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Interview with Ukranian singer Jamala

Xenia Safronova / rf
February 26, 2016

Representing Ukraine at this year's Eurovision Song Contest is Jamala, a 32-year old tatar from Crimea. In an interview with DW, the singer speaks out about her very personal song and about the history of her people.

Eurovision 2016 Ukraine Sängerin Jamala
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Sokolovska

DW: On May 14, you'll represent Ukraine in Stockholm at the Eurovision Song Contest with "1944" - a song about the forced expulsion of Crimean tatars to central Asia during the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union. Why did you choose this song?

Jamala: I recently released a new album called "Breath." I wanted it to include "1944," but somehow it didn't fit. Then I heard that they were looking for a song for the ESC in Ukraine, so I thought: this is the right time for this song. I knew what I was letting myself in for by so openly telling about my family history and this tragedy. But I didn't think people would make such a big deal about it. During the Ukrainian finals, I was a bit skeptical because I'd tried that before, in 2011. Back then, everything seemed okay at first, but then they chose someone else. And yet, this time I wanted to tell this story.

How did you learn about the forced expulsion of the Crimean tatars?

My great-grandmother told me the story first, then my grandmother, grandfather and father. As a child, stories like that made me nervous. When I grew older, I understood what it's about and experienced first-hand what it's like when people are judged by their heritage. So I decided to write a song about it, because it's a major issue, and an important one. In it, I tell a true story about my great-grandmother. I named it "1944" because that's the year it all began, the year that marked a dramatic turning-point for my relatives - but also for me. It's the life of all Crimean tatars. Since then, lies have been spread endlessly (editorial note: about the purported collaboration of Crimean tatars with the Nazis). During the upheavals, my grandfather Jamadin died, as did all the men on my grandmother's side - in World War II. But lies still plague Crimean tatars up to the present day.

Susana Jamaladinova at the Ukrainian finals for the ESC. Photo: ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Susana Jamaladinova at the Ukrainian finals for the ESCImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Stepanov

If you were invited to perform in Crimea, would you?

Unfortunately, that's not possible at present. I'd love to see my grandpa, he's 87 now. I even asked my father not to tell him anything, because otherwise he'd cry and worry about me. That's painful. I'm concerned about my relatives. I'd love to travel to Crimea, but I see no chance of that now.

The Russian parliament considers it a political song and has asked the ESC organizers to critically review the text.

Susana Jamaladinova. Photo: Reuters/V. Ogirenko
How will the ESC public react to her song?Image: Reuters/V. Ogirenko

That is simply ridiculous, because there's no political content in this song. If one were to find explicit threats or demands, I could change it. But I am certain that there's nothing of the kind. I'm completely confident, because I know that the text is accurate, and nothing has to be changed.

How do you want to surprise Eurovision viewers?

I really hope that Europe will be pleased with my performance. I'm already thinking about the dress I'll wear - not the same that I wore at the Ukrainian finals. It will be a unique show. Normally, we consider bright lights and gleaming balls to be part of a good show. But that wouldn't fit my song.

Jamala, whose full name is Susana Jamaladinowa, is a Ukrainian singer and a Crimean tatar who will represent Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 in Stockholm.

Jamala spoke with DW's Xenia Safronova.