Archive for May, 2010

Goodbye Blue Sky

Love it or loathe it, the Eurovision Song Contest cannot be ignored. Many who followed the first semifinal for this year’s edition saw Malta fail to make it to the the final round. Finger pointing is inevitable at this point, but I think that talk of neighbourly voting is misguided. Otherwise how is it that Belgium and Iceland find themselves in the final?

PBS must radically rethink the way it selects the songs it sends to Eurovision as well as how the selected performers are presented on the international stage. The long-standing way of doing things clearly doesn’t work and is indeed a waste of money. Worse still, it’s a wasted opportunity to promote some of the excellent musical talent emanating from the Maltese islands. To really get its value for money from the Eurovision Song Contest, Malta must spend more than €400,000 a year, not less.

The real problem right now is that there is no ROI (return on investment) analysis on the process. No strategic plan. No accountability. And no continuity or development on long-term experience gained from entering acts in the contest year after year. Then again, PBS has a remit to do public broadcasting and the Eurovision Song Contest is strictly a public broadcasting service, rather than a commercial concern. Done right, there is plenty of milage to be had from the Eurovision Song Contest, even for acts/countries that don’t win the contest.

The alternative is to spend a lot less and still take part just to be there. After all, there’s a great game element in the whole thing anyway. Regardless of placing, the Eurovision Song Contest is an incredibly interesting event for performance scholars like me to study.

Now that Malta no longer offers a distraction at this year’s contest, I can fully focus on the upcoming activities of the Eurovision Research Network. My next blog entry will most likely be a personal reflection on one of both events we’ve planned for the next two days.

Empty Space

The number of people who have contacted me asking about my Eurovision 2010 “predictions” in the last few days is staggering. There is no stand out act this year, even if Azerbaijan have spent more than Malta spends in 10 years on this contest to promote their 2010 entry. I am rather surprised that the Google worm is steady for Germany’s Lena, but let’s see what happens over the next couple of days.

So, without too much prejudice towards anyone’s taste in music, here are my pick for semi-final 1, in order of appearance:

Just because the Russians clearly aren’t taking Eurovision seriously this year, it doesn’t mean they can’t make it to the final.

The interesting staging, if nothing else, will make this a memorable entry on the night. Will that be enough to get Kristina Pelakova to the final?

What a country of extremes! It’s one of the most kitschy songs in this year’s contest but it’ also horribly infectious. Traditional Eurovision fans will love this. I’d also make a special note of the fact that they’re all dressed in white.

Bosnia & Herzegovina
I have it from someone who knows these things well that this is one to watch, for a particular group of Eurovision fans. However, he may be overlooking the fact that they’re also the same fans who don’t really like rock guitars.

Most Maltese people who bother voting on the Eurovision semi-final will probably like the staging of Legenda but they’ll possibly also take into account the fact that Malta’s own Thea Garrett seems to have found a soul mate in Marcin Mroziński. If they both make it to the final, she may very well be joining him on the cast of Les Miserables when it opens in Warsaw in September.

One of the very few songs that don’t conform to the mainstream Eurovision genres and sub-genres. Will a good looking young man strumming an acoustic guitar and singing about, well, his guitar, appeal to the mostly middle aged female voting audience? Watch this one closely: it will either soar above the schlagers or sink majestically.

Malta has one of the most alluring entries in years. I’m saying Thea will take My Dream to the final. The backing singers are divine but perhaps our young singer is hampered by two of the handicaps that kept Jade Ewen from achieving a higher placing for the UK at last year’s final: (a) the song doesn’t grab you in the first 30 seconds, and (b) a young dynamic singer is made to perform like an aging diva.

If Juliana Pasha manages to make it to the final, it will prove that the new voting system has eliminated the possibility of bloc voting from excluding entries from countries without friendly neighbours.

Combing kitsch, ethnic stereotypes, and a catchy chant will ensure that Opa takes the Greeks to the final to provide what many will consider the most entertaining of this year’s entries. I’d also make a special note of the fact that they’re all dressed in white.

