Saturday, September 25, 2010

ESC Wish List: Arisa

Over time, I've noticed that one year's winner becomes the next year's Eurovision trend.  For example, the year after Ruslana won with the energetic, folk-inspired "Wild Dances", we saw Hungary's "Forogj, Világ" and Greece's "My Number One".  After Lordi's victory with "Hard Rock Hallelujah", there was an explosion of rock (or at least more pop-rock) from nations like Moldova, Finland, Andorra, Iceland, Estonia, and the Czech Republic.  And after Russia used a Stradivarius for their winning performance of "Believe" in 2008, the next year saw a heavy use of strings from Norway, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the Czechs.  So, now that Germany has taken home the victory with fresh-faced Lena Meyer-Landrut (and we know that she'll be returning to defend her title next year), it might not be a stretch to assume that we'll see a bit of an upswing in sweet, low-key, youthful pop.

If Italy does return to Eurovision, I've got just the girl in mind for them.

The Sanremo Song Festival, which I mentioned in my last entry, has a section made just for newcomers.  This sub-contest has introduced the world to such famous names as Eros Ramazotti, Laura Pausini, Paola & Chiara, and even Andrea Bocelli.  In 2009, the Newcomer's Trophy went to Arisa (real name: Rosalba Pippa...her stage name comes from the first initials of every member of her family), with her song "Sinceritá (Sincerity)". 

Once you get past Arisa's strong resemblance to Rachel Maddow (which I personally think is a good thing!),  you get into her general sweetness and, for lack of a better word, sincerity!  Like Lena before her, Arisa is fresh and unpolished...a neophyte with genuine talent.  She may seem somewhat wooden in her live performance of "Sinceritá", but her full music video, shown here, shows how engaging she can be.  Her first full-length album made it to #5 on the local charts, and has gone platinum (which, in Italy, means that over 60,000 copies have been sold).  She's already released her second disc, "Malamoreno (But-not-love)", to general acclaim and success.  Here's the title track:

I mean, how cute is she?  Between her general accessibility and the fact that major ESC fans are practically begging Italy to jump back into the game...with the right song (probably something with a decently high level of energy, like "Malamoreno"), I think that Arisa could do pretty well in Eurovision.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

ESC Wish List: Italy!!!!

Like many nations in Western Europe, Italy has had a sort of love-hate relationship with Eurovision over the past decade or so.  However, unlike Portugal, who stays in the fight, keeping generally loyal to its own regional heritage and musical style (see Dulce Pontes, Lucia Moniz, Vânia Fernandes or Flor-de-Lis), or the United Kingdom, which often gleefully cannonballs into the ESC's intrinsic ridiculousness and camp (see Gina G, Scooch, Daz Sampson, or infamous nul-pointer Jemini), Italian broadcaster RAI threw up their hands after the 1997 competition and haven't entered a Eurovision since.  From the standpoint of a loyal ESC fan, this is nothing short of tragic, as some of the true evergreens of the competition have come from Italy.  In fact, Eurovision as an entity was inspired by the Sanremo Festival, a national song contest that had been established in 1951, and in turn was used to select Italy's ESC entrants for many years.  Sanremo is still going strong, but national interest in Eurovision has sadly waned.

One of the most famous songs to come out of Eurovision was a contribution from the Sanremo Festival, and although it never actually won the ESC that year, it's familiar to ears worldwide.

Covered by the Gypsy Kings, Dean Martin, and basically everyone else on the planet, Domenico Modugno's "Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)" might be one of the world's most recognizable popular songs.  Even if you don't speak any Italian, you probably have heard this song at least once, whether it's background music in a restaurant, or in a movie, or maybe you've sung it at a drunken karaoke night or two (it's ok, you can admit it). 

