Baku Blog Day 4

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

Disclaimer: Please not that this blog is being written live – often as things happen – so a few mistakes, typos, missing words may creep in. Just go with the flow.

Okay, so it’s Wednesday May 16th. It’s approaching 11.00am here, where we’re expecting the first act of the day to appear on stage – Slovenia. Today we’re going to see the last ten songs of semi-final two.

Outside the Crystal Hall they seem to be putting the finishing touches to the road leading to the venue – workers have been slabbing all night long. It’s looking quite fab outside. And things seem to be settling down here in the press centre. Nothing is running on time – but then that was the same last year in Dusseldorf – and if the Germans can’t run on time, who can?

As I look onto the big screen I see the Slovenians getting ready to rehearse. Eva Boto is their performer this year singing Verjamen, which translates as I Believe. The song is a powerful ballad. Even though Slovenia is an ex-Yugoslav state, it’s not really considered a Balkan country, so can’t really rely on their ex-partners for votes.

Eva seems to be wearing a wedding outfit with a forest of flowers weighing her down. All her bridemaids are dressed in white gowns. All very pure and virginal. Just think vampire brides from an old Hammer film.

It’s another year of the strange outfit – and just as well. What’s Eurovision without unusual and trend-busting garb? They probably found them in Primark.

Their camera rehearsal went well. Good use of the wind machine. Not too impressed with her backdrop – just blue and red lighting. Eva is apparently just 16 years old. She has a great voice for so one so young. Her song is decent enough but might struggle to get through this tough semi-final.

Grrr… just had a computer crash. Lost most of the morning’s work. Never mind – these things happen with technology. So I’ll just repeat myself and update more often!

So where were we up to? Croatia. Nina Badric is one of the Balkans biggest stars – the region has a habit of sending their best to Eurovision.  Her video had her dressed all in white – well her song is entitled Nebo – which translate as Heaven. I thought her act might merge with the Slovenians – but she’s dressed in black – in one of those short at the front, long at the back outfits. She’s also sharing the stage with a rather long bedsheet.

Nina is a good singer, but not sure if her song, which she wrote, is powerful enough to get to the final. However there are quite fellow Balkan states voting in this semi-final where Nina is as well, so nothing should come as a surprise.

Time to get off the fat arse and walk down to the arena to see Sweden perform – but first, the Slovenian press conference.

Eva Boto got loads of good luck messages from her friends (bet they’re all jealous). She says that everyone should follow their dreams as she’s doing. She’s having a great time meeting all the other performers and thinks the Turkish singer, Can Bonomo, is cute.

She reveals that Eurovision is an important event in Slovenia and hopes she will do well in her semi on May 24th. For a 16 year-old, she appears very well-grounded and charming. I find most 16 year-old girls in north London to be loud-mouthed chavs.

Loreen for Sweden was great on stage – she performs on a special small platform. She’s a very frantic mover. Those sitting in the front rows when she performs in the semi-final and final (of course she will qualify) will experience an Azeri winter…

The Swedish press conference was quite busy – but then Loreen is one of the favourites to win. She was joined on stage by Melodifestival organiser, Christer Bjorkmen.

Despite her resemblance to Kate Bush, she insisted that she wasn’t influenced by her at all. Her frantic dancing is unique to her. She also revealed that her Moroccan background probably influences her style of singing – as the energy and angst comes from within.

Even though Loreen may be up in the odds, Christer Bjorkmen mentioned that  predictions are worthless – as France was forecast to win the contest last year but came nowhere near the top positions. They just want to qualify for the final from their semi first.

And apparently no one should mess with the backing singers. Okay – noted.

Georgia had a rather good rehearsal. I don’t really like the song – but their stage act is definitely memorable. The ethnic parts of the song really stand out, but as soon as he opens his mouth – time for me step back. But Georgia do have a habit of getting to the final – and that show probably needs something like it. I thought the gold glittery loudspeaker was a bit much though. As one of my colleagues suggested – for a moment he looked like Liberace’s punk rock love-child…

One of my favouite songs was on next – Turkey. After failing to get through to the final last year – for the first time since the semi-finals were introduced, the Turks have come back in full force. They chose an ‘alternative’ music star to represent them – Can Bonomo. He has become famous in Turkey doing commercials while his album became a big hit. His act on stage seems to feature five Turkish male dancers – probably a first for the Turks. As the song is a seafaring ditty, they’ll get a nice sea-themed backdrop – with pyrotechnics at the beginning and end of the song.

