What went wrong for Portugal at Eurovision?

Well, well, well. Eurovision can be cruel. One year you win it, the next you come last in the final. On your home territory! This was Portugal’s experience at the Eurovision 2018 final in Lisbon on the weekend.

So, unlike Salvador Sobral‘s Amar Pelas Dois (Love For Two) which won in Kiev in 2017 despite being so old-fashioned and so untypical of Eurovision, the equally untypical  O Jardim (The Garden), sung by Cláudia Pascoal, turned out to be the wrong song in the wrong time. It got just 39 points. That said, I much prefer it to Israel’s winning entry, Netta’s Toy, a song that I never, ever want to hear again!

Here is Cláudia in action.

The backing singer in the video is the woman who wrote the song, Isaura Santos, and I would have liked her to have played a more prominent part in it. She’s an interesting performer. Check this out:

Was there better options for Portugal?

Did the Portuguese “music authorities” err in their selection process for Eurovision 2018? The Eurovision entry is chosen at the annual Festival da Canção (Festival of Song). Here O Jardim scored 22 points, but so did another song, Para Sorrir Eu Não Precisco De Nada (I don’t need anything to make me smile) by Catarina Miranda. The latter was the jury’s top pick, but O Jardim won the televoting, and that clinched it for Cláudia.

Would Catarina have done any better? One thing’s for sure, the Portuguese don’t seem to go in for lively dance tunes! This is the song that came third at the Festival da Canção.

Despite the result, I am sure the Portuguese enjoyed the attention and the honour of hosting the event. Have you been to Lisbon? It’s a great city, as I explain on my travel website in a piece to coincide with Eurovision – Lisbon’s in the limelight.


Salvador Sobral tipped to do wonders for Portugal at Eurovision 2017

Portugal’s entry in the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest is Amar Pelos Dois (Love For Two) by Salvador Sobral, and according to the various betting websites that I have seen, it is regarded as a strong contender and possible winner – some rank it second behind the Italian entry.

The song is entirely in Portuguese (applause, applause) and was written by Salvador’s sister, Luisa. It is a charmingly old-fashioned song, and sounds very Brazilian in a musical sense (though his accent is definitely not Brazilian).

It is a sad song (a man pining for his lover to come back) – and there is a sad real-life story about Salvador that has emerged in recent days – he is in very poor health and in urgent need of a heart donor (details here). For this reason, his sister sang the song at the early rehearsals. Salvador is saving his strength for the finals.

The lyrics of the song have been translated into more than 15 languages here, among them my four other Romances – French, Italian, Spanish and Romanian – as well as English. You can more about Salvador, the song, and some critical reactions to it, here. The following clip will also fill you in.

Good luck to him. The song has grown on me, and I really hope Portugal gets to win the competition for the first time in its history. I fancy going to Eurovision 2018 in Lisbon!

France’s Eurovision winner this year is … Isabelle Huppert. Ooops! Sorry, wrong envelope, the real winner is …

Eiffel on flagThe Eurovision Song Contest is just around the corner, and there is a great French film doing the rounds that will put you in the mood for it. What’s more, it stars the superb French actress Isabelle Huppert.

The film in question is Souvenir. In it, Isabelle plays a woman who was once a child star but her world came crashing down after she was beaten at a Eurovision Song Contest by ABBA. Oh, the indignity!

Now she lives a humdrum life and makes pâtés for a living at a suburban factory, where a young spunky co-worker cum amateur boxer (Kévin Azaïs oozing great charm and innocence) recognises her. He buys her flowers and chocolates, puts some spark in her life and soon they are in cavorting together in the bathtub. In the midst of this he urges her to make a comeback. He even gives up his, ahem, promising amateur boxing career to become her manager. And yes, she enters the contest to be France’s next representative at Eurovision. What a comeback it would be if she won – the French music industry story of the year!

I wish I could find a video clip of Isabelle singing the song that may or may not cast her into the international limelight, but unfortunately there does not seem to be one around. Nor can I find a trailer with subtitles. But here is the French language trailer, which will give you some idea of the tensions involved in showbiz.


So, who is going to represent France at Eurovision this year? That honour falls to an as yet little known singer, Alma, whose debut album is to be released shortly. (You can read more about her here). Her song is Requiem which, under the terms of the French selection process, has to have at least 80 per cent French language content.

The contest takes place in Kiev, Ukraine, from May 9 to 13. Bonne chance, Alma!


