Alen Xhafa: The art forms need determination, tenacity and hours of preparation
OPUSALB: Thank you for agreeing to talk to readers of the Albanian-language music critic magazine “OPUSALB”! Congratulations on the show! Can you tell us how you came up with this idea?
A.XHAFA: The nucleus of the show was forged by my mother Anyla, who envisioned a cross-exploration of multiple artforms intertwined into a celebration of the instrument of life: the heart. I then dove into a deep research of the structure, the function and the power of this organ and began discovering facts and facets of this incredible machine that I was never taught in school. These uncoverings propelled the writing of the show.
OPUSALB: Your role in this play was both a performer and a text author. Audiences in the hall followed as you interpreted some Albanian elements like the famous verses of Naim Frasheri “O mountains. of Albania ”in an improvisation with the violinist, as well as the motifs adapted from the well-known fairy tale in the southern areas of Albania… Can you tell us how present Albania really is to you?
A.XHAFA: I was raised by two strong grandparents and a fearless mother, all very proud of their Albanian heritage. Although we physically left the country when I was very young, they kept the patrimony of our Albanian identity very much alive and celebrated in our household, whilst growing up as an immigrant in an Italian society that many times undermined our cultural minority. I remember writing a poem in my second year of high school entitled ‘La mia speranza’, in which I reprised the verses by Naim Frashri and expressed a rooted heartache for the discrimination the land of eagles had been witnessing, in hope that one day it would reclaim the role of respected and honoured motherland. After learning about the tragic consequences of the earthquake that recently hit the country, we decided to use that poem that I wrote years ago in the show and transform it into a prayer for Albania and a call for solidarity on all the neighbouring peoples.
OPUSALB: Violinist Kraja is your mother. What is it like playing mother and son in the same scene? What are the emotions and with what ambition does an artist who has just begun the art path alongside an experienced name come onto the scene?
A.XHAFA: I grew up listening to my mother practice for hours and hours on end her instrument, the violin, developing and perfecting her craft. That work ethic taught me that nothing in art comes easy, but all artforms need determination, tenacity and hours of preparation. When I found out I was going to be sharing a stage with her, having seen her perform time and time again, naturally I felt a little intimidated. That quickly turned into a drive to make her proud, to create and perform something that would match the quality of her music. Whist sharing the stage with her, the spirit of my grandmother Tefta, her mother, who passed two years ago, felt very close to me in a triangle of energy that touched me deeply, making the moment that much more powerful and significant.
OPUSALB: You have recently left Albania, your background is strongly linked with Italy where you studied until you were 18 and then with Canada, where you also graduated from one of the most renowned film academies in the world. Can you tell us how much each of these life experiences has influenced your training?
A.XHAFA: I think Albania endowed me with a spirit of self determination and rigour in life that I have carried with me since my childhood through a need to succeed in my studies. Italy has definitely introduced me to the beauty of artistic expression and the value of the ‘dolce vita’, savouring every moment and relishing in good food, beautiful music and inspiring company. When I moved to Canada, I realized how shielded I had lived since then. The Canadian landscape is filled with so many different cultural facets and realities and that opened my eyes to a whole different ways of life and exposed myself to a worldwide variety of identities, languages, culinary and social customs and also issues that I could bring to the stage, explore in acting choices and overall reflect a wider and broader audience.
OPUSALB: The music, the ballet, the word stay pretty together. Do you intend to present this show to the public in Albania or in other Albanian speaking areas?
A.XHAFA: Yes, this is the hope, to share it with as many audiences as we can because it is a theme that is international in its value as it unites all people, independently from their social or cultural background. Bringing it to Albania would be extra special because it is our native country and for myself it would be the first time on a stage in the land of eagles.
OPUSALB: The year 2020 is very close. What lies in your plans that you can share with our readers as well?
A.XHAFA: I am currently working on organizing a tour in Canada with this show, travelling through the major cities of the country, such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. There is talks to potentially take it to France and Switzerland as well, which would be fantastic. I also would like to continue my acting experience on camera: I am always writing new material that I would love to produce, star and direct, as film continues to be one of my favourite media in the acting world. This and hopefully many more plans will continue to come my way in this new year 2020.