At their press conference, Can came off really well. He announced it was his birthday – to which everyone in press conference sang him Happy Birthday, He’s now reached the grand old age of 25.

I asked him about his song – as it’s a story about a lonely sailor, has the sea played a significant part in his life. He revealed that while he was never a sailor, he grew up on the western coast of Turkey in Izmir – so his two great loves was the city and the sea.

He was asked a somewhat political question – as he comes from a Jewish background, what did he think of the political situation between Turkey and Israel. As far as he was concerned, he’s a Turkish citizen and is proud to represent the country. Music is universal – and can be enjoyed no matter where you come from. The conference host then asked the press to avoid political based questions. Bit of a shame, because as we know politics plays a big part in the contest whether we like it or not.

But Can came across as a confident young man, with a decent future ahead of him. The song is expected to sail (pun intended) into the final.

For those of you reading this early evening in the UK, the rest of today’s blog will be finished hopefully by the end of the evening (UK time). Having that computer crash earlier has stopped my ‘live’ reporting, so I’ll have to catch up later as it’s nearly 10.00pm here in Baku and the press centre is about to shut.

And here we go again with the rest of the acts. Have to rush through them – and it would help if I could read my own hand-writing!

Estonia next with Ott Lepland singing Kuula – which translate as Listen. Only saw a bit of his rehearsal – it looked like a straightforward performance – the song isn’t set up to have flashy effects or frantic dancers.It’s a pleasant ballad. At his press conference someone mentioned that it had been ten years since Estonia won Eurovision – had he noticed any difference? He replied that he had – the contest is now much bigger and tougher.

Besides winning Estonian Idol in 2009, he also sang a duet with his grandmother – another well-known singer – these and getting to Eurovision have made him most proud.

Asked about his chances at Eurovision, he replied that everyone had an equal chance of winning. He seems like a generally nice guy, so it’s safe to vote for him.

Alas I missed the Slovakian rehearsal and press conference – but I did quickly glimpse Max Jason Mai on stage. There seemed to be lots of frantic camera angles for his hard rock song. I’m not really into hard rock – but it is good to see the genre at Eurovision. Hard rock songs have got into the final before, but this might struggle.

Norway were next. Managed to catch Tooji on stage singing Stay. What a lively number it is – and with a Middle East influence to boot. Expect lots of dancing and pyrotechnics. It’s a fine pop song that should do well.

Tooji, at his press conference really turned on the charm. Many have compared him to Eric Saade, who came third for Sweden last year – Tooji takes it as a compliment. He said on stage he likes to create a new character when performing. Stay was inspired by Persian rhyme (he’s originally from Iran).

He mentioned that he once worked for MTV, but to bring himself down to reality, he took up various causes including child-protention and asylum seekers.

But the lad does know how to have a fab time. He got everyone in the press centre to dance along with him. I had to give up half way through – couldn’t remember the moves – but you’re never too old to move it and grove it. How very hip (replacement).

He’s always been a big Eurovision fan and one of his favourite songs is Oh Ah, Just A Little Bit More from the UK’s Gina G. The boy has good taste. Feel free to vote for him.

Bosnia & Herzegovinia were next – only glimpsed  Maya Sar on stage, but she just seemed to be playing the piano. Being so late in the day, her press conference was poorly attended, so it didn’t last long.

She described her song as a love story between two people who really don’t know where to go next with their relationship. She’s been at Eurovision twice before – first in Istanbul 2004 as a backing singer, and again last year in Dino Merlin’s band. She was in Dino Merlin’s band for many years but decided to branch out on her own. She’s certainly talented enough to have a solo career.

Last act of the day went to Lithuania. Donny Montell (real name Donatas Montvydas) sang Love Is Blind. Again missed his rehearsal and again, the press conference was poorly attended – at 9.00pm.

He came off as a confident young man, quite well grounded. So far there doesn’t seem to be a nasty character that you love to hate. Anyway Donny revealed that his father is also a musician – but in a hard rock band. They tried to work together, but their different genre of musical styles never worked out. Rather, his musical influences are Michael Jackson and Freddy Mercury from Queen.

And he asked one simple question: Who has never once felt that love is blind?

And with that thought I’ll be back tomorrow, where acts from semi-final one will be having their second rehearsals.

No juicy gossip yet. Well none that we can print without being sued!