Des amours meurent, des amours naissent
Les siècles passent et disparaissent
Ce que tu crois être la mort
C’est une saison et rien de plus
Un jour lassé de cette errance
Tu t’en iras, quelle importance
Car la terre tournera encore
Même quand nous ne tournerons plus
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi sourire au beau milieu d’un requiem
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi danser jusqu’à ce que le temps nous reprenne
Ce qu’il a donné
Will you take me to paradise?
With you nothing ever dies
You take my smile and make it bright
Before the night erase the light
I won’t go below silver skies
The only dark is in your eyes
On pleure mais on survit quand même
C’est la beauté du requiem
Les étincelles deviennent des flammes
Les petites filles deviennent des femmes
Ce que tu crois être l’amour
C’est un brasier et rien de plus
Nos déchirures, nos déchéances
On pense qu’elles ont de l’importance
Mais demain renaîtra le jour
Comme si nous n’avions pas vécu
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi sourire au beau milieu d’un requiem
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi danser jusqu’à ce que le temps nous reprenne
Ce qu’il a donné
Will you take me to paradise?
With you nothing ever dies
You take my smile and make it bright
Before the night erase the light
I won’t go below silver skies
The only dark is in your eyes
On pleure mais on survit quand même
C’est la beauté du requiem
Des amours naissent, des amours meurent
Ce soir enfin je n’ai plus peur
Je sais que je t’aimerai encore
Quand la terre ne tournera plus
Des amours naissent, des amours meurent
Ce soir enfin je n’ai plus peur
Je sais que je t’aimerai encore
Quand la terre ne tournera plus
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi sourire au beau milieu d’un requiem
Embrasse-moi, dis-moi que tu m’aimes
Fais-moi danser jusqu’à ce que le temps nous reprenne
Ce qu’il a donné
Embrasse-moi, tell me that you love me
Embrasse-moi, tell me that you love me


Eurovision 2015: you win some, you lose some

The Eurovision 2015 semifinals have been held and what’s the news for my Romance language favourites?

GOOD NEWS: In semi-final one, Romania’s Voltaj got the nod to appear in the final. Here is their semifinal appearance. This song gives me goosebumps.

Great too, to see Razvan Schinteie, the boy who stars in the short film screened behind Voltaj, waving from the audience at the end. Good to see he made it safe and sound to Vienna! (In the film, he sets off on a little boat by himself going up the Danube in search of his “lost” parents, despite not knowing their address – more about that story here).

BAD NEWS: In semi-final two poor old Portugal got dumped again; pity – Leonor Andrade sang more powerfully than I expected compared to the recorded version, and unlike some Portuguese entries in previous years, I like this song. And good on Portugal for having the guts to sing in the native language.

The final will be a marathon with 27 countries participating, including Australia! How will Romance language contenders France, Spain and Italy fare?

German subtitles on Romanian Eurovision song and life in Germanic-Romanian ghost towns. What more could you want!

Hello. It’s been more than three weeks since I posted anything. Been a very busy boy. I’ll boast about that more during the week. To get back into the swing, I’m going to dabble a bit in German, a language that should get some attention next month when Vienna hosts this year’s Eurovision song contest (May 19-23)

Romanian band Voltaj have released a YouTube version with German subtitles of their Eurovision 2015 entry, De la Capăt, which is a good excuse for me to play one of my favourite songs of the moment. Here it is, German speakers sing along now:

German and Romanian are, of course, quite different, but German is a language you will hear in Romania quite often, particularly during the summer holidays in Transylvania, which was once part of the Habsburg empire. According to Wikipedia’s list of ethic minorities in Romania, though, Germans now make up only 0.2 per cent of the total population. The number was originally much higher, but due to various political circumstances since the second world war, none of them pleasant, it has fallen considerably. You can read about the overall German population here, and about the largest group, the Transylvanian Saxons, here. When I did my language course in Sibiu in 2013, I visited some of the Saxon villages not far from the city, such as Cașolț and Roșia. As you will see from my picture gallery, these villages are quaint but have a forlorn air of decay, like sad little ghost towns. Many people have left these villages to seek fortunes elsewhere, their houses stand empty; some have been taken over by gypsies or vagabonds. Yet there is still a certain beauty and serenity to the place, and the people who remain are very hospitable.

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One prominent German-Romanian is the country’s recently elected president, Klaus Iohannis. Another is the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Hertha Müller, who left Romania in 1987 after being hounded by the Communist regime’s secret police. One of her most recent books is The Hunger Angel, which graces my bookshelves, but let me tell you it is a harrowing read.

The Hunger Angel cover, Portobello Books, 2012. Shot by Bernardo on his iPhone using the Snapseed app.

