Baku Blog Day 3

Vision magazine editor Hass Yusuf reporting live from Baku, home to Eurovision 2012.

Disclaimer: Everything is being written live as things happen – and quickly, so a few typos and mistakes may get through, so just go with the flow – and put in any missing words that aren’t there.

So, here we go again!

It’s Tuesday May 15th, and another day of Eurovision madness. Today we see the start of rehearsals for semi-final two. Starting off things is a big hitter – Serbia. One of Balkan’s biggest stars, Zeljko Joksimovic is back again. He came second in 2004 and will do very well again – definitely a class act. He’s just had his sound check – and sounds good to me. A camera rehearsal is next.

But while we’re waiting for that let me tell you more about the city – it’s probably the most prettiest city Eurovision has been held in. Haven’t seen much of the outskirts, but everything within the city centre and tourist parts is well maintained and clean. Lots of greenery and fountains – and Fountain Square is very impressive. The views from the venue are fab – on a good day you can see right across the Caspian Sea to a panoramic view of Baku. Crossing some of the roads is a challenge though. Just follow the locals as they zig-zag around moving vehicles. Makes life far more fun!

Serbia just had their camera rehearsal – and it’s what you would expect from  Zeljko – him standing in the middle surrounded by a group of musicians. Simple and effective. This will sail into the final – well within top ten placings. In another year, it might even win – but there is such strong competition this year.

Next up – we have another ex-Yugoslav state – Macedonia (I’m not going to bother with that FYR nonsense).  They’ve got another big star representing them – Kaliopi. She’s quite a powerful singer and looks like the type that doesn’t take prisoners. They’re having audio problems with the link up to the arena, so we’re just getting vision but I’m getting a feeling of angst and passion. The sound is back again and she sounds great. You can tell she’s a professional. This certainly deserves to go through to the final.

There’s a nice buzz here in the media centre with various camera crews wandering around interviewing journalists. There’s a lot of waiting around for press conferences.

And here’s the Serbian one. Zeljko has revealed that this is probably his last Eurovision as a performer, but he will no doubt be involved in composing future Eurovision hits. He and his band gave the press conference a little mini-concert to much applause.

Popped over to see the Netherlands act on stage – it looks like ‘Indiana’ Joan Franka will be performing her song in traditional Native American garb. She’s surrounded by cauldrons of fire, so anyone sitting near the front will definitely feel the heat. She sings a very catchy tune – but the Netherlands have only qualified once for the final since the sem-finals were introduced a few years back. But Joan has a good chance this year – she is quite memorable. But nothing is certain with the Dutch.

While I was around the stage area I took the opportunity to wait for the Maltese act. It is interesting to see what goes on stage in preparing for each performance. Floor managers follow the performers around the stage to make sure they can be seen by various cameras. There are assistants making notes – and a few non-essential personnel standing around trying to look important.

And talking about the stage, I’m beginning to wonder if journalists are welcome here – not content in trying to starve us and make us walk half a mile to get to the venue, the walk from the press centre to the arena is fraught with danger – pitch-black corridors, barriers, loose wiring, uncovered man-holes and security men. But it all adds to the fun of the whole experience.

The interior of the Crystal Hall isn’t quite finished yet, but various workers are trying to make the place perfect – and I’m sure it will be by the time semi-final one next Tuesday.

Getting back to Malta, they’re represented by Kurt Calleja this year singing a somewhat tradition pop song. Think SAW mid-1980s. Not really my cup of tea, but the act is quite snappy and comes off well. Malta must win the contest one of these years as they’re very enthusiastic about the contest but – not this time alas.

Good news for those of you concerned – they’re finally offering ‘proper’ food at the press centre. Just filled rolls and small salads. Not as good as the excellent food in their restaurants, but it’s a start. The food in Baku is very similar to what you may find in the Middle East and Turkey. All quite tasty.

And talking about Turkey, it turns out that Joan Franka from the Netherlands is half Turkish. She can’t actually speak Turkish but did a promotional tour in Istanbul. As the Netherlands and Turkey are in the same semi-final, the Dutch should receive Turkish votes. Joan’s press conference went really well – she comes across really well and likeable. Her song is a story about her first love – aged six – where she and her ‘boyfriend’ played Cowboys & Indians – hence her Native American outfit. But she does wear feathers in her hair to signify her free spirit. Many punters have a good feeling about this song. Fingers crossed that it will go through to the final as it really does deserve to – you can’t get more toe-tapping than You And Me.

