This year’s Eurovision Song Contest will be the largest, and perhaps most ethnic, ever. Thanks to fundamental changes in how the contest is run, a total of 36 nations will be in the competition to be presented in two stages May 12 and 15 in Istanbul, Turkey. Latvia’s duo of Fomins & Kleins has a shot to make it to the 24-nation final, but they won’t win.
Fourteen countries already are in the May 15 final, based on their population or their showing in the 2003 contest that was hosted by Latvia. Guaranteed a spot are Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Turkey’s Sertab Erener won the contest last year, giving her home country the right to host this year’s Eurovision.
Latvia and 21 other countries will compete in the semi-final on May 12. The 10 nations getting the highest number of international television audience votes will join the other finalists. Up against Latvia in the semi-final will be Albania, Andorra, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Israel, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Several entries this year will be sung in a language other than English, a shift from the past several years when any taste of the diversity of Europe seemed to disappear. Also, perhaps owing to Turkey’s victory last year and a second-place showing by a group from Belgium performing in a make-believe “ethnic” tongue, several songs have been entered that draw on traditional cultures.
My favorites to advance out of the semi-final include Albania, Belarus, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine. I think Croatia, Finland, Lithuania, and Serbia and Montenegro might also make it to the final.
Albania’s Anjeza Shahini sings “The Image of You.” The tune has some nice lyrics (for example, “I’m queen of the world of make believe”), but it’s Shahini’s powerful voice that impressed me, especially at the close of her performance.
Among the more ethnic songs in this year’s lineup is “My Galileo,” a pseudo-Celtic and sort-of-Slavic song by Alexandra & Konstantin of Belarus. It is a strange piece. I’d vote for the song to pass on to the finals for no other reason than to give listeners time to figure out what it’s about. After playing it three times, I still wasn’t sure what language I had to use to decode the lyrics. I ruled out Belarussian because it just didn’t sound like it. Then I read the lyrics on the Web site of the National State Teleradiocompany of Belarus. Surprise, the song’s in English. (The remixed version, by the way, makes that clearer.) “My Galileo” is the first song Belarus has had in the Eurovision Song Contest.
“Stronger Every Minute,” a soulful tune performed by Lisa Andreas of Cyprus, resists the urge many Eurovision songs seems to have to radically change tempo.
Another ethnic entry is “Tii,” performed by Estonia’s five-woman Neiokõsõ. An attempt to use folk music motifs in a pop setting, it’s not a bad effort and may remind some of Finland’s successful Värttinä. Neiokõsõ (which means “the lasses”) sings the tune in the Võro dialect of southern Estonia.
Latvia’s entry, “Dziesma par laimi” by Fomins & Kleins, is a good, basic rock song carried by guitars. For those familiar with the long-lived Līvi, the performance should make it clear that the tune is inspired by the “Liepāja sound.” Ivo Fomins (brother of well-known singer Igo) and Tomass Kleins will have a hard time competing against some of the other entries in the final, but they should at least get to compete on May 15. Their song was the only one in Latvian performed during Eirodziesma, Latvia’s runup to Eurovision.
The most exciting entry among the semi-finalists is “Wild Dances,” sung by Ukraine’s Ruslana Lyzhicko. Beginning with the blaring of shepherds’ horns, the song includes a primal percussion grounding a mix of wild Slavicism and European dance music. The ethnic inspiration for the music and lyrics is the culture of the Gutsul people of Ukraine. Ruslana, as she is known in Ukraine, boasts two graduate degrees in music, according to her Web site. Her album Dyki tantsi (Wild Dances, released in June 2003) in 100 days achieved platinum status, which in Ukraine’s market means sale of 100,000 units.
Of the songs already in the final, I only found two real contenders, with three more that are promising.
The lyrics of “1 Life,” performed by Xandee of Belgium, are nothing special. However, the song’s energy carries the listener along, combining what seem to be Latin and Middle Eastern elements with a touch of techno. It might be enough to carry her to the finals.
I’ve enjoyed France’s entries over the past several years. “A chaque pas,” sung by Jonatan Cerrada, is no exception. Although musically not as interesting as previous French entries, Cerrada’s young and clear voice adds a quality that lifts this tune.
“Can’t Wait Until Tonight” by Germany’s Max, “Love Song” by Poland’s Blue Cafe and “For Real” by Turkey’s Athena also might be worth voting for.
But how the Eurovision Song Contest handles 36 total entries will be the real test of this competition.
Ivo Fomins and Tomass Kleins, performing as Fomins & Kleins, will try to make it from the semi-final to the final of the Eurovision Song Contest with their song, “Dziesma par laimi.” (Photo courtesy of Eurovision Song Contest)
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