The Hunger Angel, Portobello Books, 2012. Shot by Bernardo on his iPhone using the Snapseed app.

It tells the story of how Leo, a young lad from Sibiu, was sent into a Soviet forced labour camp for five years from 1944. In that year the Red Army occupied Romania and Stalin demanded that all German Romanians aged 17-45 be sent into labour camps to “rebuild” the Soviet Union. Many never came back. The war might have ended in 1945, but the atrocities continued long after that. When Leo returns home in 1949 he is still only 22 but in spirit he is a broken old man.

Later Ceausescu’s communist regime really made life hard for the ethnic minorities as policies were introduced to, let’s say, stamp out the Hungarian and German cultural identities, including clamping down on language (this is why some towns in Romania have a Romanian name, a Hungarian name and a German name). Some of the German-Romanians people I spoke to in Cașolț told me of the grievances that they or their parents had to put up with. And that, sadly, is mostly what human history is all about, really. One tribe or grouping taking advantage of, bullying, coercing or persecuting another. On that fun note, good night!

Stunning Danube scenery in short film linked to Romania’s Eurovision song

When you watch the original videoclip to Voltaj’s song De la Capăt (subsequently chosen as Romania’s Eurovision 2015 entry) you can’t help being impressed by the cinematography and the spectacular riverside setting. The imagery is taken from a short film (scurt metraj in Romanian) entitled Calea Dunarii (Way of the Danube, in English). It was filmed near Orșova, very close to the magnificent “Iron Gates” – the narrow gorge between Serbia and Romania which is probably the most striking part of a river cruise along the length of the Danube.

The film – shown here with English subtitles – is well worth a look if you have 12 minutes to spare. It features a well-known Romanian actor Constantin Dinulescu as “Bunicul” (the grandfather), while the little kid playing Ion – the local equivalent of John – Razvan Schinteie, is superb too. Great actors are those who can convey meaning and emotion when the script asks for silence.

The aim of both the film and the song is to raise awareness of the loneliness of the “orphans of the economy“. Here is the music clip.

Of course, it is easy for professional musicians to sound good on disc after hours in a recording studio, but some are caught short badly in live performances. So how do Voltaj rate? Check them out live in Radio Zu’s cramped studios.

I can’t get enough of this song, so here for good measure is another performance, this time in the studios of another popular Romanian music station, Kiss FM.

Can Lenor Andrade do a Lúcia Moniz and surprise for Portugal at Eurovision 2015?

Portugal’s entrant in the 2015 Eurovision song contest is a Lisbon law student and TV actress, Lenor Andrade. She rose to fame as a contestant last year in season 2 of The Voice Portugal (won by Rui Drummond), usually performing soulful, bluesy numbers that enabled her to show off her powerful, gutsy voice.

Here she is, for example, doing a cover of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good – see how quickly she convinces judge Mickael Carreira!

Lenor subsequently took part in, and won, the annual Festival da Canção (from which Portugual’s Eurovision representative is chosen) with a more upbeat pop/rock song Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa (There Is A Sea That Separates Us). It is a song suited to a nation perched on the western coast of Europe, and which has a fascinating maritime history.

I like the song, it grows on me, but I find it a little subdued, vocally – at least as recorded here. Perhaps it comes across better live. English and Spanish versions of the song will be on their way soon, apparently.

Funnily enough, you won’t hear the exact title in the song. Instead the chorus starts with Se é o mar que nos separa… (If it’s the sea that separates us...)

The Portuguese lyrics and English translation are here on the Lyrics Translate website., where Dutch, Catalan, German, Spanish and French translations can be found too.

Mickael Correira, incidentally, sang on the Portuguese market version of Enrique Iglesias’s big hit Bailando – you can see it and the Brazilian and Spanish versions here.

Portugal’s best performance at Eurovision was in Oslo in 1996 when Lúcia Moniz came sixth with O Meu Coração Não Tem Cor (My Heart Has No Colour).

Lúcia was very young at the time, but went on to have a successful singing and acting career, both in Portugal and overseas: British heartthrob Colin Firth proposed to her in the film Love Actually! Perhaps similar opportunities are in store for young Lenor.

Here’s a more recent performance from her… the song is smooth, she is sultry.

Sorry, everyone, the Eurovision 2015 winner has already been decided…

Great news! OMG! OMG! Exclamation mark extravaganza!

Much to my joy, much to my excitement, much to my exaltation, much to my relief, my favourite song of the moment is going to be in the Eurovision 2015 final!

