Two years ago, Latvia’s Marija Naumova surprised hometown fans and the rest of Europe by winning the Eurovision Song Contest with her performance of “I Wanna.” Last year, the trio F.L.Y. (Mārtiņš Freimanis, Lauris Reiniks and Yana Kay) finished a dismal third to last. On Feb. 28 in Ventspils, music fans will decide who to send to this year’s contest.
Ten performers will compete in Eirodziesma 2004, the Latvian run-up to Eurovision. (An additional songs are held in reserve.) Whoever wins will represent Latvia in the song contest scheduled May 12 and 15 in Istanbul, Turkey.
A favorite this year might just be “Dziesma par laimi,” written by the popular lyricist Guntars Račs and performed by the duet Fomins & Kleins. For the second year in the row, Ivo Fomins and Tomass Kleins will perform the only song in the Latvian contest that will be sung in Latvian. All the rest are in English, a misguided attempt to appeal to a wider European audience. Last year, several Eurovision artists performed in their native tongue and the second place winner, Belgium’s Urban Trad, even sang a tune in a make-believe language.
Fomins & Kleins last year took second place in the Latvian contest with the song “Muzikants.” To my ear, “Dziesma par laimi” sounds too much like “Muzikants” and doesn’t stand out enough from other entries. I wouldn’t vote for it, but then again it is the only Latvian entry.
Eurovision fans will notice a few other returning performers in the Latvian national final. The girl group 4.elements is back, this time with “Ready,” a song composed by popular singer Lauris Reiniks, brother of group member Rūta Reinika. These young women are talented singers and could be good representatives in Turkey. Now that I’ve listened to the all the entries three times, the song and the performance have grown on me. It is the sort of upbeat tune that often does well in Eurovision. I hope 4.elements at least has a strong showing in the Latvian contest.
Another entry I like a lot Tatjana Timčuka’s rendition of “Like a Star,” an anti-love song penned by Oļegs Borošņevs. It’s a fast-paced, punchy song and could be a contender.
I have a few other favorites, but none of the songs seems like it could outlast 4.elements or Timčuka, much less other countries’ entries at Istanbul.
The father and daughter duet, Johnny Salamander and Meldra, offer “We Share the Sun,” a throwback to the 1970s both musically and lyrically. The song is catchy and has a nice guitar riff to add interest, but I wonder if the 1970s aren’t a waning trend. Too bad for Mr. Salamander’s silly stage name.
“Let’s Fly Away” should remind listeners of something by Carlos Santana. The song, written by the experienced performer Jānis Stībelis, comes a bit late. We’ve done the Latin thing already (remember “I Wanna”?), but I would love to hear more from the singer performing this entry. Her name is Amber.
Chilli’s performance of the Mārtiņš Freimanis song “Not That Everyday Girl” has the same sweeping orchestral sound heard on some songs by Tumsa, the pop-rock group led by Freimanis.
Kristīne Broka and Santa Zapacka perform “Angel’s Song.” Musically it a nice tune performed by two talented singers, but the lyrics make little sense.
Finally, the band Z-Scars has entered its song “Runaway” in the contest. In voting on Latvian state television’s Web site devoted to Eurovision, the song has been among the top choices of those answering an informal poll. The band became popular with the release of the documentary film Atrasts Amerikā, for which it provided the soundtrack.
“Runaway” certainly is a polished song and sounds much different from other entries. But I question whether that sound isn’t too much of alternative for Eurovision fans.
Of course, we’ve been surprised before.
Latvia’s best music
Since when is Prāta Vētra a rock group? That was the question being asked by some observers of the Feb. 21 “Mūzikas ierakstu Gada Balva” ceremony. Prāta Vētra, which under its English name Brainstorm has made inroads in the European music market, walked away with five of the 18 awards handed out during Latvia’s equivalent of the Grammy Awards.
But two of those were for best rock song and best rock album, a decision that turned some heads, including—according to at least one news report—those of Prāta Vētra’s five members. Songs and albums by the likes of Skyforger and Dzelzs vilks, which no doubt are rock bands, were shut out.
Prāta Vētra won the best rock song award for “Colder,” which is from the album A Day Before Tomorrow, winner of the best rock album honor. “Colder” also was named radio hit and music video of the year, while “Plaukstas lieluma pavasaris” won the award for best pop song.
Songs by Latvian-American rapper Delete and the Lolitas brīnumputns album by the New York Latvian Concert Choir didn’t win in their categories.
Only one of the nominations that I wanted see win actually did. The post-folk group Iļģi took home the honor for best contemporary folk music album for Kaza kāpa debesīs.
Aleksandrs Kublinskis was honored for his investment in the development of Latvia’s music industry. Born in 1936, Kublinskis is a pianist and composer perhaps best known for some of his pop songs from the 1970s and 1980s, such as the lovely “Zemeņu lauks.”
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