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Global Conversation talks to Ukraine's Eurovision winner

Global Conversation talks to Ukraine's Eurovision winner
By Catherine Hardy with euronews
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The Ukrainian winner of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest tells euronews how her family's tragic history inspired her winning entry.

Eurovision Song Contest winner Jamala says she is overjoyed about her triumph at the competition with her song about the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union in 1944.

Political songs are banned from featuring at the Eurovision Song Contest. However, Geneva-based EBU bosses allowed “1944” as it is based on historical fact.

The song slipped past Eurovision favourites Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Euronews: “Jamala, thank you for joining us and congratulations on your victory. Did you think all along that you were going to win?

Jamala, Eurovision-2016 winner: “It certainly was not easy, that’s for sure. It was difficult to win because my song was an unusual entry for the competition. From the very beginning, my song was considered to be weird, sad, those kind of things. It was very difficult to sing something so intimate and personal at a competition featuring more light-hearted songs”.

Biography: Jamala

  • Jamala (birth name: Susana Jamaladinova) is a Ukrainian singer, songwriter and actress.
  • She was born in 1983 in Osh, Kirghiz SSR. In late 1980s she moved to Crimea, Ukrainian SSR – her father’s homeland.
  • She graduated from Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine as an opera singer.
  • She sings in Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar, Russian and English.

Euronews: “1944” is not only the name of your winning song. That year was a tough one in the history of the Crimean Tatars. In May, 1944, Joseph Stalin ordered the removal of the Tatar population from Crimea. You mentioned that your song was the story of your family. So how did the 1944 deportation affect your relatives?”

Jamala: “It happened early in the morning of May the 18th, about 3 a.m. They (NKVD troops – The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) came and said: “Pack your belongings!” They were only given 15 minutes. My great-grandmother Nazalkhan had five children: four sons and one daughter. They were put onto a freight train and taken from Crimea to Central Asia. My grandmother spent several weeks in this train: without food, without water. And while they were on the train, her little daughter died. And I realised that I would like to write about that”.

Euronews: “In 2014 was another significant year for Crimea. You know what I am referring to: Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, allegations of oppression and repression of the Crimean Tatar population. Were these events reflected in your song? Is that what prompted you to write it?

Jamala: The events of 2014 brought sorrow into my life, I can say that. This is another reason why the song was written. However, I always emphasize that I wrote specifically about the events of 1944, that is why the song has that name.

Euronews: “Jamala, Your parents are still in Crimea, they are part of the Crimean Tatar community that claims it is suffering from repression. Have they been treated any differently since you won “Eurovision”? Has anyone congratulated them?”

Jamala: “There has been a lot of compliments, a lot of strangers coming to their house. They have shown their gratitude, even brought some cakes. On the day I won, even people living in Crimea who were not pro-Ukraine felt that it was their victory too. It maybe did not last that long, but these were days of unity”.

Euronews: “What is your family that nurtured your love of music?”

Jamala: “Yes, my parents. My parents, absolutely. They are musicians. My dad is an accordionist, my mother played the piano, she was a music teacher, and she still teaches pupils. We used to organize a lot of family parties where we would sing Ukrainian, Greek, Armenian and Azerbaijani songs. Our house was alive with music. There was a lot of music”.

Euronews: “How do you prepare for your performance? What do you do before going on stage? Do you have a special ritual: what to think about in order to feel a song and to make a performance successful?»

Jamala: “If you are asking about “1944”, it was very difficult. I tried to imagine what it felt like in 1944. When it is a song contest, and before you need to go on stage there is someone singing a song like «Soldiers of Love, Soldiers of Love», you have only three minutes to clearly explain what your song means. So, I was so worked up that by the time I went on stage, my eyes were full of tears. If you play pain without feeling that pain, it does not work. No one will believe you!”

Euronews: “Jamala, you are a successful singer, and now not only in Ukraine. You have started on an acting career. But now you may be involved in public affairs. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko says you have been nominated to be a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. It has been suggested you might get involved in politics. Are you interested in doing something apart from singing?”

Jamala: “Oh, I don’t want to. You know what I thought when I got home after my Eurovision win? I sat down and said: ”I’d like to write a new album, I’d like to hide somewhere in the basement with my musicians and just play music”. Becoming a politician? No, not for any money. Politics is no place for feelings, and I can’t live without feelings. That is why politics is not for me.

Euronews: “Jamala, if it were me, it would be logical to have a rest after so many back-breaking rehearsals for Eurovision, but instead,you are going on tour with your latest album. The question is obvious: where do you get this inspiration and energy?”

Jamala: “To be honest, I’m inspired by people. When everyone welcomed me at Kyiv airport, I was crying with joy. Children were crying, adults were crying, I was crying. It was something – I don’t know – I can’t describe it. I think, people can take energy from you, but they also can give it back. That is why the biggest pleasure and the biggest inspiration comes from people. Of course, you can go on holiday. I do love water – the sea, ocean, rivers, lakes. But now I don’t have time for this, I really want to sing. I want to give people my best.”

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