In defense of

By • on May 18, 2009

With another Eurovision Song Contest in the books (congratulations, Norway! Hope you do a classier job hosting than Russia!), I want to take a minute to give just due to one of this year’s least-loved entrants,

Hand-picked by Czech Television to represent the country in Moscow, the Romani hip-hop/pop/traditional band carried on the burgeoning Czech tradition of Eurovision fiascos, finishing a dispiriting last in their semi-final. True, the song they did, “Aven Romale,” is far from their best, and frontman Radoslav “Gipsy” Banga’s unfortunate decision to perform it in a superhero outfit complete with orange tights and a red cape may have been a tactical error. (As my wife noted, you can’t out-kitsch Eurovision.) Well before last week’s telecast the band was being routinely in slagged in blogs and comment threads based on their pre-show video, and they were held up by both The New York Times and The Guardian as prime slabs as typical Eurovision silliness.

Nothing new in the international press not bothering to look a little deeper before passing a snarky snap judgment (although I might have expected a little better from savvy Guardian pop critic Paul MacInnes). But as the smoke – or rather, the dry-ice fog – clears from this year’s contest, it’s worth pausing to note that the Gipsy who flopped in Moscow is also the one I’ve seen blow away multiracial crowds in Prague clubs; who’s written great party jams and rapped biting commentaries about racism and Romani life; who has played Britain’s mammoth Glastonbury festival, made

the world music top-10 and counts “gypsy punk” icon Eugene Hutz (of Gogol Bordello) among his fans; whose status as a pop star in his own country has not kept him from speaking openly about prejudice among the Czech majority and his own community’s failings; and who charmingly told TOL on the eve of Eurovision that he dreamed of winning so that country’s increasingly assertive neo-Nazis would “shut the fuck up.”

I don’t think the international music scene has heard the last of that guy. In the meantime, worth pausing, too, to give credit to Czech TV for selecting Gipsy and his bandmates to represent the Czech Republic on Europe’s biggest musical stage – an implied if not explicit rebuke to those voices of extremism, and to the less strident but more pervasive forces that casually keep segregation intact. And to note, in passing, that while Gipsy’s performance was certainly underwhelming, Eurovision voters and judges didn’t seem quite as put off by bad songs and goofy production numbers when they came in the form of, say, blond hair metallists and Nordic rappers. I’m just sayin’.