In spite of giving us all that volcanic ash this spring, Iceland shines at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with a singer that will not only take the northern-most island nation in the contest to the final but can most likely also secure it a top 10 placing (or better) in the final voting round.

Keep in mind that the top two acts tipped to win the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest are not taking part in the first semifinal along with Malta and the rest of the songs presented on Tuesday.

Depending on the kind of feedback I get from you, gentle readers, I’ll do this again for Thursday’s semifinal too, or simply skip to Saturday’s final.

DISCLAIMER: The “predictions” made in this blog post are for your amusement only. I’m pretty sure that these will not be the 10 countries whose songs will actually qualify for Saturday’s final.

CLAIMER: I’ll be greatly amused to see how many of my 10 picks are also the ones that will be seen/heard again on Saturday.

Waiting for the Worms

As you’d expect, I’ll be blogging about the Eurovision Song Contest in the coming days. Not sure what I’m going to focus on this year because there are a couple of different things I’m interested in this time. The Eurovision Research Network has its inaugural events and I’m heavily involved, as you can imagine. Then there’s the almost €400,000 that Malta is spending on this year’s entry.

The main reason I’m in Oslo this year is for the inaugural events of the Eurovision Research Network (ERN). This is a new organization I co-founded with two other UK-based media performance scholars interested in taking a closer look at the Eurovision Song Contest. ERN already has 40 members from 20 countries. The first event is a panel discussion at the Litteraturhuset in downtown Oslo on Eurovision and the “New” Europe on Thursday. On Friday we’ll be having our inaugural symposium at the University of Oslo, around the theme Setting an Agenda for Eurovision Studies. If nothing else, I can now confidently say that Eurovision is something that is attracting a solid body of scholarship and professional research around it, which contrasts nicely with the impression of frivolity many people associate with the Eurovision Song Contest.

Riding the bus to a wonderful party (I try to avoid using superlatives whenever I can, but this party was really a highlight among all the many Eurovision events I’ve attended over the years) thrown by the Georgian delegation at the amazing Oslo Opera House I had a very interesting conversation with an EBU staffer about the amount of money some countries spend on their Eurovision entry. Azerbaijan has clearly gone overboard this year, spending millions of euros on promotional ideas. They are very intent on winning the contest this time. Apparently, Malta still thinks that winning Eurovision is about having a great 3 minutes on stage during the contest broadcast. Still, from my conversation on the way to the Georgian party (how much did that cost?) I gathered that most countries are equally oblivious of actual ROI (return on investment) when it comes to Eurovision spending.

An ROI analysis, possibly including a comparative study, is the third on my areas of research interest around Eurovision. The first starts being articulated with the inaugural ERN symposium on Friday. Once that’s established, my next topic of research will be a performance studies approach to understanding Malta’s love-hate relationship with Eurovision, through an analysis of the songs Malta has entered in the contest since 1971, and how they compare to the songs that won and/or endured over the years.

While I was at the fabulous Oslo Opera House for the Georgian party, little Thea Garrett was singing a duet with Marcin Mroziński (this year’s singer from Polish) from The Phantom of the Opera at another venue where a smaller party by the Polish delegation was organized. I’m sure she enjoyed every minute of it but I wonder how many votes from Poland that will win her. I haven’t really buckled down to give the Maltese entry the attention it deserves yet. I’ll probably do that later today when I get ready for my first report for SBS radio in Australia. I’ll blog about that tomorrow, once attention on Malta’s 2010 entry starts approaching fever pitch in preparation for Tuesday’s do or die semifinal show. Die-hard Eurovision fans at the Telenor Arena in Oslo don’t think Malta will qualify to the final…but apparently the Google worm tells a different story. We’ll obviously know what’s what by Tuesday night.

