It is little consolation in a terrible war: Ukraine has the best chance of winning the Eurovision Song Contest according to the major betting shops. The group Kalush will come out for the country in May with the standout song Stefania, a mix between folklore and hip-hop. The bookies estimate the chance of winning at 35 percent, well ahead of the number two.
In recent weeks, the song has become a hymn of the Ukrainian resistance against the Russian invasion, frontman Oleh Psiuk told NOS. “Everywhere you go in Ukraine you can hear this song.” Except in Ukraine state Stefania also high in the charts of Poland, Lithuania and Moldova, among others.
The song is a hit on TikTok. It is edited as a soundtrack to war images, to videos of explosions and combat actions, but also to images of victims and refugees. “Everyone feels connected to the song,” said Psiuk.
The musicians tell us which videos are made with their song:
The band members themselves are also involved in the resistance, says multi-instrumentalist Ihor Didenchuk, who provides the characteristic flute sound in the song. “I myself weave camouflage nets and make Molotov cocktails.” The band also helps collect food and provide shelter for refugees.
One of the group members, MC Kilimmen (Ukrainian for ‘carpet’, because of his outfit), has even joined the Ukrainian armed forces. He is currently helping with the defense of Kiev. “I fight on multiple front lines: the battle on the ground on the one hand, and the cultural front line on the other. We keep the country strong with our music.”
The lyrics are apolitical, but can be read as a metaphor for the war. Oleh Psiuk wrote the song as an ode to his strong mother, who is asked to sing a lullaby so that everything will be okay. The ‘mother’ in the song can be interpreted as ‘Mother Ukraine’, who is begged for an end to the war.
Stefania mom, mom Stefania
The field is blooming and it’s turning gray
Sing me a lullaby, mama
I want to hear your native language
“The lyrics touch every Ukrainian deeply, because we are taught from an early age to have deep respect for your parents,” said Didenchuk. Moreover, the song evokes nostalgia. “The ‘bridge’ in the song is an old Ukrainian lullaby.” But because of the rap couplets and solid beat it is Stefania anything but childish or sleep-inducing.
The parallels with last year’s entry are great. Then the formation Go_A finished fifth (and second in the public vote) with the song shum, also a folkloric song with contemporary elements. The similarities are no coincidence: Didenchuk is also one of the band members of Go_A. In both bands he is the one who plays the traditional Ukrainian instruments.
Watch the performance during the Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam here, with Didenchuk on the flute:
shum was the first Ukrainian entry to be sung entirely in Ukrainian. This year’s entry is also entirely in Ukrainian. That is not a political message, according to the hip-hop formation, but ‘just’ the use of the language in which the Ukrainians prefer to express themselves.
list of deaths
It is likely that the war will not be over in May, but Kalush says that he will travel to the Eurovision finals in Turin anyway. They will be less well prepared, because the members cannot practice together. For the time being, their minds are mainly focused on the war: “Every morning I wake up with the fear that my wife is no longer alive,” says rapper Psiuk.
The group members live in relatively safe parts of Ukraine. “We are just at home, we have nothing to fear,” said Didenchuk. Nor is he afraid that the band will be a target of the Russians as a symbol of Ukrainian culture.
How different is that for singer Jamala, who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016 with a historic song about the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet regime in World War II. Her submission sparked anger from Moscow at the time. That’s why Jamala now fears she’s on Russian death lists, she told Israel’s Kann News. The singer has therefore fled to Turkey.
In any case, Russia will not pose a threat in the Eurovision Song Contest. The country has been barred from participating by the organizer because of the invasion of Ukraine, much to Kalush’s satisfaction.