Malmö mixtape

Published May 15, 2024
Mahir Ali
Mahir Ali

SELDOM before has the annual festival of schmaltz and schlock known as the Eurovision Song Contest been subject to so much controversy as it was in the run-up to this year’s edition in Sweden last weekend. Not surprisingly, it revolved around the glo­bal issue du jour: Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

Russia was excluded after its invasion of Ukraine — the latter won the 2022 contest. It needs to be noted, though, that the complex voting rules, which have evolved since Eurovision’s inception in 1956, allow room for manipulation, which is invariably guided by political concerns. As far back as 1968, Spain’s fascist Franco regime reportedly lobbied for vote rigging to score a victory that relegated Cliff Richard’s popular Congratula­tions to second place.

The Iberian Peninsula was Europe’s last fascist stronghold, but Portugal has a somewhat different relationship with Eurovision: its 1974 entry, E Depois Do Aeus by Paulo de Carvalho, was deployed to serve as a signal for a coup by younger officers that presaged Portuguese democracy and the liberation of Lisbon’s colonies — from Angola, Mozam­bique and Guinea-Bissau to East Timor.

Fifty years after Sweden’s Abba became the first Eurovision victor to transform its win (Waterloo) into global acclaim, few other acts have scored the same level of global success, including the four Israeli performers since 1973, when members of the European Broadcasting Union were admitted, regardless of their geographical standing.

This year’s Eurovision was unusually controversial.

Controversy, however, has often reared its head. In 2019, Ukraine withdrew from Eurovision after its shortlisted acts refused to commit to not touring Russia. Ten years earlier, Georgia’s entry, I Don’t Wanna Put In, was rejected on the grounds that it could be construed as a derogatory reference to Russia’s ruler.

Much of that fades into relative insignificance after Israel’s initial entry this year, October Rain, was deemed problematic because of its references to last year’s Hamas-led outrage (but none to the ensuing atrocities in Gaza). Israel was miffed, but it modified the lyrics and came up with Hurricane — not to be confused with Bob Dylan’s anti-racist song of the same name.

The Israeli performer, Eden Golan, was surrounded by Shin Bet-sponsored armed guards throughout her stay in Malmö, and not allowed to mingle with fellow artists, who might have enlightened her with their views on Israel’s military excesses. Ironically, Golan was until recently a pop star in Russia who performed for its troops in Crimea.

None of that seemed to matter once her family moved back to Israel and she shifted her allegiance to the equally deplorable Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the Washington Post, she faced “loud boos throughout her performance [on Saturday] and finished fifth” — despite considerable efforts by countries such as the UK to manipulate yet another win for Israel.

The popular mood in Sweden was reflected in huge pro-Palestinian mobilisations and impromptu concerts in Malmö that dwarfed the tiny Zionist gatherings in the run-up to the extravaganza.

Among the performers, antagonists of Israeli fascism stretched from the unfairly disqualified Dutch singer Joost Klein to Ire­land’s Bambie Thug, whose dress rehearsal included facial make-up that spelt out ‘cea­sefire’ and ‘freedom for Palestine’, which they were obliged to remove before the rehearsal.

The latter’s home nation, meanwhile, sta­ged Shine on Palestine: An Alternative Eurovi­sion in Galway on the eve of the finals in Malmö.

I confess I have never taken Eurovision seriously as a musical proposition, and on the few occasions I have been obli­g­­ed to witness parts of it — the first time was in 1981, when I was a baby­sitting a niece who was thrilled by Bucks Fizz gaining the top slot on the basis of an execrable tune — I held back my opinion.

Years later, I watched segments to placate my own kids, but my impression was always the same: with occasional exceptions, it was a load of codswallop — expertly choreographed bilge. That impression only deepened when all too many of the acts began performing mostly in English rather than in their native tongues. Back in 1982, France described it a “monument to drivel” and refused to send an entrant that year.

This year’s French contestant, Slimane, declared: “We need to be united by music, yes, but with love for peace.” Many of the contestants appeared to share his view, even if they didn’t withdraw from Eurovision. Music has for millennia provided a soundtrack to distress, disillusion, revolt and revolution. Eurovision was never intended to be a part of that — and, by and large, that reactionary impulse has been sustained. But in recent days one is reminded yet again that the real world can’t be excluded, with the drivel-fest’s “united by music” signposts in Malmö being graffitied over to spell “united by genocide”.

mahir.dawn@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2024

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