Fation Biba raps his way through Greece

He started writing his first rhymes at 16. «At first everyone made fun of me, and you can see why: I was young and Albanian,» says Fation Biba, the emerging rapper who records under the name I Panjohuri (the Unknown). «But I kept at it and in 2000 I met some other young Albanians who were into rap too. They helped me get to a studio and record my first CD.» «When I first came to Greece at the age of 13, I had to work,» he says. «I didn’t go to school. I was an unknown, a nobody who had ideas but no opportunity to study.» Biba wears loose-fitting clothes, a chain around his neck and a tattoo on his arm of his «familia,» or tribe of friends, who are called NJNV, an acronym of the words «from the north to the south.» The tribe, who calls him Toni, includes groups such as 2 Die 4, other rappers and friends who live in Kypseli, Neos Cosmos and Paeania. «In Albania they call me ‘the Greek’ as a putdown, but I go there all the time for concerts and interviews,» Biba says. «I went with the tribe and we sang as guest performers on a program like ‘Fame Story.’» Does he make a living from his music? He laughs. «I work with my mother for a company that produces supplements and giveaways for magazines and newspapers,» he says. «My father works on construction sites. I’ve worked on buildings too, as a tile layer, electrician, roof layer and plumber. That was my best job but they wouldn’t give me my social insurance stamps. At least I make a living at the factory. Even though your eyes hurt and you get dizzy repeating the same movement for hours. It’s a relatively easy job.» Despite his records and videos, he gets little money for his efforts. The CDs are recorded in Greece and the company in Albania copies them on ordinary computers and understates the sales figures to the artist. Biba’s life is simple: work, music and the tribe. «On Saturday we all go to a movie and then to a club where Nikos Vourliotis from Goin’ Through is playing or to Cosi in Patissia,» he says. He says Greek hip-hop fans go to their concerts and give them the heart to go on. «My lyrics are about everyday life, politics and migrants. More about what is going on in Albania with the dodgy types who rule us,» he says. One might expect a youngster who came to Greece from Elbasan on foot as a child, traveled in the trunk of a car to Ioannina and works hard to to pay the recording studio to dream about fast cars, glamorous clothes and women. Not Fation Biba. «I don’t want to make money from music,» he says. «Rappers come from the street and they write lyrics to help people.» These articles first appeared in the July 23 issue of K, Kathimerini’s Sunday color supplement.