Yes, De La Capăt by Voltaj beat 11 other contenders in the Romanian play-off, including a number of Johnny-come-lately reality TV talent show winners, to earn the well-credentialled Voltaj a spot in the final in Vienna from May 19-23. Encouragingly, the band got top points from both the musical jury and the televoting public. Incidentally, out of the 12, it and only one other song were in the local language – the rest were in English.

Let’s have a look at the winning performance.

If you were wondering why it started off strangely with a woman putting a teddy bear to bed and kissing her sleeping child goodnight (goodbye, actually) – and why the stage was covered in suitcases – it’s because the song aims to raise awareness of the loneliness of what I call the orphans of the economy.

While Voltaj will sing in Romanian in Vienna, an English version of the song, titled All Over Again, has just been released. I hope it charts somewhere in the English-speaking world. Hello, Australian music stations, put this on your playlist.


Eurovision 2014: the good, the bad and the Wurst

The Eurovision 2014 contest was fascinating for a number of reasons that had nothing to do with the singing. Most official news outlets have given great live and sometimes very witty coverage of the event from a musical and theatrical point of view. Since this is a Romance language blog, I am going to probe a little deeper to examine the voting patterns of the different language blocs to see who has been faithful to whom and who has been treacherous. But first some big issues that have broader implications

The politics of beards

BeardYou have to congratulate Austria for daring to choose Conchita Wurst as its representative, and picking the perfect year to do it. This year, all of a sudden, for some reason, facial hair on men – beards more so than moustaches – made a comeback. Metrosexual was out, the “lumberjack look” (pictured left) was in! In some parts of the Western world, superficial baby-faced young men who could not grow their own bushes on their cheeks were clamouring to get facial hair transplants, and some were prepared to pay thousands of dollars to do it. Now, thanks to Conchita, expect to see more lumberjacks in coming months.

The politics of gay rights and drag queens with beards

Conchita WurstWhen it became known that Conchita Wurst was going to represent Austria, there was a backlash from ultra-conservative groups in Russia, Belarus and Armenia too apparently. According to Reuters, more than 15,000 people in Russia signed a petition asking that the Russian state broadcaster not to cover Eurovision at all, or at least block out Wurst’s performance. Well, talking about cutting your nose off to spite your non-bearded face! All that publicity no doubt helped Wurst, whose song, let’s face it, does sound like the soundtrack of a late 1970s James Bond movie. Russia’s anti-“gay propoganda” laws had already been in the spotlight this year in the build-up to the winter Olympics at Sochi, and no doubt a lot of the votes for Austria at Eurovision came from people who wanted to make a point. Indeed, the Russian representatives in the contests got booed, and in the final voting tally, whenever a country awarded points to Russia in the final, there were boos from the audience (the Russian entry came seventh). But the interesting thing is that in the final, Russia actually gave 5 points to Conchita Wurst. Belarus and Armenia gave her none, while Ukraine gave her 8.

The politics of freedoms, women’s rights and human rights

red-42286_640Expect anti-Russia sentiment to fester; apart from its “land grab” in Ukraine (Moldova fears it might be next in line for similar treatment), the crushing of political dissent (remember the disgraceful treatment of those poor women in the band Pussy Riot?), Russia has since introduced a law banning “foul language” in films, books, theatre and on television. Russia is due to host the 2015 FINA world swimming championships in Kazan and the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament, so Sochi-style protests are bound to happen as long as Vladimir Putin’s oppressive remains in charge. In the meantime, news from other parts of the world has been depressing, particularly for women. Anger is growing around the world after the militant Boko Haram group in Nigeria kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls for receiving an education. Did the 15,000 “pro family values” Russians who signed a petition against Boko Haram also start a petition to “Bring back our girls?” In Aceh, Indonesia, a woman is to be flogged for adultery after being gang-raped by vigilantes as punishment. And such punishments could now occur in Brunei too after that country brought in a tough new penal code that includes death by stoning for adulterers. And going back to the beard theme, a Saudi Arabian woman had to go into hiding after being threatened because of a tweet she made about beards.

So, if you have got this far and are wondering why I am going on about all this misery in the world, my point is that maybe Conchita Wurst’s strong support and victory was a sign of people fighting back against petty-mindedness and oppression. And that a lot worse things can happen in live than a bearded tranny doing a song in drag on TV.

Now onto the Romance language angles: Spain came 10th, Romania 12, Italy 21st and France came last of the 26 with just 2 points, one each from Finland and Ukraine. Quelle horreur!

