Agora Europe

Invited at European Lab Budapest for a panel dubbed "Indie culture for youth in resistance", Tadi, co-founder of Bijat collective and of the Prishtinë Is Burning party series comes back on the origins of a collective effort to revive Kosovo's queer and feminist nightlife.

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Author : David Bola

Images courtesy of Tadi

Hi Tadi, thanks a lot for sitting down with us. First of all, how did Prishtinë Is Burning and Bijat Collective start? 

Tadi – My sister Matale, this friend of ours and I started Prishtinë Is Burning in 2018. It is a series of queer parties that included performance followed by a club night, in different venues of Prishtinë. We wanted to reach the queer audience while also bringing the queer culture to  everybody, open to everyone.  

Then we decided to create Bijat (editor’s note: “Bijat” meaning the female side of one family, a nod to the two founders – Tadi & Matale’s filiation), a collective focused on feminism. In Prishtinë, at the time, everything was very male dominated, from lineups, to promoters, to club owners. We decided to launch Bijat to create a platform for girls, women who are (or want to be) DJs or producers. We offer a space specifically for them, so that It’s easier for them to start.

When I started deejaying, it was all male, and also very sexist. All the world is struggling with this, and in Prishtinë it was the same. We created two “fighters” basically. Since then, a lot of changes have been made. People take care of how inclusive and diverse the line ups are. 

Now, our focus is that people won’t think that once it’s a 50-50 representation the job is done. That’s problematic as well. The important thing is to pay attention to what girls and queer people are doing. To not be thinking “I have three boys and three girls, it’s all good”, because that can be damaging as well.

Bijat Visual – Courtesy of Tadi

David – Since the scene has been represented by a majority of male artists until now, it’s not enough to book the already existing women and queer artists, you have to invert the tendency, in order to reach a more representative cultural landscape. 

Tadi – Definitely, my sister and I were also doing small things that have a huge impact like sharing deejaying gear. Kosovo is a poor country and not everybody has the money to buy a controller or to have a laptop or anything like that. Matale was lending her controller to everybody, people would come to our house to practice. She would teach anyone who wanted for free. This is really important. 

If you are all alone and you have your laptop, that’s totally fine, that works for some people. However, the sense of community can help people who are not as independent, people who need an extra push. It’s nice to create this community feel. As long as people are responsible, it’s important to share what you have. Not everybody can afford what you can afford.

It can be difficult to find a space that is welcoming of queer events, that offers enough freedom, while enabling people to feel safe inside. Which space(s) host the Prishtinë is Burning events, and why are they an adequate place to do so?  

Tadi – Our first party was at M Club, a club owned by two friends. Sadly, it’s not open anymore, that club was an important part of the city. 

For us, it was important to find a place that does not judge what people are going to do, how they’re going to party or how they’re going to behave. We were a bit scared of how people were going to behave because our event was open for everyone. 

At that point, the queer parties or events in Prishtinë were made by the community for the community. They did it on Sundays usually, when there’s not a lot of people out, they kept it safe and closed. We wanted to change that. 

Of course, we decided collectively on how far we wanted to push it. It was a huge success, no incident, no bad words, no nothing. The audience was very diverse, from any type of age group. 

PIB party – Courtesy of Tadi

The second event happened in Termo Kiss a community-run center, the people running it are young kids. For this event, we all did voluntary work. My brother, who’s an actor, would talk to the people from the theater to lend stages and decorations to us. All of it was done without money. Completely. Whatever we had to buy, was done on our own instead. The event was free for everybody. 

We’re trying to be creative with the minimum amount of money. We borrow everything from each other. Some of the drag performers are now designers, they design their own garments and other drag performers garments as well. 

We always have these restrictions that we don’t have enough budget to really do what we would like to do, but with what we can, we are doing a good thing. 

The way we did the third one was a bit funny. We did it in Teatri ODA. That place is a really good venue for events, but it’s expensive to rent,  and also expensive to rent the sound system in it. We took a bank loan to rent the space, and we decided to tell everybody that the entrance is two euros (the minimum that we could charge). Those who can’t pay can still go in, and if some want to pay more, it’s a welcomed help. We gathered just enough to pay back the loan. 

