Category Archives: Azerbaijan

Ell & Nikki – "Running Scared" for Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan has been competing in Eurovision since 2008, when the over-the-top “Day After Day” came in a respectable 8th place.  The next year, the fiery, uptempo “Always” snagged the bronze in Moscow, with Safura’s diva-licious “Drip Drop” coming in 5th place the year after that.  Ever since entering the contest, Azerbaijan has made a considerable effort to make a splash, using everything in the traditional ESC arsenal: pretty girls, costume changes, explosions, gowns with LED lights, ear-splitting high notes, million-dollar promotional campaigns, Beyoncé’s choreographer, even going so far as to have the police question people voting for rival Armenia (I’m not kidding!).  After such a series of entries, I was bracing myself for an equally epic spectacle from Eldar Gasimov and Nigar Jamal, who had won Ictimai TV’s preselection a few months ago.  And boy, was I wrong…

Never in a million years would I have expected to write “Azerbaijan” and “subtle” in the same sentence, but Baku has completely proven me wrong.  Eldar and Nigar (who will be going by “Ell and Nikki” for the purposes of this competition) really pull off this sweet R&B-kissed duet.  It’s got a nice hook, and they don’t seem to have the same issues with English pronunciation that some of their predecessors struggled with at times (I still can’t understand half of the lyrics in “Day After Day, even three years after the fact…).  This is also the only romantic duet in the competition, and it offers a nice bit of eye candy for everybody.  All in all, this should be a pretty solid lock for the finals, especially considering that constant allies Turkey are in their semi.

(UPDATE: Due to EBU restrictions, Eldar and Nigar will be using their real names for this year’s ESC.  It’s possible that the same restriction will apply for Russia’s Alexey Vorobyov/Alex Sparrow, but as “Sparrow” is the actual translation for “Vorobyov”, the final decision is still unclear.)

Azerbaijan has decided…

…and in a sudden twist, the Land of Fire has decided to send not one, but two singers to Germany in May!  After months of semifinals, winnowing 77 contestants down to only five, broadcaster İctimai Television made the executive decision to send both Eldar Gasimov (the only remaining male contestant) with Nigar Camal (an Azeri-born singer now living in London) to sing a duet, which will be announced hopefully sometime in the near future. 

Here’s the baby-faced Eldar:

…And here’s Nigar:

Remember, last year Azerbaijan put literally millions of dollars behind Safura’s entry to Oslo, hiring world-class choreographers, producing a high-end music video, and even advertising their entry on ESC blogs in order to gain more momentum.  It resulted in a somewhat disappointing 5th place for “Drip Drop”, considering the effort they put into it.  What do you think will happen this year?

The Weekend Preview, 2/10

We’ve got another busy weekend ahead of us, so let’s dive right into what we can expect from all over the Eurovision world over the next few days!

On Friday, Azerbaijan will finally make their decision on who they’ll send to Germany this year.  Their preselection process started back in mid-November with 77 candidates, and they’ve finally been narrowed down to five final performers: Aynishan Qulieva, Ilgara Ibrahimova, Eldar Gasimov, Ilhama Gasimova, and Nigar Camal.  It’s still a bit unclear how the song will be selected; last year, the top three candidates sang three different songs, and while the winning performer was selected the night of the finals, the winning song wasn’t confirmed until over two weeks later.  Considering Azerbaijan’s penchant for flexibility on their preselection processes (their dates have been moved around many times, for example), who knows what answers we may find tomorrow night, or what questions will remain!

Also on Friday, Ireland will pick the artist and song that they hope will bring the nation to the top of the Eurovision heap for an eight year.  Brief snippets of the songs were released last week, but they were heard in their entirety for the first time just today.

Don Mescall – Talking with Jennifer (written by Ronan Hardiman, Don Mescall)
Nikki Kavanaugh – Falling (written by Christina Schilling, Camilla Gottschalck, Jonas Gladnikoff, and Hanif Sabzevari)
Bling – Shine On (written by Patrick Mahoney)
The Vard Sisters – Send Me an Angel (written by Liam Lawton)
Jedward – Lipstick (written by Dan Priddy, Lars Jensen, and Martin Larson)

Ironically, “Lipstick” is the only song that has been removed from YouTube for copyright reasons.  Why ironically?  Well, first, as its considered the frontrunner in tomorrow’s competition, and second, as a portion of the song was “accidentally” released on too early, prompting RTÉ to make the decision only one third in the hands of the audience’s vote, rather than fifty percent.  The remaining part of the decision will be in the hands of regional juries throughout Ireland.

