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Eurovision geopolitics: French entry in Breton, Ukraine favourites and an OK UK

By Alison Hird - RFI
Ukraine AFP - JOEL SAGET
MAY 14, 2022 LISTEN
AFP - JOEL SAGET

After winning second place in last year's Eurovision song contest with an Edith Piaf-inspired chanson in French, France's 2022 entry from Alvan & Ahez is sung in the regional Breton language. It faces stiff competition in Turin on Saturday night where Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra is the favourite by far.

France has won Eurovision five times (1958, 1962, 1969 and 1977) but last year's stunning performance by Barbara Pravi with the uplifting Voilà was the only time this century that the country has made it into the top three.

France hopes to repeat that success and is betting on the charms of Alvan & Ahez. Alexis Morvan-Rosius (Alvan) — a 29-year-old musician from Rennes in Britanny — has teamed up with Breton vocal trio: Marine Lavigne, Sterenn Diridollou and Sterenn Le Guillou.

Their song, Fulenn (Spark in English) blends traditional Breton chant and electronic music and is entirely in the Breton language.

It is based on the legend of Katell Gollett — a young woman who shuns society's expectations, refuses to marry, is locked in a tower by her father and frees herself by dancing around the fire at night with the Devil. 

"In the legend Katell Gollett is described as an anti-heroine, but we think on the contrary that nowadays she's a very positive figure," Marine Lavigne told France 24.

"She was repressed but manages to emancipate herself from the way women are looked on sometimes."

Two of the female singers studied the Breton language at the bilingual Diwan schools. The band says they are proud to bring the Breton language to the Eurovision stage.

"It says a lot about where we come from, it's so much more than communication," said Lavigne.

The geopolitical trap

The band will be hoping for a better reception than in 1996 when Breton guitarist and songwriter Dan Ar Braz represented France in Oslo with the song "Diwanit Bugale" - an appeal for children to flourish and express themselves in breton "the language that I miss".

The song was composed in 1977 at the time the bilingual Diwan schools were set up.

Billed as one of the favourites, it came 19th place out of 23 entries. Dan Ar Braz blames Eurovision geopolitics.

"France was carrying out nuclear testing in Mururoa at the time and it was frowned upon, especially in Nordic countries," he said in an interview with 20 Minutes.

"As soon as we arrived in Oslo you could feel we were like the plague."

Bands sing live during Eurovision, but the instrumental soundtrack is pre-recorded. Dan Ar Braz insists the technicians deliberately played the soundtrack too low. "They sabotaged our song," he said.

The bookies had put the song in 4th place. "Even the Norwegian press said our song was the loveliest," he added. Coming out 19th clearly reflected what he called a sanction vote.

"Eurovision is about geopolitics, pure and simple. My belief in a Europe that defends its regions died that day."

The backdrop of war

Geopolitics are omnipresent in this year's Eurovision.

Ukraine has won Eurovision twice and made it to the top 10 on 10 occasions since it started participating in 2003.

This year it's the bookmakers' clear favourite, given European solidarity over the war in Ukraine. 

"Stefania", sung in Ukrainian by Kalush Orchestra, is certainly a strong song. 

A blend of rap with traditional folk music, it's a tribute to frontman Oleh Psiuk's mother.

"Any victory in any aspect is very important for Ukraine these days, so winning the Eurovision Song Contest of course would lift the spirits of so many Ukrainians while we don't have much good news these days," Psiuk told Reuters.

One of the regular band members has stayed behind in Ukraine to help defend Kyiv, according to Psiuk.

He said he planned to return home after Eurovision and resume work with a volunteer group trying to find accommodation and medicine for his compatriots.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine on 24 February on what it called a special military operation, has been excluded from this year's contest.

The Brits are back

After a miserable performance the last two years, finishing in last place, the United Kingdon is set to redeem itself with an uplifting power ballad from Sam Ryder.

His song, Space Man, is a tribute to iconic singers like Elton John and Freddie Mercury.

Bookmakers have tipped it as second favourite, alongside last year's winner Italy.

"The buzz in the Eurovision community is: 'Oh, the UK is participating again,'" former winner Conchita Wurst from Austria told the BBC.

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