Given the devastating impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, anything that can lift the spirits of the beleaguered Ukrainian people is more than welcome. And there could be a piece of mild relief on the cards next month at the Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy, where Ukraine’s entry is a hot favorite to take the title.
The six-piece rap group Kalush Orchestra is named after the founding member’s hometown of Kalush in western Ukraine. The group was on a nationwide tour when the Russians invaded, and they came close to a few bombings. In the wake of the attacks, one member also joined the regional forces defending Kyiv. And the band’s lead singer, Oleh Sayuk, has formed a volunteer organization to help people find shelter, medicine and transportation.
Ukrainian men of fighting age are banned from leaving the country. But in the lead-up to the song contest, the band members, who are all eligible for military call-ups, were given special permission to travel abroad to join other Eurovision contenders for a promotional performance in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The show was the first international performance of the Kalush Orchestra since the Russian invasion. During the tour, the band also had the opportunity to perform their Eurovision song, “Stefania”, to an audience of Ukrainian immigrants and refugees in Jerusalem.
The song “Stefania” is a song about motherhood written shortly before the Russian invasion. Re-imagined by the band and their fans as a metaphor for their love for their country.
While in Israel, the Kalush Orchestra also filmed their Eurovision postcard, an introductory video played before each act on the night of the competition. Contestants usually film their postcards in their home nation, but this was not possible for Ukrainians because of the war.
Russia has been banned from participating in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest after the European Broadcasting Union decided that their participation would bring discredit to the contest. Russia was part of the competition since 1994 and won the coveted Glass Microphone Eurovision Trophy in 2008.
The absence of the Russians deprives them of a place in the biggest live concerts in the world. The Eurovision Song Contest was first held in 1956. It was won by the most famous Swedish supergroup ABBA in 1974 with a song called “Waterloo”. And that win became the launchpad for a long and glittering international pop career.
Last year’s 65th edition of the contest was watched by 183 million viewers in 36 markets. Once discredited as laughable and non-representative of modern music, made-for-TV extravaganza has had a major renaissance in recent years, capturing enthusiasts with its clear message of inclusion and diversity. Used to be. As a result, it is now a guilty pleasure that you can enjoy shamelessly. It has also given rise to American imitations since the American Song Contest was launched this year.
Taking into account the growth in viewership for the Eurovision Song Contest, more youth than ever are becoming. According to organisers, more than half of those aged 15 to 24 who watched television during last year’s broadcast had tuned in to Eurovision. While online, Eurovision content attracted over 50 million unique viewers in 234 countries during the week of the event. Two-thirds of the online audience was in the age group of 18 to 34. And not surprisingly, the Twitter demographic posted nearly 5 million tweets about Eurovision on last year’s finals night.
This year, Ukraine will join 17 national acts in the first semi-final on 10 May. The second semi-final will take place two days later. And the Grand Final is scheduled for May 14 at the Pala Olimpico, Italy’s largest indoor sports arena.
Ukraine has won the competition twice before, in 2004 and 2016. Obviously, the Kalush Orchestra would love to make it a hat-trick. But the band’s win would mean much more than gold. And the group understands that the victory will not only highlight modern Ukrainian culture but will also be a source of national pride, possibly resulting in a return home.
But even though the Kalush Orchestra hit a sour note, the fact that a Ukrainian group is competing at all is a small miracle in itself. Yes, it’s just a singing competition. But perhaps it can provide a small reminder to Ukrainians that normality still exists somewhere out there.