The whole point was that these people who actually enjoy that kind of music, those performances, have at least one night in a few months that they can enjoy. Then the pandemic started and everything moved to the online world.

You took a huge risk by taking a bank loan to be able to rent the venue for your third event. Was it important symbolically to do an event there?

Tadi – In Prishtinë’s culture, for sure. It’s one of the oldest theaters and it’s in the center of the city. It was symbolic to do it in the middle of the city.

Were you able to document these parties ? 

Tadi – We are working on a zine to document all that happened. It’s pretty tough in Kosovo to get funding, or to get support, or money from a state institution. Because they don’t perceive electronic music or these events as part of serious culture. That’s the toughest part to really convince these people that this matters. 

The first time I was not able to get the funding. It’s tough to get money. Now, I’m working with institutions that are helping LGBT community. We’re going to get help from them, at least to pay for the printing. I’m going to design it for free, everybody is okay to do work for free when it’s for a good cause. 

During the events, I make sure to take a lot of pictures, because it was a bit of history for us, as these were the first open for everyone queer parties in Prishtinë. There’s tons of pictures, tons of videos. The zine is going to have these pictures, and also poetry, interviews, illustrations, all sorts of stuff. 

David – I’m guessing that the name “Prishtinë is Burning” references a movie which contributed in bringing ballroom culture to a new audience, however it was heavily criticized after it’s release on Netflix… 

Tadi – We saw that film long ago. That film was amazing to us at the time, even though it’s controversial now. Now, the name is there, so we cannot go back.

How would you describe the musical aesthetic of your events?  

Tadi –  Prishtinë is Burning is really dedicated to queer culture, their music, their way of having an event. It started with my sister DJing. She, Matale  brought Ballroom Music, Dancehall, Jersey Club, all this stuff from New York and the U.S. to Prishtinë. 

Not everybody liked it at first, when she was DJing this type of music. There were a lot of people who would come, middle aged guys from villages in full drag. They had no clue what ballroom was. They were like “we want belly dancing music, what is this?”  With time it changed, they started to like it. 

We wanted to bring more than just to offer a space for freedom. We also wanted for people to pay attention to the music that is being played there as well.

Is there an anthem to your events? A track that makes everyone go nuts when it’s played?  

Tadi – Madonna, “Vogue” (she laughs). Everybody goes nuts with that one. But more importantly there’s tracks from Kosovo, pop singers from the early 2000s and late 90s. Matale‘s really good at blending and to mix with these old pop star singers with this new electronic music.I grew up with these pop star singers, I would never just listen to them now. However how she puts them, how she blends them, its amazing. 

PIB party – Courtesy of Tadi

It merges ballroom with the Pop culture of Kosovo. I say this out loud and clear. My sister really brought something new to Prishtinë’s music scene. Some of her famous blends are the ones she does with this feminist pop star, Adelina Ismajli, who was really pushing boundaries for feminism through pop music. 

Her lyrics were really brave for that time. She was punk with what she was saying, she was always vocal about queer people and their rights. She’s an icon from Kosovo. 

As a graphic designer, how did you approach the visual aesthetic of your events? Specifically, of the flyers for your event? 

Tadi –  In the beginning we were really careful with the graphic design of our flyers because everything connects through social media if you’re doing an event. 

When I was working for this club, Shelter (editor’s note – It became Banhauf later) in  Prishtinë as a designer, I understood the power of the flyer. It was always techno and male bookings, and that’s it. When they hired me, I started to push these new designs, with illustrations. Then people from the queer community started writing to us, saying “can we come too?” Or “Is it for us as well?”.  The audience really changed, because of the design of the flyers. 

With the flyers of Prishtinë is Burning, we were really careful that it’s obvious what it’s for, but also not attracting the wrong audience. We were trying to work around this line. We needed to try the waters, but we did not throw ourselves completely out there and create a problem that we might regret or, like some horrible incident or something like that, because we really didn’t know how people were going to react to it. 

However, when the pride parades are happening, the older people are looking and saying things like: “Eh, this is the way to go to Europe”. They see that it’s something we need to do. It’s important that there is no violence happening when the parade is happening. The real anti movement is happening mostly on social media. I know in some neighboring countries there needs to be heavily armed policemen and special forces whenever the parade is happening. At least we don’t have that. At least not for now.