Malta will hold their semifinal on Friday and their final on Saturday.  On Friday, the 24 candidate songs will be trimmed down to 16 by a 75/25 jury/audience vote decision.  On Saturday, those remaining songs will compete, and the winner will be decided by a 60/40 jury/audience split.  All the songs can be previewed, in their entirety, here.  For Malta fans, there are many familiar faces competing this weekend: Fabrizio Faniello made it to Eurovision in 2001 and 2006, and his younger sister Claudia has tried many times to make it to the event, but often falling just short of the ESC goal.  We also see the return of Wayne Micallef, who presented one of my favorite preselection songs from last year, “Save a Life“.  In fact, out of the twenty-three singers in this weekend’s competition, eighteen have attempted, at some point, to represent Malta in either Eurovision or Junior Eurovision in past years!  Will the victory go to a veteran, or to a new talent?  We shall see…

On Saturday, we’ll see what Belgium has to offer the growing Eurovision field.  In light of the difficult economic times, Walloon broadcaster RTBF came up with an interesting twist on an open call for songs.  Belgians were allowed to submit their songs (in French or English), and the public would be able to pledge money to the entries of their choice.  When a song received €20,000, they would be qualified to go on to the next round (all money donated to non-qualifying songs would be reimbursed).  That money would then go to the further production and refinement of their entry.  Thirty songs ended up making the monetary benchmark, and that was later pared down to fourteen final entries.  A 50/50 jury/televote split will decide the eventual winner.

We will also see Finals in Iceland, Norway, and Finland, continued semifinals in Spain, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, and Sweden, and the first semifinal in Estonia‘s Eestilaul.  Of course, I’ll try to bring you updates as often as I can!

Have a great weekend, Eurofans!

The Weekend Update, 1/23

Another day, another update…Semifinals have continued this weekend in Finland, Iceland, and Norway, and Croatia’s preselection has kicked off, as well.  There are also further updates from Azerbaijan, Portugal, Moldova, and Malta!  And away we go…

Three more acts have moved on to the Finnish Final after this Friday’s semi.  After a public vote, this week’s winners are:
Paradise Oskar – “Da Da Dam” (Reminds me a bit of Belgium’s Tom Dice from last year, don’t you think?  If Tom were a member of Greenpeace Suomi, this might have been the result.)
Milana Misic – “Sydämeni kaksi maata (Two Countries of my Heart)” (Milana is the daughter of a Croatian father and a Finnish mother who actually represented her nation fifty years ago in Finland’s debut ESC entry.)
Father McKenzie – “Good Enough” (Yes, they’re named for the character in “Eleanor Rigby”!)

Knocked out at this round of the competition were Jimi Constantine’s “Party to Party” and Soma Manuchar’s “Strong“.  An interesting point of trivia, courtesy of reader Stefanos in Finland: Soma’s outfit was designed by Mert Otsamo, a finalist on the first season of “Muodin huipulle”, the Finnish version of “Project Runway”.  According to Stefanos, “I liked his work on Muodin Huipulle more than I did Soma’s outfit.”  I haven’t seen any of Otsamo’s work, but after seeing Soma’s outfit, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine I’d disagree.

Next, we move on to Iceland:
It’s been a week of highs and lows for Iceland this week.  On Tuesday, we heard the sad and sudden news of the passing of Sigurjón Brink at the age of only 36.  He was supposed to sing in the third semifinal next week, and it has been decided by both the network and his family that his entry, “Aftur Heim (Back Home)” would be performed as a tribute by a group of his friends and fellow musicians, and will therefore remain in the competition.  Next week’s semifinal heat is sure to be an emotional one.

In the second semifinal, which aired last night, we had five songs competing for two slots in the final.  The victorious tunes were:
Yohanna – “Nótt (Night)” (As I mentioned last week, Yohanna came in second place back in the 2009 competition with “Is It True?”  I try to stay as neutral and impartial as I can, especially during the preselection phase of the Eurovision year, but I honestly think that Yohanna might, in fact, be the personification of a Disney princess.)
Matthías Matthíasson & Erla Björg Káradóttir – “Eldgos (Eruption) (I speak no Icelandic, but I’m pretty sure I recognized the word “Eyjafjallajökull” at the start of the song…is this a tribute to the epic volcano that covered half of Europe in ash last year?  Any Icelandic readers wish to comment?)

We’ve got more news after the break!

