One of the most exciting – and unique – projects we’ve worked on at CGI Events to date has been the creation and continued curation of Kala festival. Back in late 2017, we teamed up with Mainstage Festivals to start the first ever international music festival in Albania. For anyone working in events, the prospect of a pioneering project like that is special enough; one look at the preliminary site pictures, though, sent the excitement through the roof. It was instantly clear that this place – our now-beloved Dhermi – was very special, and that this could become a very special festival.
Thanks to our close previous working relationship with Mainstage Festivals, we were heavily involved right from the beginning in workshopping the original concept of Kala. There were a lot of quite specific requirements for the festival that needed to be taken into account while outlining the musical direction of the festival, largely due to the location. With Albania being a – particularly at the time – unusual holiday destination for Britons (our target market), we knew we needed to appeal to adventurers and pioneers; people who liked being on the cutting edge and doing something new and different. Crucially, though, we had to make sure that when those pioneers brought their friends who were a little less ‘on-the-pulse’, it would be accessible for them too, and they wouldn’t feel left out or alienated. We also needed to ensure we attracted a friendly, slightly more mature festival-goer: we would be bringing thousands of partiers to a very graciously welcoming local Albanian community. We needed to make sure they would be there to party respectfully. It also can’t be understated how much of a part the beauty of the site played in our work on the musical direction – it really felt like we were going to soundtracking paradise, and that nudges your musical vision naturally down a lighter, more summery path. Last, and not even close to least: we needed to put together a lineup that convinced enough people to not only buy a ticket, but set sail for Albania for a week.
As is often the way, the more exciting the event, the greater the challenges. Getting Kala off the ground was no mean feat and required some quite amazing work from across the whole team. On the bookings side, we had an extremely tight turnaround – we were only able to send the first official artist offers after the point at which we would now normally have the full lineup announced. There was also the small matter of convincing agents to book their artists for a brand new festival, on a brand new site, in a country where there had never been an international music festival before. Quite the task, and one for which the address book has perhaps never worked harder.
Beyond the booking, the programming of the festival was and continues to be a unique experience. Partially this is simply the setting: from the sweeping mountain-and-ocean panoramas of the terraces of the main stage, Empire, to the lost-world hidden canyons of Gjipe, the stages at Kala demand true attention to detail in the programming just to do them even a base level of justice. Gjipe, actually, is one of the greatest successes of Kala and is home to one of our most interesting bits of programming. It’s a secluded beach, with its own forest and deep canyon, that can only be accessed via boat. Customers must buy advance tickets to get over there and capacity is very limited. We proposed booking 6 extremely high-quality resident DJs who we trusted implicitly and giving them essentially free range over the area for the weekend. It has become one of the real ‘must-go’ highlights for attendees of Kala, with a true musical personality of its own – last year, main stage stars Hunee and Jayda G wanted to play there too, so we spontaneously opened it for an extra day and they played all day with the residents. It feels like something of a distillation of the overall Kala programming ethos of long DJ sets, total musical free reign and opportunity for magical moments. Speaking of magical moments…will any festival ever top Bradley Zero closing the main festival on the beach with ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers as a full pod of dolphins played in the waves nearby? Perhaps it’s not surprising that Kala 2020 sold out of all tickets in just four days of sales.
Kala continues to be a highlight in CGI’s yearly calendar, and the beaches of Dhermi are somewhere we feel really at home – not least as we now also manage the on-site artist experience for Anjunadeep Explorations and are advising on LWE’s new ION festival, both on the same site. It’s deeply satisfying seeing Albania become a known destination for holidays and music. We’ve missed it hugely this year and can’t wait to be back in 2021.