  • France awarded 6 points to Spain and 1 to Italy, none for neighbours Belgium or Switzerland. Its top vote of 12 points went to Armenia.
  • Tit for tat. Belgium gave no points to France, 5 to Romania and 2 to Spain. Top score to Austria.
  • Switzerland gave 8 to Spain and 2 to Italy. Its top vote went to Austria.
  • Italy gave 5 points to Romania and 2 to Switzerland but none to Spain or France. Its 12 points went to Austria.
  • Moldova, where Romanian is the main language although some like to call it Moldovan, gave its 12 points to Romania, and 10 to Ukraine and 8 to Russia.
  • Portugal gave no points to Spain, France or Italy, and 1 to Romania. Portugal’s 12 points went to Austria.
  • Romania, where there is a sizable Hungarian minority, gave 10 points to Hungary (Hungary gave none to Romania), 6 to Switzerland and 5 to Spain. Romania gave Sweden 12 points.
  • Switzerland gave its 12 points to Austria, and dished out 8 to Spain and 2 to Italy.
  • Slovenia, where some Italian is spoken, particularly near its western border with Italy, gave no votes to Italy. It’s top vote went to Austria.
  • San Marino, which is an enclave inside Italy, gave no votes to Italy either. Its top score was awarded to Azerbaijan.
  • Austria‘s top three votes went to Armenia, the Netherlands and Romania.
  • Russia gave 7 points to Ukraine and its top score of 12 points to Belarus. Ukraine gave 6 points to Belarus, 4 to Russia and 12 to Sweden. Belarus gave 8 points to Ukraine and 12 to Russia.

So there you go. Looking forward to doing it all again next year. In Vienna probably, unless the Austrians opt for Salzburg or Linz or someplace else. In the words of the Finnish contestants, who added some Cold Play-style rock muscle to the event, let’s hope it’s Something Better.


Eurovision 2014: what do Italy and Spain have to offer?

eurovision oddsThere has been heartbreak for 11 contestants at the Eurovision Song Contest, and now it is time to be even more brutal and break 25 more hearts. That’s right, come late on Saturday night, one nation will be rejoicing in triumph, the others will feel deflated. By Monday or Tuesday, though, we will have forgotten all about it and will revert to our normal musical habits. It will be back to the 1980s for Bernardo! But at least we can say Eurovision was fun in the week it lasted.

Before the semi-finals began, the eurovisionodds.com website had made Armenia the favourite with odds of 2.75 to one, closely followed by Sweden on 3.50, then Denmark and Norway a little further back on 10 and 11 respectively. Romania’s Paula Steling & Ovi were on 34, Spain and Italy were 41 to 1, as was Austria’s bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst, while France’s TWIN TWIN and Portugal’s Suzy (who did not make it to the final) were further down the list on 101 to 1. Macedonia was last at 226 to 1.

Now, however, as the screen grab to the right shows, there has been a shift in sentiment. Sweden has become the favourite, and the Armenian entry has dropped down to fourth favourite. Conchita Wurst’s beard has shot up the rankings to second spot, but the moustache of the French TWIN TWINs has plunged to 251. Denmark and Norway have dipped significantly, but the UK, Hungary, Ukraine and Greece must have impressed in the semi-finals, as they are now in the top eight. Not that I am suggesting you should bet or take up gambling, it is just to give an idea of who is hot at the moment. And money talks, doesn’t it?

The only signs of the Romance languages in the final will come from Italy and, to a lesser extent, Spain. Neither country had to appear in the semi-final, because they along with France, Germany and the UK (the big five euro broadcasters) automatically qualify for the final. But Spain and Italy appear to have lost favour with the bookmakers.

Let’s have a look at the Italian and Spanish contestants.

Emma Marrone, Italy’s representative, is barely 30 years old yet already she has had a string of hits to her credit in Italy, including a number one album and four chart-topping singles. She is popular in Switzerland too. Her thumping rock/pop entry, La Mia Città (My City), will be a pleasant contrast to all the pop ditties and syrupy ballads at the competition.

Spain’s entry is a mix of Spanish and English. Ruth Lorenzo, who was born in Murcia and also started singing from an early age, was a contestant on the UK’s series The X Factor, in 2008, when she finished fifth. The years in between seem to have been pretty lean, but maybe her powerful Eurovision entry Dancing in the Rain will give her musical career some propulsion. But it does seem bizarre to start off in Spanish then switch to English.

May your Eurovision party rock!


Why, do you think, has the eurovisionodds website not been able to include the flags of Hungary and Montenegro? Odd, hey.