There are four of them, aged between 27 and 29. During the day they used to disguise themselves as four harmless geeks: a material engineer, a biochemical scientist, a biomaterial engineer, a sales analyst. But at night time their real identities come out. Once they sneak away from their offices and university labs, they turn into four dangerous musical-subversives, loose in the streets of London.
They are The Bloody Foreigners, the band whose secret plan is “to change the face of music by adding to it a naughty, dirty, Balkan flavour which will not only spice it up and turn it into an exotic mash, but will make it an addictive ingredient, boiling with aphrodisiacs!” They admit: “Very, very naughty!”
Formed in 2004, the London-based group draws influences from old rhythms of Balkan music mixing different genres, from rock to pop, tango, funk and a bit of jazz. They sing in Albanian, English, Turkish and German. Contaminated by many cultures, their style is hardly definable in a genre. Their music is all about crossing borders, “it’s very hectic and chaotic, but it’s a very organised type of chaos. It’s basically fun, very rhythmic, very pumping and a lot of comedy”.
Bass and backing vocals is Fatos Derguti, rhythm guitar and lead singer is Fatos Bejta, Ard Kelmendi is lead guitar and on the drums “the serious bloody foreigner of the band”, Joseph Cook: he is English.
Why did you call yourselves ‘the bloody foreigners’?
Fatos B.: “Well, We never victimise ourselves, we are very proud of who we are and are very lucky to be in London. The name of the band has nothing to do with feeling persecuted or seeing in a bad light because we are foreigners. We are very proud and we love to tell of our background and culture in our music. Most of our songs are about this, we sing about what happened back home, we sing about taboos and different situations and try to make them humorous.”
How did you meet?
Fatos B.: “Fatos D. and I have known each other since we were children. In 1998 we both arrived in England, by ourselves, fleeing Kosovo, where war had just broken. We were only 17 and 15 years old and it was a tough time, not something easy for a child to experience of course. But we were pretty lucky and after three days we were already at school. Soon after we met Ard, who had just arrived to England, also leaving Kosovo. We attended the same school and that’s where everything started. At school we had the fortune to meet Sue Twining, the head teacher, who was amazing with all of us. She is one of the many mothers I have collected over the years and she is the person who made me realise I wanted to become a scientist”.
When did you start playing guitar?
Fatos B: “We used to meet up every Saturday and Sunday and eat food, drink beers and try to play songs. None of us were able to play guitar at that time. But we had a lot of time on our hands and passion for learning. Like many bands at the beginning, we started playing covers and later on began writing our own songs. We have been influenced by many rock bands like Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and also some Kosova bands like Gjurmët, Telex, 403, who were very innovative and revolutionary. None of us had ever taken a single guitar lesson. Fatos D. begun playing guitar until he realised that the bass fitted his character best. Ard used to play with a two-strings guitar, and I am a left-handed, but at that time I didn’t know I could have a left-handed guitar, and also I didn’t have the money to buy it. That’s why I specialised in playing guitar upside down”.
How did being a refugee play a role in your forming of a friendship?
Ard: “We all had something in common, the fact that we didn’t have our families here brought us together in a weird way, we sort of stuck to one another. Then we went to university. It was obviously a very difficult time because we came here during our formative years, when you begin to build an identity. Our experience was unusual and peculiar compared to anyone else’s, and that’s why I couldn’t find anything in common with my peers at school and university. I didn’t have many of the things that most of them had and that they would take for granted, like going on holidays or visiting their parents for Christmas. We didn’t have this privilege. It was a bit of a weird period, we still felt bound to our political situation. However we were pretty lucky compared to many people who came to England during the 1990s from other countries. They didn’t have the same benefits as us”.
By the way, how did you happen to have a foreigner in your band?
Fatos B.: “That’s the irony. It was Fatos D. who first met Jo at Jazz and Rock Society at Imperial College, where they both studied, and he invited him to join our band. So, after six or seven drummers we had changed, we finally found him. Most of the drummers that we had had some drug problems, he is clean.
I am curious to know what he thinks of the three of you. Why didn’t he join us tonight?
Fatos B.: He couldn’t because today is Friday and he is cutting his nails”.
Fatos B.: Yes, every second Friday of the month he takes his all day to do his manicure and pedicure. You see, he is English. But he is an excellent drummer as well. Despite his nails problem…
Joking apart, after 12 years do you still feel a refugee in London?
Ard: “The word refugee doesn’t mean much, to be honest. I tend to see myself as a foreigner in my own country, but I am also a foreigner in this country… It’s a bit of a great paradox. But it also gives you a better understanding of how the world works. As an outsider you can see things from a very different perspective than anyone else. I don’t have many friends left in Kosovo anymore, most of them left during the war. They are all spread across the world: some of them went to the USA, Australia and other parts of Europe. Now when I go back to Kosovo the only people I hang out with are my sisters, and maybe some guys from London”.
So, you are not English and you don’t feel Kosovan anymore. What are you then?
Ard: If I have to define myself with some identity, well…I would definitely say I am a Londoner.
Read the article on The New Londoners