We Rock

Show notes for the 213th Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast featuring music by performers in or from Malta:

Rage Against SocietySlaves of the Machine
It seems that an entire podcast dedicated to the harder side of the Maltese rock scene is becoming the traditional thing to do in the week before the Eurovision Song Contest. Lordi aside, it feels right to delve into a far side of the music spectrum at this point in time. R.A.S. strike me as one of the best Maltese acts that’s towards the very end of that range of genres I just mentioned. I really like the vocal contrast between Patti Pattex and Ray Il-Baħri’s on this particular track. If you don’t like your music heavy, turn away now; you have been warned.

ForsakenDies Irae (Day of Wrath)
Rage Against Society have been around for 15 years, but Forsaken have been together even longer. Their most recent album, 2009’s After The Fall, is still receiving critical acclaim all over the world among serious Metal aficionados. Regular listeners of my weekly podcast know that I played a track from this ATF when it first came out. Still, it should come as no surprise that I’ve picked another track from that collection for today’s show.

Shades of ChaosRelentless Killing Machine
Moving away from the old timers, I’m struck by this relatively new band – they’ve been gigging under various formations since 2004. This is the freshest brand of metal to my ears. Growling is an acquired taste and even life-long headbangers from a previous generation (or two) find it hard to stomach sometimes. I have fond associations with this type of sound from the 1990s, so I’m always thrilled to hear a good growler over a fresh bed of metal.

Black VultureCleansed by Fire
Among the more interesting collaborations that fit in well with this week’s podcast is a trio with a Maltese drummer called Martin Ciappara. Some of you will recognize that name as the man behind Prayer for the Dying. This is not Martin’s first international collaboration either: a couple of years ago he was involved in Lustre with Turkish guitarist Sarrum, who is also part of Black Vulture. Vocal duties here are performed by Richard Schierer. So, in some ways, this band could also be seen as a new version of Lustre.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page or on MySpace. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here or listen to the podcast on the player right below this text.

Mużika Mod Ieħor podcasts are brought to you by Vodafone.

Fool for You Anyway

Show notes for the 212th Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast featuring music by performers in or from Malta:

Bletchley ParkWaterfall
An excellent follow-up single to their debut release, Alien. I particularly like the chord progression on this one. If this is the direction Bletchley Park plan to go in over the coming months and years they’ll certainly be gathering more and more fans as they go along.

Winter MoodsMy Neverland
Here’s a second single from the upcoming new album by one of Malta’s most popular and longest standing bands. If this song and Last to Know are any indication of the rest of the tracks on the forthcoming album, it really shows a Maltese AOR band in full maturity.

From time to time I come across acts that escape my attention for a while. Mikaela falls squarely in this category and I’m not sure how and why she hasn’t been featured on a previous edition of the MMI podcast. Her MySpace page currently features three songs she has recorded, along with news that she is working new material with her band Mikaela’s Picture and the Blind Trash whose members include Nick Morales, Alan Portelli and Benji Cachia. This is most certainly a ‘watch this space’ situation.

SoundCloud is slowly but surely taking it’s place along with MySpace, Facebook and Reverbnation as an excellent resource for Maltese recordings. It seems to be the preferred platform for the more experimental acts. Still, CV/Gate (a duo comprising Justin Meli and Christopher Buhagiar) also manage to maintain a strong Facebook presence. Their brand of electro, techno, acid house tinged tracks are among some of the most refreshing new sounds in this genre that I’ve heard from a Maltese duo in recent years.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page or on MySpace. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here or listen to the podcast on the player right below this text.

Mużika Mod Ieħor podcasts are brought to you by Vodafone.

Saturday Sun

Show notes for the 211th Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast.

Today is the day the long awaited EP by this young band is launched at the Black Pearl in Ta’ Xbiex. The official release gig for Open Beta has two bands supporting the Retrophytes: For Strings Inn and Dolls of Idols. All in all this promises to be an unmissable night for anyone who cares to hear three of the most energetic alternative Maltese bands to emerge in recent years.

