"Tribal, visceral and trance-like, the new release “Besa” by the composer and musician AJO (formerly Vjollca Robelli) has its roots in her family’s lineage as well as the politics of being female. The folkloric feel of this album is no accident. AJO added twists and built layers onto age-old lullabies and other tunes passed down through centuries. Her embellishments have given these songs the room to breathe and to be considered in a modern context."
Debbie Burke - American Jazz Author and Journalist
"Her music explores Albanian tradition and heritage - traditionally, in the remote patriarchal villages of the highlands, if the head of the household died without a male heir, one of the daughters of the house chose to become a man and take on the responsibility of being the patriarch. In other cases many women took the oath in order to escape an unwanted arranged marriage. But many also chose to become sworn virgins simply because it afforded them much more freedom — it is the latter that AJO - Vjollca Robelli Mripa found striking".
"To match the story her voice is honey-sweet, punctuated by quick catches that suggest a cry of sorrow. Yet she can soar with the angels and continues to sing a story of hope, and life, as it is, full of low and high points".
Debbie Burke - American Jazz Author and Journalist
"When a snake sheds its skin, it maintains its structure whilst almost being reborn into a new skin. This is what London-based musician AJOs new EP, Besa, feels like. She breathes new life into traditional folk music on tracks ‘Zare’ and ‘Baresha’, that are fused with more modern jazz influences but still retain the generational history and depth of traditional folk. Lead single ‘Besa’ is an amalgamation of irregular drums and obscure sonics tied together by AJOs towering vocals about nostalgic Albanian history and lessons to be learned for the future.Each track has a story of its own that unlike most albums don’t require you to listen in chronological order. There is however a common thread that runs like a pulse throughout as you dip in and out of Besa – the nuances of an Albanians woman’s identity.‘Besa’ is dominating and proud – setting the tone of the album whilst ‘Nena’ is a delicate and emotional ode to motherhood that is brought to life with samples of a child and family setting, highlighting the role of the mother. ‘Burrnesha’ is a slow and steady number that builds into Ajos pillowy vocals – bringing to the fore the dexterity of her vocals. On ‘Baresha’ and ‘Zare’,
AJO is well known for her distinctive voice and recently achieved international success with the release of her latest EP “Besa”, after a long hiatus. The demand for AJO’s live performances has rocketed in the recent years while 2021 saw her perform at some of the world’s most renowned venues such as Royal Albert Hall and Rich Mix in London, where her shows were sold out. She also performed in other venues and festivals such as FemArt, Kino Armata, and Kino Lumbardhi in Kosovo, Oda Theatre, as well as concerts in different countries of Europe.
She has a unique ability to touch audiences with her own written and composed materials, advocating for Albanian heritage. With her work, she passionately evolves around the culture of her motherland and through music she incorporates the dances, folktales, costumes and traditions of her land - elevating the craft and emotion of traditional folk into the innovative jazz infused territory.
AJO moved to London in 2004 to study vocal, music and media management, and eventually settled here to raise four children – which reflects in her most recent work, as motherhood is an important theme in her EP ‘Besa’.
In 2002, AJO first came to prominence in Kosova and Albania when she released an exceptionally successful single under her real name, Vjollca Robelli. The song – called ‘AJO’ – was dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDs pandemic and won many accolades. It topped the charts on many TV and radio stations, came second in the regional ‘BBC Top of the Pops’, won ‘Best Rock Video’ at Video fest, and AJO was nominated as a Youth Music Ambassador that same year, becoming an inspiration for many young girls and empowering women through her music. Seventeen years on, the song retains its popularity, which led Vjollca to adopt the stage name AJO, meaning ‘SHE’.
Well known TV presenter, she hosted many successful live shows during the period 2002-2004, in 2003 her Live Show “Crossword” was voted one of the most-watched TV shows in Kosova according to IREX and this background career development helped her to become a confident storyteller in her live concerts.
With a collective of renowned musicians drawn from across Europe, AJO has crafted her first work for 17 years, with the first song from her EP – Besa – released in July 2019. AJO’s emotive and evocative music shares its inspiration with the musical legacy of her culture.
Her songs tell true tales of honour and betrayal, joy and pain, politics of being a female, empowering and celebration of womanhood and the uniquely Albanian concept of ‘Besa’ – an oath of trust passed down the centuries.
For her new EP, AJO has collaborated with professional musicians including Aram Zarikian, Danny Rico, William Collier,Emma Smith, Alessio Marsio, and Xhemil Gjini.
Andrew Phillips, the Emmy awarded musician for Outstanding Achievement in Music, and Oscar nominated composer, has mixed the tracks. The EP is mastered by Max Gilkes from 1 Sonic Productions, the Grammy and Mercury nominated mastering studio.
"Music is a bridge between different cultures and languages, and one can feel it when listening to the song"