it is already time to focus on another big sporting even – the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. More than 11000 athletes are competing from around 206 countries and 19 of them are Albanians.

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Albania is represented by six athletes competing in three different disciplines in these Olympic Games. Albania is not a new participant – its first appearance was at the 1972 Olympics in München with five representatives.

Nikol Merizaj, aged 17, is the youngest of this year’s bunch but the oldest one, Luiza Gega, is the one to watch out for. Miss Gega won silver in Amsterdam last month, Albania’s first medal at the European Championships. She will be carrying the Albanian flag during the Opening Ceremony.

The other participants are: Evagjelia Veli – Weightlifting women 53 & 63 kg; Briken Calja – Weightlifting men 69 kg; Nikol Merizaj – Swimming women 100 m freestyle; Sidni Hoxha  – Swimming men 50 m freestyle; Izmir Smajlaj – Athletics men long jump and Luiza Gega – Athletics women 1 500 m & 3 000 m steeplechase.

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Kosovo is making its debut at the Olympics this summer with eight athletes competing in five different disciplines. The one to watch out for is, of course, the judo world champion Majlinda Kelmendi. She made her Olympic debut in London in 2012 under Albanian flag but is now competing for Kosovo – her birth country. Kelmendi will be Kosovo’s flag bearer.

The other participants are: Lum Zhaveli – Swimming men 50 m freestyle; Majlinda Kelmendi – Judo women  -52 kg; Musa Hajdari  – Athletics men 800 m; Nora Gjakova – Judo women -57 kg; Qendrim Guri – Cycling men road race; Rita Zeqiri – Swimming women 100 m backstroke; Urata Rama – Shooting women 10 m air rifle; Vijona Kryeziu  – Athletics women 400 m.

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Representing Finland is Nooralotta Neziri whose father is Albanian. She is competing in 100 m hurdles and holds the Finnish record for women in the same discipline.

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There is a Macedonian with Albanian origins representing the country for the first time this summer. The 20-year old Drita Islami will participate in the 400 m hurdles.Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 2.53.31 PM

Three football players with Albanian origins will compete in Brazil under the Swedish flag, as a part of their 163 member group. The women’s team is represented by Manchester City Kosovare Asllani and the men’s by the captain Astrit Ajdarevic and golden boot winner of the U17 World Cup in 2013 Valmir Berisha. Ajdarevic already gave one goal in the opening game against Colombia.

Nora Gjakova fights for Kosova in the 52-57kg category. She won bronze at the European Games in 2015 and two Continental Opens in 2015, in Tunis and in Lisbon.Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 2.28.40 PM

Coached by Driton Kuka, Gjakova won 11 World Cup medals. In 2016 she won bronze in Havana and silver in Tbilisi. This year Nora will represent Kosovo at this year’s Olympic Games Rio 2016.

Majlinda Kelmendi was the world champion in judo in 2013 and the European champion in judo in 2014. She is also the double winner of the Grand Slam in Paris in 2015 and 2016.

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Kelmendi is coached by Driton Kuka from the very beginning and will proudly carry the flag of Kosovo at the opening ceremony in Rio 2016.

Archer Urata Rama is the first athlete from Kosovo who has received an invitation to represent Kosovo at the Rio 2016 Olympics.


She received an approval of the Tripartite International Olympic Committee (IOC). She began doing archery in 2003 and represented Kosovo in the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Qendrim Guri started racing as a cyclist in 2008 in his hometown Ferizaj. He continued racing successfully in Kosovo and other countries.Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 1.44.35 PMHe represented Kosovo during the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan and will represent the country during the Men’s Road Cycling in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Lum Zhaveli started swimming when he was 14 years old and continued the training during his studies in London where he won 10 medals. Zhaveli continued improving his swimming while attending college, where he joined a local swimming team in Sheffield.Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 12.57.19 PM

During the European Championship, which was held this year in London, he succeeded in breaking a record on the first day of the competition, becoming a champion in the 50m men’s freestyle swimming. Zhaveli will also represent Kosovo at this year’s Olympic Games Rio 2016.