From Florø, the westernmost town in Scandinavia, we had this week’s semifinal for the Melodi Grand Prix.  Qualifying directly to the final are:
Babel Fish – “You Can Depend on Me” and
Hanne Sørvaag – “You’re Like a Melody” (Hanne is no stranger to Eurovision.  She’s composed three songs for the competition: “Disappear” for Germany in 2008, “My Heart is Yours” for Norway 2010, and “Shine” for Georgia, also in 2010)

Moving on to the Second Chance round will be:
Endre – “Oh, Oh (Puppy Love)” and
Mimi Blix – “Allergic”

The first round of this year’s Dora Festival happened this weekend, and unlike what we’ve seen in the Nordic countries I’ve just mentioned, singers in Dora do not sing their proposed Eurovision songs until the final round of competition.  Instead, they choose a song freely, and hope that televoters will look favorably on them.  (This is actually a similar format to what Germany did last year.  It worked for Lena Meyer-Landrut!)  Out of twelve singers in this heat, five have already been chosen to continue on.  The sixth will be announced next week.
Confirmed for the next round are: Miro Tomic, Jelena Vanjek, Dora Benc, Sabrina Hebiri, and Jacques Houdek (who was the evening’s ultimate winner).  We’ll see another round of twelve next week.

After seven weeks of preliminary heats and one semifinal, the top 5 singers in Azerbaijan’s preselection have been picked.  Like in Croatia, they have been singing covers, and we won’t hear their proposed entries until the final round (or, knowing Azerbaijan, possibly even after the winning singer has been selected).  They’ll go up against each other on February 2th.  And they are:
İlhamə Qasımova
Eldar Qasımov
Aynişan Quliyeva 
Nigar Jamal
İlqarə İbrahimova

(For the record, I had been rooting for Çingiz Mustafayev, a participant on Yeni Ulduz, the Azeri version of the “Idol” franchise.  Not only was he a strong singer and a confident performer, but he is also a trained classical Flamenco guitarist fluent in Azeri, Turkish, English, and Spanish.  Sadly, he was knocked out of competition in the semifinal round.  If he had been sent to Düsseldorf, and had his talents put to good use, Azerbaijan could have possibly gotten some valuable votes from Spain, who will be voting in their semifinal.  Çingiz, if you’re reading this, please keep trying!)

Finally, lists of competing songs have been released in Moldova (although out of the 92, songs listed on the official Moldovan broadcaster’s website, only these songs are continuing on to the next round) Portugal, and Malta.  Portugal will select their song on March 5th, Malta on February 12th, and Moldova on February 26th.

Phew!  After all of that, I don’t know about you, but I need a nap.  I’ll keep you all posted on more news as it comes in!

ESC 2010 Reviews: Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan is the most recently-debuting nation competing in this year’s ESC. The Land of Fire made a splashy entrance in 2008 along with San Marino, who sadly haven’t returned since. Their first entry, “Day After Day” by Elnur Hüseynov and Samir Cavadzadə (And no, that’s not a typo…the Azeri alphabet includes the letter “ə”. Jealous?) blended rock, opera, and traditional Azeri mugham, resulting in a cacophony of sound, dancers dressed as angels and demons, rapid costume changes, and enough high notes to melt off Adam Lambert’s face. They ended up in an incredibly respectable 8th place, beating bookmaker’s favorites from Israel, Iceland, and Portugal, and winning maximum points from Turkey and Hungary.

After such a massive debut, both in score and in spectacle, Baku either had to go big or go home in 2009, and they more than delivered. Sponsoring broadcaster İTV invited the acclaimed Iranian-Swedish DJ Arash Labaf and up-and-coming singer Aysel Teymurzadə to sing “Always“, an upbeat ethnopop number that landed the duo in 3rd place.

This year, Azerbaijan selected 17-year old singer Safura Əlizadə (Alizadeh) to take the nation even higher. Their song, “Drip Drop”, is a R&B-influenced ballad that if in placed in the proper hands of production, wouldn’t sound too out of place on a lot of American Top 40 radio stations. However, in the videos I’ve seen of Safura’s live performance, her youth and inexperience with the English language sadly seem to get to her. She appears to suffer from pitch problems at times, and sometimes her accent muddles her lyrics to the point of intelligibility (Just to contrast, last year’s Azeri eye-candy, Aysel, had spent a year as an exchange student in Texas as the recipient of a FLEX scholarship, so her English ability was basically top-notch.) Don’t get me wrong, though; Safura looks beautiful, and Azerbaijan’s currently riding a wave of popularity in Eurovision, so she will likely pass through to the finals. Furthermore, Azerbaijan’s sharing their semifinal with ally Turkey, so votes from one will likely go to the other, and vice versa. However, I don’t see this gaining the universal appeal of “Always”, so I think that Baku 2011 might be out of the question.

What do you think of “Drip Drop”? Am I being too harsh on Safura? I love reading your comments and opinions, so feel free to bounce your ideas off of me!

Until next time! (Coming attractions: Belarus, Belgium, and Bosnia-Herzegovina!)