Italy participated in Eurovision a total of 36 times, with two victories (in 1964 and 1990), one runner-up spot, and four bronze positions.  My three personal favorite Italian contributions come from RAI's final years in the ESC.  From 1987, there's Umberto Tozzi and Raf's "Gente di Mare (People of the Sea)", which finished in a more-than-respectable third place:

Five years later, Mia Martini used her rusted, raspy emery board of a voice to sing "Rapsodia", a melancholy ode to two former lovers, separated by time and circumstance.  The song was heartbreaking and beautiful, and it landed up in 4th place in Stockholm that year.

Italy's final submission to the ESC was 1997's gorgeous "Fiumi di Parole (Rivers of Words)", sung by duo Jalisse.  Even though this song, like "Rapsodia" before it, took an impressive 4th place in a particularly competitive year, RAI withdrew from Eurovision soon after, and haven't returned.  (Jalisse, however, have not given up their hope for another shot at the ESC, and had at one point applied to represent San Marino.)

Die-hard ESC fans (like myself, obviously) would love to welcome Italy back into the fray.  Their musical talent pool is exceptionally deep, and they already have the perfect preselection opportunity available to them: the Sanremo Festival.  It has been rumored that the EBU wants Italy back in Eurovision badly enough that they would provide them a coveted spot in the "Big Four", alongside the UK, Germany, France, and Spain, giving them an automatic pass into the finals.  Former ESC Executive Supervisor Svante Stockselius had made it a pet project of his to try to bring back many of the former participants who had left over the years (including, Italy, Austria, Luxembourg, Monaco, Slovakia, and others), with some middling success.  Slovakia returned in 2009, Austria will be returning in 2011 (I'll write my normal piece on them soon), and Liechtenstein keeps playing around with the idea of debuting.  But we're all still drooling over the possibility of Italy coming back.

There is hope, however!  Rumors have recently surfaced that the winner of this year's Italian X-Factor will be eligible to enter the 2011 ESC, making it the first time in 14 years that we see il Tricolore.  However, this early in the game, Eurovision rumors tend to fly around like hair extensions in a wind machine, so I'm still taking this all with a (hopeful) grain of salt.

My next entry will talk about a few Italian artists I'd love to see representing their homeland in the ESC...I've got a few in mind, but do you have any suggestions?  Leave me a comment and let me know your favorites!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ESC Wish List: Şebnem Ferah

From Greenland, we take a trip to the other distant edge of the Eurovision sphere: Turkey.  As I mentioned in my full piece on Turkey in the ESC, I absolutely love it when they turn to rock for their entries.  Between maNga, Mor ve Ötesi, and Athena, these songs have not only proven to be major hits in their homeland, but they've had pretty strong impact on the Eurovision scoreboard.  However, most of these songs have been male-fronted (which, I suppose, is somewhat indicative of the rock scene as a whole...but that's another issue...), while women in these Turkish songs have been relegated to belly-dancing eye candy or disco-pop divas (not that I'm knocking Sertab Erener, who has had an extensive and highly successful pop career, and gave the Turks their first ESC victory). 

And so, I humbly introduce to you, my readers, the incomparable Şebnem Ferah.  She released her first solo album, "Kadın (Woman)" in 1996, and has been cranking out stellar rock songs since then.  Her style has ranged from soft, traditionally-Turkish-inspired pop to acoustic-guitar-driven alternative to searingly dark hard rock, and she has drawn comparisons to Amy Lee, among others.  While it's tough to wrap one's arms around such a varied and deep catalog, I'll hook you all up with a few of my favorite Şebo tunes.

Her first major hit, off of "Kadın", was "Vazgeçtim Dünyadan (I Grew Tired of the World)", which followed seamlessly down the angry-girl path that Alanis Morrisette had created the year before, with the release of "Jagged Little Pill".  "Bu Aşk Fazla Sana (This Love is Too Much for You)" soon followed, taking a more pop-forward turn.  

