Folklore and electrobeats is a formula that has often been successful at the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). But if the Kalush Orchestra from the Ukraine is traded as the top favorite for the finale of the music competition, one could assume that this is an expression of a political mood.
After all, the whole of Europe is expressing its solidarity with the country attacked by Putin’s Russians. But the assumption is wrong. “Stefania”, the piece with which the Kalush Orchestra will perform in Turin on Saturday evening, is simply a very good song, war or not.
Song of praise to the mother
“Stefania” begins with a polyphonic, brightly ascending a cappella intro, then the hip-hop rhythm sets in. A rapper moves rowing and pumping across the stage, the vocals alternate between him and the lead singer, who occasionally blows an arm-length flute, a traditional instrument called a telynka.
She sings the praises of a grey-haired mother named Stefania, who is asked to sing the song’s childhood bedtime song once more for the song’s lyrical self. The rapper wears a crochet vest and bucket hat, both brightly colored, while the lead singer sports an embroidered peasant-style shirt.
A bald colleague dances in a kind of monk’s habit on a pedestal. Behind the musicians, folkloric ornaments slide as a projection across the wall. “Stefania” is a declaration of love that could have taken on a new meaning in recent weeks.
Because in patriotic times there is an even greater mother: Ukraine. “I’ll always find my way home, even if the roads are destroyed,” reads one line of the song.
Singer Oleh Psiuk founded the Kalush Orchestra in 2021 in the western Ukrainian city of the same name. His mother’s real name is Stefania. In the national preliminary round for the ESC at the beginning of February, the six musicians only came second. But then winner Alina Pash canceled her participation after being criticized for visiting Crimea. The Kalush musicians are of military age and were allowed to travel to the competition with a special permit.
When it comes to bookmakers, the Kalush Orchestra is clearly ahead. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually going to win. The Spotify streaming service predicts a different end to the finale. Last year, based on a data analysis, he correctly predicted the victory of the Italian rock band Måneskin.
Based on streaming views numbers, Italian duo Mahmood and Blanco would lead with their song “Brividi”, followed by Swedish singer Cornelia Jakobs with “Hold Me Closer” and Dutch singer-rapper S10.
‘Brividi’, Italian for chills, is a beautiful but not particularly outstanding piano and string ballad, performed with much falsetto singing. And couldn’t outsiders also score, such as Zdob si Zdub & Advahov Brothers from Moldova with their insane performance mixing ethno and rock’n’roll clichés?
A touch of Ed Sheeran
This time the German hopes rest on Malik Harris. His song “Rockstars” is vaguely reminiscent of Ed Sheeran. Harris sings strikingly, the semi-ballad begins with an e-piano, almost exactly in the middle the singer switches to chanting, whereupon the piece inflates pathetically for a moment, only to fizzle out at the end. Thunderstorms can be heard in the background.
Stringency is lacking, the melody doesn’t stick. The English-language text is about self-doubt and a longing for the “good old days”, a time before life stopped shining.
Malik Harris, born 24 years ago as the son of an American TV presenter in Landsberg am Lech, has released ten singles and one album to date. The bookmakers only see him in 25th place in the music competition. In the last round in 2021, the German singer Jendrik only made it to 25th place with “I Don’t Feel Hate”.
Along with Italy, Great Britain, France and Spain, Germany is one of the so-called Big Five, which are set for the final even without qualifying.