PIB party – Courtesy of Tadi

You mentioned earlier that this was the first event to represent the Kosovar queer scene and community, while at the same time being open to everyone. Where was the queer community meeting for parties before Prishtinë is Burning? 

Tadi – These event were definitely not the first queer events, there were many before, but PIB were the first open queer events. Before PIB, they were really careful of where and when to do their events. They spread the word between the community, so they don’t reach the wrong audience. We knew we were taking a risk with Prishtinë is Burning but it really changed things. Now there are more and more parties and events. For example Hyjneshat who also launched their first zine. They launched it in Termo Kiss

At the moment, the queer scene is really growing and it’s becoming a big part of the city. I’m very curious to see where it’s going to go, especially after the Pandemic, when everything opens. 

I have never been to Kosovo, so it is difficult for me to assess the situation of queer people in the country. How would you describe that situation? Is there political pressure or laws negatively impacting their lives? 

Tadi – In Kosovo, the law protects queer people of course. However, in some of our parties we had some civil police just in case. Our country is almost 20 years old and is developing with gigantic steps, but at the end of the day, you cannot control every single thing. The pride parade happens every year, and there has not been serious incidents yet.

People need to get educated about all of these issues, about these marginalized groups of people and their everyday struggles. So the most important thing that needs to happen is education. It all comes down to education and awareness, and fair, decent representation.  

As we mentioned earlier you also cofounded Bijat, a feminist collective. What is your objective with it?  

Tadi –  We started with parties at M Club, pushing young kids to come and play. Then in 2019, we were invited to do the lineup of the opening event of Dokufest. We made an all girl line up bringing Coucou Chloe, Shygirl and Galouchë, a Kosovar DJ that lives in Berlin. After that the pandemic happened and kind of stopped everything. 

We curate a deejaying night in Servis Fantazia (editor’s note – a music listening bar in Prishtinë). We have “Bijat nights” (or Bijat days) however there is not much that we can do because of the crazy restrictions in Kosovo, at the moment. You need to finish at nine, people need to be seated, the capacity is reduced… tough to work around it.

Image Courtesy of Tadi

But in a way it gave us a lot of time to reflect on what we want to do and how we want to push it forward.

During that time, I started producing music, which was really important for me because I have a day job and most of the time I’m exhausted. When the first quarantine happened, ironically everyone finally had the time to do what they love, and I started to produce. My first track got released on Hivern Discs, a label from Barcelona. 

David – Congrats ! How did that connection happen ?  

Tadi – A friend of mine made a remix of one of the tracks of the CPI newest album. We were talking about the remix, I asked him if it was ok to send me just the vocal part to try something myself. I did something with it, they all liked it and they sent it to the label, which was then released. 

What are your objectives for the future of Bijat and Prishtinë is Burning? 

Tadi – We really love to curate. It’s our favorite thing to do. We want to continue making parties but we don’t want to necessarily be promoters.  We do these things step by step. We have our fingers crossed for the future, while also trying to document what we’ve done and keep it alive in digital format, at least for a while.

A lot of things happening in Kosovo are fresh, we like to bring new things there, but it takes a moment until everybody likes it and enjoys it. For example there’s this collective in Prishtinë called Angry Youth who brought Grime music to the city (they even booked Flowdan once). In the beginning people weren’t getting that music so much. Everybody was into techno. It took a while for people to enjoy it, but then it grew and it became a thing. 

Even though we’re small and very isolated, we like to bring new stuff here. Since it’s very hard to go and see stuff out there, we try to bring the ‘out there’ here. 

What do you think is missing for the scene in Prishtinë – and Kosovo – to grow?  

Tadi – We need financial support. The thing is that the government institutions have the money, they just are very confused at what should be supported. Electronic music is still not considered serious part of culture. But it’s slowly shifting, I hope.  

There are many events and projects in different spectrums of art that have been happening for years who get the minimum support. We are like the last thing that they would support. You know what I mean? To them it’s just crazy kids and their parties, they don’t see the value in it yet. 

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About the Author

David Bola is We are Europe Media‘s content editor. Formerly working at Radio Nova as a freelance journalist and hosts a monthly residency on Piñata Radio, with Ludotek, a show focused on video game music.

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