Around the time of the release of her second album, "Artık Kısa Cümleler Kuruyorum (I Form Short Sentences Now)", Ferah was rocked by two personal tragedies.  She first lost her older sister to cancer, and in August of 1999, her father was killed in a 7.6-magnitude earthquake that had struck east of Istanbul.  Her song "Bügün (Today)" acted as a broken-hearted love letter to those who had left her far too soon. 

As time passed, she solidified her reputation as one of Turkey's top artists with hits like "Sigara (Cigarette)", "Mayın Tarlası (Minefield)", "İyi-kötü (Good-Bad)" and my own personal favorite, "Çakıl Taşları (Pebbles)":

Şebnem Ferah's most recent release, "Benim Adım Orman (My Name is Forest)" came out late last year, and it's a fantastic listen.  If you're into Evanescence at all, give her a shot!  As time has passed, and her style has matured, Şebnem's status as the grand dame of Turkish rock has only become stronger.  Her following is huge, and with good reason.  

Now, since broadcaster TRT has been selecting candidates internally for Eurovision participation, it seems like rumors have come up every so often that Ferah will carry the Turkish flag for the Contest.  So far, however, they have only been rumors, and considering that TRT has been alternating rock and pop over the last few years or so, it might be another little while before we see Şebo.  But if she did ever take the leap onto the pan-European stage, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that she'd rock the house (and probably wear something kick-ass to go with it).

Oh, and just as a little bonus, I've found a recording of one of her very first gigs as a solo singer...enjoy this little trip back into our collective childhood!  (Or mine, at least...)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

ESC Wish List: Nanook

Going from Thomas Holm, my next suggestion for Eurovision, while technically still citizens of Denmark, couldn't be much further from Holm's synth-pop sensibilities.  Quite literally, in fact: there's a distance of over 2,200 miles between Copenhagen and Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland.  That's about the distance between Los Angeles and Orlando, or Lisbon to St. Petersburg!  Greenland is an autonomous nation that is still partially governed under the Danish crown.  They have their own Parliament, but spend the Danish Krone and are protected by the Danish military.  It is the world's largest island, and as a standalone nation, Greenland is the 13th-largest country (by area) on the planet, larger than Saudi Arabia, Mexico, or Indonesia.  Despite their massive size, only about 56,000 people call Greenland home, making it by far the least densely populated country.

So, why am I telling you all of this information on Greenland?  Well, that's because it's where today's ESC Wish List artist hails from.  I don't quite remember how I came across Nanook, but I'm incredibly glad I did.  They sing exclusively in Greenlandic (Kalaallisut), which is related to other Inuit languages like Inuktitut, Aleut, or Yup'ik.  Being generally interested by foreign language, the moment I heard brothers Frederik and Christian Elsner singing in a tongue that I had never heard before, I was fascinated.  Nanook (Greenlandic for "polar bear") released their first album, "Seqinitta Qinngorpaatit (Our Sun is Shining on You)" last year, and I've been pretty much hooked ever since.  Luckily, it's available on iTunes here in the US.  Here's the title track from their first album, with a translation available here:

The intimate, garage-band quality of the video, coupled with the rolling gait of the me, this is absolutely beautiful.  Sadly, it doesn't look like they have many other videos out (it's hard enough being an independent artist out here in the Twin Cities area, with a population of 3 million in the metro.  Can you imagine being a musician in a market of only a little over 50,000?), but if you appreciate beautifully-written alt-rock, with echoes of Britpop, you might want to give these guys a listen.  I was able to find a brief sampler of some of their other songs, including "Kisimiinneq", "Timmissat Taartut", and "Seqinitta Qinngorpaatit", among others.

Their chances of getting to the Danish Melodi Grand Prix are slim, sadly, even if they did decide to take the long trip to Copenhagen.  But these guys are working their butts off, making beautiful music in one of the most starkly beautiful and desolate places on the planet.  I feel like more people should hear Nanook, and have their sun shine on us, even if it's completely dark there from November through February.
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