Only twelve days before the start of the Russian invasion, the National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine held in kyiv the sixth edition of the vidbir, the gala destined to elect the country’s representative in Eurovision. However, the marimorena was armed because, in the style of our benidorm festthe audience overwhelmingly chose Kalush Orchestra through televoting, but the professional jury preferred Alina Pash. Even the members of the Kalush Orchestra accused television of tongazo in the vote. Amid widespread outrage, the young rapper was accused of prorussian after crossing the border into occupied Crimea without permission in 2015 to attend a wedding and, under pressure, ended up resigning to participate in the festival. The organization had no choice but to invite as substitutes to Kalush Orchestra, the favorites of the audience. Today, three months after that episode, his powerful rap-folk anthem ‘Stefania’ It is also the favorite of eurofans, as it has been at the top of the lists drawn up by bookmakers for weeks.
“I will always return to you through destroyed roads / She will let me sleep, she will let me sleep, in strong storms / She will raise two fists like bullets, just like grandma used to & rdquor ;, he raps Oleg Psiuk, leader of Kalush Orchestra, in ‘Stefania’. A hectic mix of folk, hip-hop and electronica, endowed with an infectious flute ‘riff’, the song is dedicated to Psiuk’s mother, but she has ended up becoming for the Ukrainian people anthem of resistance and hope, a kind of ode to the mother Ukraine, to the nostalgia of how much was lost after the rain of bombs. “No matter in what circumstances we go to Eurovision, we will try to be useful to Ukraine & rdquor ;, Psiuk declared in mid-March in an interview with the Reuters agency. Indeed, and naturally, the circumstances have been very difficult for the Ukrainian sextet, who until a little over a month ago were not sure that they would be able to take the stage at the Pala Alpitour in Turin to dispute this Tuesday the first semifinal of the festival.
In the first weeks of the conflict, Psiuk put music on hold and joined a group of volunteers in Lviv to supply medicine and other aid to people trying to flee the war. “I can’t enjoy Eurovision: I’m worried about my loved ones. My girlfriend is hiding in a bunker preparing Molotov cocktails 300 kilometers from here & rdquor ;, he told Reuters in that same interview. The group, broken up and with their heads elsewhere, had to rehearse remotely through the internet. But the Ukrainian government, aware of the propagandistic importance of the Kalusch Orchestra’s participation in Eurovision, ended up granting them a special permission to leave the countrymake a small tour of Europe (including Madrid) and Israel (where they recorded their presentation ‘postcard’ for the festival) to fundraising and finally performing at Eurovision. “Now we have a extraordinary opportunity for Europeans to discover our culture more closely. We can officially declare that the Kalush Orchestra is going to Turin!”, they exclaimed excitedly through their Instagram account on April 2, during the group’s first meeting in Lviv after the start of the conflict.
Kalush Orchestra is actually the Oleg Psiuk side group, a 28-year-old rapper born in the town of Kalush, precisely, located in the Ivano-Frankivsk region, in the southeast of the country, about 600 kilometers from kyiv. The mother band is also called Kalush and was formed in 2019 by Psiuk together with multi-instrumentalist Igor Didenchuk and ‘disc-jockey’ MC Kilimmen. After the release of their second video clip, ‘Ty gonysh’, in November 2019, the great news arrived: Kalush signed to legendary US hip-hop label Def Jam Recordingsthe one where they recorded their first album of such Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. In February 2021, Kalush released his debut album ‘Hotin’, and around the same time he decided to launch the Kalush Orchestra project, in which rap was intertwined with folklore and traditional Ukrainian music. It was a time when, with the Russian invasion at the gates, it was more necessary than ever to root vindication and their own culture.
3 wins in 19 years?
Over the last few weeks, the song ‘Stefania’ has propelled herself to the status of number one favorite to win the festival, ahead of other candidates who, under different circumstances, should already be splitting the cake in advance: Sweden, Italy and UK. It is possible that the vote of the professional jury of each of the countries is inclined to reward the songs with the greatest depth, in this case the elevated ‘Hold me closer’ by Cornelia Jakobs, ‘Brividi’ by Mahmood & Blanco and ‘Space man’ by Sam Ryder. But everything suggests that the telematic vote of the audience, driven by the emotion and symbolic force of the moment, will end up elevating ‘Stefania’ to the top. It would be, in this case, Ukraine’s third victory (the third!) in only 19 participations since 2003: they already did it Ruslana in 2004 with ‘Wild dances’ and Jamaica in 2016 with ‘1994’, a theme that already provoked a heated controversy with the Russian government by referring in the title to the year of the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars under the Stalinist regime. Eurovision rules prohibit songs with political content and from Russia Ukraine was accused of using the song to “offend & rdquor; to your country. The UER accepted the song on understanding that there was no political message between its lines, but the agitation was already there.
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