Vote for Madara! Vote for Madara!

If I were in Latvia on Feb. 1, I’d be casting my vote for Madara Celma to win the national run-up to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Celma, who has become somewhat of an also-ran in the contest over the past several years, has one of the few standout songs among the 15 contestants scheduled to perform in Eirodziesma 2003, which is to take place in Ventspils.

Actually, Celma has two songs in competition, but it’s her solo effort, “Away From You,” that would get my vote.

The 15 songs up for consideration will be performed live in front of an audience in Ventspils and on Latvijas Televīzija, the state television broadcaster. Then, according to this year’s rules, folks around the country will get a chance to vote by telephone while they watch the nightly news. And then the top five songs will get a repeat hearing, after which the national audience will pick the winner.

Celma deserves to win in large part because “Away From You” is one of the few songs in the contest that sounds distinct. Many of the other are rather dull and oversynthesized, or seem to want to either emulate fading Western pop artists or cash in on the Latin sound that helped catapult Marija Naumova’s “I Wanna” to victory in last year’s Eurovision. The introspective and overall sad tone of “Away From You” also runs against the current of the other entries.

Plus, I’d give Celma credit for perseverance. She continues to compete in Eurovision even though three years ago she was knocked out of the national competition (and lost a recording contract with the MICREC recording house) when it was discovered that her entry that year was plagiarized from an American songwriter’s work. It takes spunk to come back from an embarassment like that.

This year’s Latvian contest includes a number of top performers, as well as some newcomers. The 15 songs, plus three more “in reserve,” are compiled on the Eirodziesma 2003 recording released late last year by Latvijas Televīzija and distributed by Rīga-based Platforma Records.

The artists include Celma and Normunds Rutulis performing “Lead Me To Your Heart.” Big name Latvian performers Mārtiņš Freimanis (of the Liepāja rock group Tumsa), Lauris Reiniks (whom some have called Latvia’s Ricky Martin) and veteran Russian pop and dance music performer Yana Kay team up as F.L.Y. for “Hallo from Mars.” The talented girl group 4.elements returns, this time singing another Arnis Mednis composition, “Long Way to Run.” Other performers who have a certain amount of name recognition include the boy band Caffe, Kristīne Broka, Jānis Stībelis and the duo Fomins & Kleins (that’s Fomins as in Ivo Fomīns, brother of the better-known Igo, and Kleins as in Tomass Kleins, a member of the Liepāja guitar rock band Līvi).

Several new voices will be heard in Ventspils, including one that I found interesting: Elīna Fūrmane. She’ll perform “Right Way,” a song she co-wrote with Edgars Dambis. Fūrmane, still in high school, already has earned recognition for her singing talent. If Celma doesn’t win with “Away From You,” then Fūrmane ought to with her song. Also, Tatjana Timčuka’s flamenco-powered “Roses and Tears” (penned by Sergejs Kugeļevs) is an upbeat song that could do well in the contest, although it does seem to want to follow in Naumova’s steps.

All the songs are in English, with the exception of Fomins’ and Kleins’ “Muzikants.” The song is written by Kleins and Guntars Račs, the well-known lyricist who also plays drums in the group Bet Bet when he’s not at his day job at MICREC. The song’s not bad, but I suspect it might get more sympathy votes because it’s the only Latvian-language entry. (“Muzikants” also was the focus of a recent mini-scandal involving Fomins and Kleins, according to Latvian media reports. The artists showed up at an official music video filming in Ventspils without a recording of their music, technically a violation of Eurovision rules.)

While it would be wonderful if Eurovision contestants would sing in their native languages, the unwritten rule seems to be that English is the way to go if a performer has a prayer of appealing to the millions of people who will be watching and voting during the Eurovision Song Contest, scheduled May 24 in Rīga. Last year Macedonia’s Karolina Gocheva, for example, wanted to perform her song “Od nas zavisi” (On Us It Depends) in English rather than Macedonian. But the folks who run the national contest in Macedonia wouldn’t allow her. The result? Macedonia didn’t even place in the top half.

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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