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Thu, Jan 11

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Birmingham

Geni Skendo

Geni Skendo was born in a pre-internet Albania. With the Adriatic Sea in the distance, his hometown of Tirana felt parochial growing up—ceilings and plateaus everywhere. Skendo wanted an escape and he had two: music and weightlifting. For him, music was an act of rebellion, a mode of transcendence,

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Geni Skendo
Geni Skendo

Time & Location

Jan 11, 2024, 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM

Birmingham, 430 41st St S suite b, Birmingham, AL 35222, USA

About the event

Skendo grew up studying both Western classical and traditional Albanian music. He absorbed the latter’s polyphony, Middle Eastern tinges, and wild dance rhythms. But he always had a thirst for new sounds. Through films and radio broadcasts, Skendo felt like he could visit other cultures through sound. He soaked in tunes from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, America, and beyond. They would beam from the radio to his ears, on through his fingers, and into the rooms he longed to transform and eventually escape. Songs were bottled messages, unearthed time capsules, stowaway music boxes, and transcendental oracles.

Skendo plays Persian nay, Japanese shakuhachi, Irish flute, penny whistle, and his custom-made, signature fluorescent orange contrabass flute. As a youngster, Skendo played for the prestigious Albanian National Folk Ensemble but didn’t truly appreciate his native traditions until his 20s. As an angsty teen, he thought of folk songs as lowly village music, not high art. It was only when he left Albania to study at the Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory—and saw his peers light up to the sounds of his heritage—that he could finally appreciate its depth and beauty. Traditional music became a portal back to his culture.

The name of Skendo’s primary ensemble, “Astronauts of Albania,” captures this arc of escape and return. It also telegraphs his imagination and humor. Albania, of course, doesn’t have a space program. So Skendo is flirting with the improbable. Skendo’s other escape was weightlifting. He would alternate flutes and kettlebells, staying fit and agile—musically and otherwise. He later represented Albania in the World Kettlebell Championships in Hungary and has competed in Italy, Canada, and the United States.

Skendo has worked with many artists, including the Violent Femmes, and has performed around the world at venues like the Musical Instrument Museum (Phoenix), Le Poisson Rouge (New York), Montréal Jazz Festival, Vassar Music Festival (Berlin), and Teatro de la Ciudad Esperanza Iris (Mexico City). He was voted one of the top ten jazz flute players in Downbeat Magazine for five years running. As an educator, Skendo has taught workshops at the Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory, Wellesley College, and North Arizona University, among others.

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