Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Heroes of Eurovision 2010: maNga

Turkey have got a funny old track record in Eurovision. For years it seemed like they never quite got it - that their traditional rhythms sat poorly when pressed up against the pop of Western Europe. Of course at first it was mainly because our ears weren't yet accustomed to such exotic sounds. But in time they tried and failed with a brutal amalgam of the most obvious chunks of each continent's pop traditions without ever really getting a proper feel for what the contest was about.

But one day they stopped bothering what everyone else thought and just sent stuff that they liked - and that was when they started doing rather well. At first it was with the kind of Eastern turbo pop that peppered their home chart. But then after Sertab Erener's Everyway That I Can finally won the contest in 2003, they really started showing the rest of Europe what they were capable of.

No longer burdened with the perceived shame of being one of the oldest Eurovision stagers to never to win the thing, for their home contest they sent along a bunch of Rancid inspired ska punkers called Athena to grace the Istanbul stage. Despite being far from a traditional Eurovision song, they managed to come fourth.

Five contests later, after a fistful of moderately successful Turkish dance tunes, they sent along a band called Mor ve Ötesi, a cool power pop outfit whose song Deli rolled in at a very respectable seventh spot.

Someone obviously figured that the pop rock schtick was a good plan, as this year Turkish telly invited the recent winners of the Best European Act from the 2009 MTV Europe Music Awards, maNga.

Despite being cursed by a name whose lettering format probably seemed like a good idea when they started out, their powerful blend of Linkin Park style nu metal and more traditional Anatolian melodies seemed likie an odd choice for Eurovision. However, as experienced and consumate stadium performers they would surely be no strangers to performing on massive stage, so surely should be worth keeping an eye on.

As it turned out their tune, We Could Be The Same, turned out to be a belter - an easily singalongable chunk of a tune, with enough power to lure in the cool mums of Europe to the voting phone, but enough melody and easy pomp to win over the less rockist viewers. The boys clearly hit a nerve, and the song stormed its way into an unlikely, but highly welcome second place.

But they are no flash in the pan sensation - they've got a legacy of three cracking albums behind them as their nation's musical standard bearers.

Starting out playing covers of popular metal tunes in 2001, they first gained major public attention when they won a musical talent contest. This success attracted the attention of Sony Records who promptly signed them up and released their debut and self-titled album in 2004. Its raw, edgy fusion of rap rock and the earliest nu metal sounds proved an instant hit, and almost immediately went gold, selling upwards of 100,000 copies. The follow-up, maNga+, while not being as commercially successful, helped forge a more mature sound that paved the way for their third and most recent album, Şehr-i Hüzün.

Despite at first sounding like a regulation pop metal third-album workout, you'll soon get lost in its underlaying Eastern beats and underlying exoticism. What they lose in the raw snotty snarl of their debut, they more than make up for with a controlled power in this entirely Turkish-language collection.

If you liked their Eurovision tune, give some of their other stuff a go, as it's a pretty unusual slant on what can often be a very conservative musical genre. All three discs are crackers for sure!

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Saturday, 26 June 2010

Heroes of Eurovision 2010: Jessy Matador

After years of sending a parade of willowy chanteuses warbling out much the same song each year to diminishing returns, the French suddenly shifted gear four years back and started actually thinking about who they sent to Eurovision. They finally twigged that as they were always going to be in the final, they could take a risk and start sending stuff that would show off some of the massive range of music that regularly litters their charts - some of the most cosmopolitan in Europe - rather than a succession of casting show runners up that the rest of the West has been sending of late.

Four years back they held one of the most unhinged finals in years and selected the fabulous Les Fatals Picards. 2008 saw the sublime Sebastian Tellier, singing one of the coolest (and some would say strangest) songs the contest has ever seen - and one of the few from the last few years of the show that you'll still hear in the outside world today. And last year, of course, saw the spinetingling chanson by the veteran torcher Patricia Kaas. But 2010 saw them surpass all of that and parade the explosively fantastic ball of fun that was Jessy Matador in front of the Saturday night TV viewers of Europe. And what a performance he gave.

It had been rumoured for a while that the French were going to go for something a little more uptempo this time round. Indeed, acts like big-name David Guetta and Christophe Willem had been mentioned under a few Gallic breaths for a while. But when Matador's name was announced, all but the most sussed shouted "Who?"  They clearly hadn't heard his huge summer hit of 2008, Décalé Gwada - a gloriously shouty fusion of African, Carribean and urban French grooves - and something entirely new to Eurovision.


If his Eurotune was even half as good as that he'd either sail gloriously or crash spectacularly in the contest - but either way he'd be remembered.

Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the early eighties, Jessy Kimbangi began his career as a dancer, before joining the group Les Cœurs Brisés (The Broken Hearts), and later starting up his own mob, La Sélésao. After getting signed to Wagram Records in early 2008, their album Afrikan New Style harboured three hits - all of the massive club faves, and every one blending as vast array of styles and flavours, from Zouk to Dancehall via Reggaeton and Hip-Hop to Coupé Décalé, while still forging out a very recognisable groove of their own.

Of course, when the song was announced, the traditionally rabidly conservative Eurovision fans were up in arms. Rumours that the song, Allez Ola Olé, was also to be the anthem for the French World Cup coverage insensed some even further, and after early rehearsals the odds on it coming last came in massively, as old-time fan boys who simply didn't get it bet the farm on it propping the table.

But how wrong could they be. It was never going to win the contest, as voters to the east of Poland and the south of Austria are famously uneager to vote for a singers of a darker hue. But enough people around the rest of Europe tapped into the happy-go-lucky insane aerobics of the performance to vote it into a respectable 12th place - a position the UK would be glad of in this day and age.

Furthermore, it subsequently went on to become an instant download hit across Europe and had hopefully set the Matador up for futher big things in the future. Take my advice - buy Jessy's tunes, bung them in the car, wind the windows down and play them at full volume as you cruise down your regional high street. You will get admiring glances for sure!

Now what the heck are the French going to send next year?

Tout Le Monde!

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Sunday, 13 June 2010

Heroes of Eurovision 2010: Peter Nalitch

The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual carnival of all that's great and not so great in the world of pop from all corners of of the continent. But every year there's a small handful of songs by acts who don't look like they should really be there. Acts that you'd listen to in the real world, who sneak into your consciousness and end up becoming firm favourites for many years to come. The 2010 incarnation of the contest was no exception, with a small clump of crackers hidden among more deliberate Europop.

But no one had a rougher ride of it this year than Russia's sublime song contest candidate Peter Nalitch.

I first came across the man at this year's Russian national final. The show itself was a splendid confection, full of dark ballads, intense Slavic pop and of course those fabulous Babushkas. But smack in the middle of a thoroughly entertaining 25 song battle came Nalitch's morbid bamboozler Lost & Forgotten.

Instantly darkening the tone with its understated bar room, almost jazz tinged folk, I almost dashed to the loo, thinking it to be a handy mid-contest wee break. But suddenly, from out of nowhere as the chorus kicked in, burst a joyful hound's howl of a backing vocal, and I abated my trip to see where this curiosity was going.

Then came the middle bit - a weird call and response interlude between the guitarist (spoken) and the fella out front (sung in a plaintive falsetto) as he stared into an unseen photograph. And it was brilliant. By the time the song had built up to its last few bars of over-emotive plod-and-roll bombast I was hooked - standing on the sofa and singing along. That's the last we'll see of that, I thought. But I was so glad that we'd been given the chance to share it.

But then, at the climax of the voting came to pass, something weird happened. It won. By a street. And the crowd were going absolutely bonkers for it. There was more to this Nalitch fella than met the eye, and I had to find it out.

It turns out that the lad himself was something of a phenomenon in his home country. The nation's first true internet celebrity, his home made clip for his song Gitar - filmed by him and a few of his mates and sung in a quaintly clunky pigeon English - had gone absolutely bonkers on YouTube, propelling him to an unexpected fame. He was also something of an all round good guy, giving away any new songs to his fans via his website long before he released them commercially. He's also broadcast live gigs onto the net from his Moscow flat via Russia's RuTube broadcasting site.

So, the kind of interesting and thoughtful act that Eurovision fans would take to their hearts, you would think. Not on your nelly. A huge swathe of them just didn't get the wry, dark humour. Rather than seeing it as an intelligent and deadpan post-modern ballad, performed in the style of a late sixties degenerate intellectual student band, they just thought it was dull. "It must be a fix!", some bleated, assuming that it was some localised version of My Lovely Horse, chosen because the Russians didn't want to hold the contest again. "It's boring and depressing!" yet more chimed - and went on to boo their every performance on the big Oslo stage - especially when it was announced that it got through to the final.

But what do they know. Those of us who were lucky enough to get into the gig Nalitch and his chums played at the Russian party in Oslo witnessed a well-rounded band with a set load of intelligently funny songs, and some teary-eyed, sing-along Moscow ballads. Anyone who's visited Russia will have heard the older breed of this kind of stuff permanently pumping out of the collective radios in any market or shopping neighbourhood. It's fabulously, entertaining, brilliantly mawkish intellectual drinking songs, and you could do worse that to head off to his site and download anything you can find.

What do them fanboys know, eh?!

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