Today we take a look at folk songs in the Eurovision Song Contest.
Victor M. Escudero
Posted 8 September, 2017, 15:09
The slogan of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest was 'Celebrate Diversity'. It is the perfect slogan for part two of our 'Genres in Eurovision' series. Today we look at just some of the folk entries that have been performed in the contest over the years.
52 Countries have participated at the Eurovision Song Contest since it began in 1956. In the rich history of the Eurovision Song Contest there have been countless examples of countries showcasing their distinctive culture and history through their respective entries, including folk music.
What the folk?
Folk music is a broad term and one which is difficult to fully encapsulate. Essentially it is music that originates in a traditional popular culture or that is written in such a style. It can include both traditional music as well as more modern styles. Folk music has also been known as world music. Over the years participating countries have entered a range of folk songs from traditional Celtic music through to contemporary Balkan ballads. Check out our video below which showcases the diversity of folk music at Eurovision.
The Balkans have a proud history when it comes to folk music and in recent years traditional ballads have delivered good results for countries from the former Yugoslavia. Serbia and Montenegro debuted at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004 with the traditional ballad, Lane Moje, performed by Željko Joksimović. The entry impressed the voters of Europe and the country finished second behind Ukraine's folk-inspired Wild Dances performed by Ruslana.
Željko returned to the contest in 2012 representing Serbia where he finished third. He also wrote the Serbian entry in 2008, Oro, performed by Jelena Tomašević and also presented the live shows which were held in the capital Belgrade following Marija Šerifović's victory with her song Molitva in 2007.
Bosnia & Herzegovina scored their best result to date in 2006 with the song Lejla performed by Hari Mata Hari. The captivating performance, featuring traditional instruments, took the country to third place in Athens.
The Mediterranean countries have proud musical traditions and haven't been afraid to show them in the Eurovision Song Contest over the years. Greece's entry in 1997, Horepse, performed by Marianna Zorba was about as traditional as Greek songs go but over the years the country has managed to combine modern pop with traditional folk, with surprising results. Sarbel, who represented Greece in 2007 with the energetic Yassou Maria (literally translates as 'Hello Maria'), is an example of the fusion between traditional and modern music and dance.
Turkey scored its first ever top five placing in 1997 with Dinle performed the Sebnem Paker. The catchy number emcompassed traditional and modern elements and finished third in Dublin. Up to that point the country had only once finished inside the top ten in three decades of participation. It seems that the Turks had found their magic formula and won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2003 with the Eastern-inspired Everyway That I Can performed by Sertab Erener. In 2009 Turkey was represented by Hadise and her song Düm Tek Tek which saw the country bellydancing into the top five once again.
Celtic traditional music
Often whenever the word 'Irish folk' is mentioned it immediately conjures images of a traditional Irish pub with a band playing the fiddle, the bodhrán (traditional drum) and flute. Whilst this sterotypical image is actually a reality in many places, the genre is by no means confined to Ireland in Eurovision. Norway won the 1995 Eurovision Song Contest with Secret Garden and their Celtic-inspired Nocturne. The entry was a largely instrumental number featuring Irish-born Fionnuala Sherry on violin meaning that technically the Irish could claim this as another victory.
The Voice, performed by Eimear Quinn was a traditional Celtic folk song which provided Ireland with its record-breaking seventh victory in 1996. To date, that record remains intact. In that same year France entered a similarly Celtic-inspired song, Diwanit Bugale, which was performed in Breton by Dan Ar Braz & L'Héritage des Celtes. The group was made up of singers from France, Scotland and Wales but they failed to capitalise on the popularity of Celtic folk, finishing 19th in the Eurovision Song Contest.
In 1998 both Finland and Portugal experimented with New Age or Celtic-inspired music but success eluded them as they finished 15th and 12th respectively. Ireland returned to their Celtic roots in 2007 but unlike the previous decade, the votes did not come pouring in and the country finished last for the first time ever with They Can't Stop The Spring performed by Dervish.
Music without borders
Not all songs are easily classified as belonging to a particular culture or country. Hungary's gypsy-inspired entry in 2017, Origo, performed by Joci Pápai is one such example. After finishing second in the Semi-Final in Kyiv, Hungary went on to place eighth in the Grand Final providing the country with its best result since 2014.
This article has only mentioned a handful of folk and folk-inspired songs that have been performed at the Eurovision Song Contest over the years. History shows that what was once popular and worked for a country before, may not work for them later on. Similarly, musical styles which might not have appealed in the past, may score strongly in the Eurovision Song Contest today. Could it be that some entries were simply ahead of their time?