With all this to-ing and fro-ing I seemed to have missed the Belarussian performance and press conferences for Macedonia and Malta. It’s very easy to miss a few countries completely when there are three things to do at once. But it’s always a nice surprise to see them during the dress rehearsals.

I tell a lie – haven’t missed Belarus – here they are on stage – obviously everything is running late. Hard to believe I know.

Belarus are represented by Litesound singing We Are The Heroes. And they will be in the unlikely event of them getting through to the final. There’s nothing wrong with the song at all – but the competition is tough. But their song is a decent pop/rock anthem – very Britpop actually. It’s got a catchy beat, so you never know. It’s always good to see rock bands in a Eurovision final. Makes a nice change from all the solo artists.

Litesound are fronted by two brothers, and the band is really going for it. Thought I would go to the arena again to see them live – and I need the exercise – and besides it’s good fun avoiding all the loose tiles.

The lead singer seems to wearing a see-through netted bodice. Not many blokes can get away with that. My estimation of the song shot up seeing them on stage – really came off well – and expect some interesting body contortions. They also win the prize for best microphone stands.

Once they finished their rehearsal I decided to wait around for the Portuguese act. Filipa Sousa is a great singer, but singing a fado song – no matter how good  – will not win her Eurovision. However that doesn’t stop it being a good song. She was rehearsing in casual wear – looked like a plastic yellow dress, but her outfit was brought onto the stage for a colour check. For those of you who are interested, she’ll be wearing a sparkly gold number. Anyway the performance is very moody – full of angst – with lots of slow walking. It really is a nice song, but will have limited appeal, so it’s doubtful it will get through to the final – but Portugal have defied the odds before, so you never know. If there’s one country that Eurovision fans would love to win – it’s Portugal.

I missed the Belarussian press conference (where there was talk of lots of brotherly love) to see one of my favourite songs being performed on stage – Ukraine. Their singer, Gaitana – but I call her Giganta – really knows how to belt it out! Be My Guest is the perfect football anthem. Not sure if Euro2012 will still go ahead in Ukraine, but this will more than make up for it. Giganta is accompanied on stage by four male dancers – four of which are wearing strange ‘football skirts’. They’ve also got four screens – as similar to Blue last year. It might be a mite over-produced – too much happening – but the flash-mob graphics are fun.

Ukraine always qualify for the final – no matter what they offer – but this could be a potential winner. As they say on the terraces – “Come on Giganta!”

The last act of the day is currently on stage – Bulgaria – which unfortunately, if we’re honest, is just making up numbers. Sofi Marinova is a decent singer, but this techno-pop number isn’t special enough.She’s got a cat-print outfit on which does nothing for her either. Feel guilty not having anything good to say, but it’s a tough life. She’s also being brave appearing on stage just by herself.

Filipa Sousa from Portugal was a real sweetie. Her style of fado is from Lisbon apparently. And despite it sounding all sad, it is in fact a love song. She defended not singing in English, because the meaning of fado just wouldn’t translate properly. Personally I would prefer to hear all the songs in their native languages. Fingers crossed for her to qualify.

The Ukrainian press conference was a real hoot. Gaitana is quite a character. Her father is from the Congo. She unfortunately suffered racist abuse from a politician in the Ukraine – but she said she had to rise above it. She tried to replace hatred with love. She doesn’t want people to think Ukraine is a bad place – and wants everyone to visit her country regardless. Her name means ‘goodness’ – and she tries to live up to that. She definitely is a striking person – and will score many goals on her way to the final.

The last event of the day is the Bulgarian press conference. While I don’t like her song much, Sofi Marinova is a very pleasant lady. Turns out she’s from a gypsy background and is very proud of her heritage. She gave us a rendition of a famous gypsy song. She has a tattoo of a rose on her arm – apparently this is to disguise the name of a ex-boyfriend! She decided to sing on stage by herself to make a change from the many duets she done.

And that’s it for today. Getting out early tonight – it’s just 8.00pm. Back tomorrow with the second half of the semi-final two acts.