Eurovision 2016 – Ukraine: ‘1944’ (Jamala)

The bits of the Eurovision which delight me the most are always those who take me by surprise. Last year it was Belgium’s Loic and his breathtaking performance of ‘Rhythm Inside‘, a song I’d previously dismissed. Similarly, Norway’s ‘Silent Storm‘ from Carl Espen in 2014, the Netherlands in 2013, and Patricia Kaas’s ‘Et s’il fallait le faire’ from 2009.

This year’s unexpected moment is – and I hope will be in Stockholm – Jamala’s autobiographical song ‘1944‘. It’s a robust song oozing integrity with history riven through it. Jamala said of the lyrics during Ukraine’s national final:

“Past year, I wrote ‘1944,’ which I see as a seminal composition. The song was born from the stories of my great-grandmother Nazylkhan about the tragedy that befell our family and the Crimean Tatar people in 1944. My great-grandfather was at the front, and thus failed to protect her and their children. The Soviets loaded them all into boxcars, and took on a weeks-long forced trip to Central Asia,”

Explaining the lyrics for this one is important. Explaining the mechanics of TV presentation and the impact it may have on the success of Ukraine’s song is equally important. In Eurovision there are songs which are deliberately put on stage to raise an eyebrow, raise a smile, or grab attention. Ukraine’s song could be dismissed by viewers because it’s too serious, or too obscure, or worse, political. TV commentators are there to contextualise a song before its performed. Their tone of voice when they do so can communicate a great deal. And, they only have 30 seconds in which to do it. So a lot rides on people understanding what the song is about before it’s performed in order for it to be appreciated and not dismissed.

Musically speaking this is the most interesting song in the contest, one that sustains repeat listens. In its preview video performance at least, looks OK on stage too. So long as it’s not subject to any wild flights of fancy in terms of staging, I think it will transfer to the big stage well. And if it does, it will remain my Eurovision delight of 2016. Whatever the result, it will be synonymous with the moment I first I heard it, recording Juke Box Jury for ESCInsight.

Ukraine have had a good run at the leaderboard Eurovision since their debut in 2003. They won with ‘Wild Dances‘ in 2004 in what was, something easily forgotten today, a breath of fresh air for the contest back then. They’ve come second twice. Verka Serduchka’s ‘Dance Lasha Tumbai‘ may not be your musical cup of tea but it’s production was polished – the 2007 send-up equivalent of Guildo Horn‘s masterful number from 1998.

Shady Lady‘ also came in second for Ukraine in 2008. In 2011, Ukraine played a bland song with clever use of a projection sand drawing completed during the performance of the song, securing 4th place. Ukraine know how to entertain. ‘Tick Tock‘ (6th, 2014) is, I make no apology for this, my favourite. This has absolutely nothing to do with the running man in the background.

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