Sasha & SamChoices
Regular listeners of the MMI podcast know that I really like this duo. They released a their debut CD not so long ago and they’re already producing new tracks. Choices is one of the new songs they’ve written and recorded since the album launch. Apparently more new tracks are on the way, so you can bet I’ll be featuring Sasha & Sam again on my podcast sooner or later.

Wayne MicallefBreaking Down
Of all the singers who took part in this year’s Malta EuroSong festival Wayne Micallef is the only one who really has an unrelated track record. He is a singer and songwriter who releases songs that are not only better than the drivel contest but are also testament to the fact that he will most probably still be around long after he has given up on a Eurovision dream. While I will be among the first to appreciate his stepping back from that particular scene, I’ll also miss his relatively alternative approach to the possibility of having his songs heard by the largest television audience in Europe.

Silent StringsFirst Grain of Sand
Facebook is turning into a worthy source for discovering Maltese music. The FB group Maltese Bands, created by James Vella, is an excellent initiative. Others, like Silent Strings, simply use FB the way countless others use MySpace or Reverbnation to publish their recordings. This first outing by this new duo – Luke Bonavia (guitar and percussion) and Andrew Tonna (bass guitar and harmonica) – makes me want to hear more. Hopefully it’ll come in a matter of weeks. If, or rather when it comes, I’m sure it’ll be on their FB page.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page or on MySpace. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here or listen to the podcast on the player right below this text.

Mużika Mod Ieħor podcasts are brought to you by Vodafone.

Maybe Baby

Show notes for the 210th Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast.

TribaliNanda Devi
Yesterday’s concert by The Prodigy in Malta give me a good excuse (if I needed one) to play a track from last year’s CD The Elephants of Lanka, since Tribali was one of two opening acts for the evening. The other was South Central, which regular listeners of the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast will know are a regular feature on the current tour by The Prodigy across Europe. Marvic Lewis voice is the highlight on this track, which happens to be one of the stronger numbers in the band’s repertoire.

Rita PaceForgive Me
At the same time that two generations of ravers were enjoying what is undoubtedly the loudest gig to ever hit the Maltese Islands at Ta’ Qali’s MFCC, pop lovers endured this years slew of songs that made it to the final of the 2010 Malta Hit Song Contest. This festival has found its own niche in the local music scene and the organization seems to get better each year. However, I’m sad to say that the level of songs does a great disservice to some of the excellent singers on the bill. This song by Rita Pace is one noticeable exception, to my ears and very subjective taste. It’s the only one I’d gladly hear again from this year’s crop of drivel. Perhaps singers will learn to be a little more picky in the coming years.

Aaron BenjaminStranded
Mercifully, Malta’s pop scene goes beyond song contest and the new song by Aaron Benjamin is testament to this. He has been consistent in his delivery of very radio friendly pop ditties over the past few years that he has graced the local music scene with his presence. Even if pop is not your bag, you’re surely can distinguish between good pop (likle this) and the rest of the rubbish that is presented to us as if it’s god’s gift.

Ethnamorte – Silenzio (Il Cuore della Morte)
This UK-based band qualifies to appear on the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast, from time to time, by virtue of the fact that their guitarist Malcolm El Gool is actually Malta-born Malcolm Callus. They released a CD album in London last month (on April 3) entitled Sombra de um Mundo atras do Vidro, which is Portugese for ‘Shadow of a World behind Glass’. These sounds give today’s podcast half an air of world muzak fusion but I honestly find Ethnamorte’s quirky approach quite mesmerizing.

The RSS feed for the Mużika Mod Ieħor podcast is available here or you can simply click here to subscribe directly with iTunes. You can also follow each new episode through the MMI Podcast: Facebook Fan Page or on MySpace. If you have no idea what any of this means, just click here or listen to the podcast on the player right below this text.

Mużika Mod Ieħor podcasts are brought to you by Vodafone.