Naumova gives up Tibet for trip to Tallinn

No one can predict the future, singer Marija Naumova agrees. All she knows is that if she wasn’t headed for Tallinn next month to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest, she would be on her way to a monastery in Tibet.

Naumova, who speaks five languages including her native Russian, will represent Latvia as one of 24 countries participating in Eurovision. Sometimes maligned as a showcase for packaged pop, the contest nonetheless draws a large international television audience and momentarily heightens feelings of national pride across Europe. Last year, in the contest held in Copenhagen, the Estonian duet of Tanel Pader and Dave Benton won first place, earning Estonia the honor of hosting this year’s competition on May 25.

Could Latvia and Marie N, as Naumova’s stage presence will be known in Tallinn, come out on top this year? Perhaps. But that’s not a goal she’s set.

“I have a wish for myself,” Naumova said in a telephone interview from Rīga, “and that is that I always have plenty to do.”

And right now she does. Naumova is perhaps one of few musical artists in Latvia who, for the moment, can make a living as just a musical artist. Even before she and her backup performers could begin to make final preparations for Eurovision, Naumova was setting her sights on an upcoming concert with Raimonds Pauls in Moscow as well as continuing a tour around Latvia. At the same time, work was continuing on a compact disc that is to contain several of Naumova’s songs, including a couple of mixes of the Eurovision entry, “I Wanna.”

The album in part will showcase Naumova’s ability to sing in English. She’s already released albums in Russian, in Latvian and in French. Those albums, especially Ieskaties acīs and Ma voix, ma voie, combined with her acclaimed performance in the musical production of “Sister Carrie” to help make her one of the most popular performers in Latvia.

Her victory in the national Eurovision contest in March was resounding, with more than 26,500 votes cast by fans to take her to No. 1. (The second-place winners, Linda Leen and Horens, scored about 18,100 votes.) Not bad, considering she came up with the song just two days before entries were due in early January.

“In the shower I’m always humming something,” she said. That’s how “I Wanna” came to her. Although she won, it was not without the requisite controversy that seems to have attached itself to the Latvian run-up to Eurovision. Critics claimed “I Wanna” was plagiarized from Ricky Martin’s hit song from 2000, “She Bangs.” But a group of experts determined that while “I Wanna” may have been inspired by “She Bangs,” it was not plagiarism. Still, some fans of other contestants remain disgruntled that Naumova won. One fan even posted an MP3 file on the Internet, weaving together Naumova’s and Martin’s songs in a mix that may leave some to wonder whether more than inspiration was at work.

Whatever the criticism over “I Wanna,” Naumova is still viewed by many as a talented individual. Besides speaking five languages, she also holds a bachelor’s degree in law.

Naumova credits the popular composer Pauls with kicking off her singing career. It was Pauls who discovered Naumova performing in Jūrmala several years ago. Their collaboration has continued.

Although Naumova said she avoids the politics of ethnicity, she noted that with her surname it usually would be difficult to get a break. But thanks in part to Pauls’ endorsement, “Many Latvians think that I am Latvian.”

Naumova also has kept her image and her music fresh by constantly updating it, trying different styles.

“A character that changes is interesting,” Naumova said. For example, on the cover of Ieskaties acīs she looked like a modern-day flapper, with short hair and an expression of happy innocence. But on Ma voix, ma voie, she literally let down her hair and appeared more distant.

Her stage presence for the Eurovision contest is sure to be different again, especially considering “I Wanna” is touched with salsa rhythms.

But winning a song contest isn’t the most important thing for her. “A contest is a lottery,” she said. First place isn’t represented by a number. “First place is a feeling you have inside,” Naumova said.

Last year, Naumova was passed over for a spot in Eurovision. Instead, Arnis Mednis went for Latvia, but finished 18th out of 23 countries participating. Two years ago, Prāta Vētra (BrainStorm) finished third and saw its star slightly rise among European music fans.

And as for the future beyond this year’s Eurovision? Naumova said she would like to improve her Italian and also learn Spanish. More concerts also are in the offing, perhaps some day even in America. But for now, her plans to travel to Tibet for some quiet time are on hold.

Marija Naumova

Marija Naumova adopted a new image for the release of her French-language album, Ma voix, ma voie. (Photo courtesy of Baltic Records Group)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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