Kosovar stars mix rap and politics

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The Independent Online
A FEMINIST beauty queen and a rapper who abhors violence - in Kosovo, the unusual is to be expected. Adelina Ismaili, 20, and Memli, 19, are two of the brightest musical stars on the Kosovo Albanian scene. But neither is much interested in singing about the war that has engulfed their country for the past year.

Adelina won the Miss Kosovo title in 1997 and there hasn't been a contest since, but she is better known for her hit single, "I want to make an army with Ibrahim Rugova". The glossy photos in which she is scantily dressed and definitely sultry might give the impression that she is a bimbo. In fact Adelina is intelligent, charming and an ardent feminist. She recorded the song in early 1997, when Mr Rugova was still the pacifist leader of the main Kosovo Albanian party, the LDK. Since then he has been sidelined by theKosovo Liberation Army.

"It was popular before [the fighting started] because people were really boiling. When the song became a hit, I knew something would happen here," she says. "I like Rugova. I was a fan of his and I still am, because he has chosen the best path for peace, but there is no dialogue with Serbia, so people saw they had to fight to win something for themselves."

Memli, a gentle, ponytailed figure, has found it almost impossible to get work since the conflict started. "I feel my music is the job I have to do for this land and these people," he says. "My weapon is not a gun, my weapon is a microphone but I will use a gun if it's needed." He sits in a room where posters of his band, Rhythm of the Streets, compete for wall space with Leonardo DiCaprio. "That's my sister's stuff," he explains hastily.

Both he and Adelina write about everyday life. Their songs are of relationships, money, friends, as well as the war. He is probably the more sentimental of the two. A Serbian singer re-recorded Adelina's Rugova hit with new lyrics. "It was something about love. It was stupid, like all their lyrics," she says grimacing, offering as an example of Serbian pop music: "Run away my darling, My father is armed."

Her anger is directed not only at Serbs. She can be trenchant on the the machismo of the average Kosovo Albanian.

"The first war I would fight here is to give women their rights," she says, describing a society in which husbands can take lovers while wives have only their chores. "All the family depends on the woman, yet she is nothing. That's what I hate." Adelina grew up among women. Like hundreds of thousands of other Kosovar men, her father moved abroad after 1989, when Serbia stripped Kosovo of its autonomy and fired most Albanians from their jobs in the state sector.

"In the KLA everything is different," she says. "There are many fighters who are girls. The commanders are young, in their twenties, so they understand life as it is. They allow their girlfriends to fight."

Despite her success - and Memli's - neither has made the kind of money they might expect in the West. Royalties for radio play are non- existent and, as second-class inhabitants in the Serbian state, they have no access to the Yugoslav courts.

Adelina lives next door to a Serb who fires out of the window when he is drunk. She can no longer party after dark - because of a spate of grenade attacks on cafes, most Albanians stay home at night. "We are an ignored people, we have no rights," Adelina says.

But Memli's dominant tone is one of optimism. It is reflected even in his song "All the bad things around us". It may open with the wail of police sirens but it ends on a defiant note: "Tomorrow the sun will shine, even here."