Editorial: Crimea fights back through Music

Ukraine will be represented by Jamala with the haunting track “1944”. ESCDaily will look further into the singer and entry alongside hidden historical and political influences featured throughout her career until now.

This article was written by Brandon McCann in cooperation with Dave Boomkens, political scientist & Ukraine country expert for ESCDaily.

Early life & career
Crimean Tatar, Susana Jamaladinova was born in Osh, Soviet Union now recognised as Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. Due to the annexation of her family under Stalin, they remained there until the independence of Ukraine in 1991 when they returned to their homeland of Crimea.

Susana spent her childhood singing traditional Crimean folk songs where her vocal talent gained exposure and she gained her first professional recording at the age of nine. After, initially specialising in classical music and opera throughout music college, she found her true passion for experimental jazz and oriental soul.

She entered numerous international contest until her big breakthrough at the New Wave contest in 2009 representing Ukraine with the entry “History Repeating”. She gained criticism from New Wave jury members for “not fitting the mold” musically however she won the grand prize alongside Indonesia becoming a well-known name throughout Ukraine. Jamala’s first acclaimed track with influences to her Crimean heritage.

First attempt for Eurovision
Her new-found recognition provided Susana (now with the stage name Jamala) with numerous concerts and television appearances throughout Ukraine where she continued to embrace the diversity of her music. Leading to Jamala winning “Breakthrough Artist” by Cosmopolitan and “Singer of the Year” by Elle Style Award.

Then 2011 arises and Jamala enters the Ukrainian national final for the first time with the upbeat, ethnic-inspired track “Smile”. Performance was noted as a crowd favourite alongside Zlata Ognevich’s “The Kukushka”. Jury members were however not too fond of either track and preference was shown to Mika Newton’s “Angel” which ultimately won the national final.

However jury member Hanna Herman alleged mass voting for Mika’s entry from the same phone numbers. This led to NTU discarding Mika Newton’s win and hosting a second national final featuring just Mika, Zlata and Jamala’s entries with stronger supervision on the vote eligibility. Jamala withdrew from the candidacy expecting ‘vote rigging’ to happen again. Zlata withdrew afterwards due to schedule conflicts and Mika Newton ultimately was selected with the re-vamped performance of “Angel” featuring sand artist and Ukraine’s Got Talent winner Kseniya Simonova on-stage in Dusseldorf.

Returning artists
Five years had passed and after Zlata Ognevich represented Ukraine and placed 3rd in Eurovision with “Gravity”. After Ukraine took a year break from Eurovision due to the ‘Ukrainian Crisis’ as a result of Crimea’s forced annexation. Speculation on whether Jamala would ever return to the Ukrainian national final were de-bunked when she returned in 2016 with “1944”.

Jamala performed in NTU’s first semi-final and her introductory postcard provided symbolism to her 2011 participation as she wipes the sand away to reveal herself at last with the sand subtely symbolising Mika Newton’s controversial win and performance involving sand art.


Jamala’s performance received a forty-five second standing ovation from the audience and jury member Ruslana, who won Eurovision 2004 with “Wild Dances”. Ruslana has been publicly out-spoken for her stance on the Crimean annexation from Russia and states after Jamala’s performance that her “soul was crying while she listened” and that she “totally supports Jamala and if they don’t vote for her [the Ukrainian public] would be idiots”.

Jamala won the semi-final by a landslide 49.22% of the public votes along with full points from the jury. This was considered a shock landslide due to Crimea having tele-communications ceased from Ukraine. Full report can be read here. Jamala remarks on the subject:

“I know that many of my supporters are in Crimea. Many people wrote to me that they would send texts anyway, because they support me. I tell them they are wasting their money and their votes don’t count, but they tell me they are sending them anyway.”

Reports on favouritism for Jamala were questioned after other fan-favourite Viktoria Petryk’s “Overload” was brandished with considerable disgust after her semi-final performance from jury member Andriy Danylko (aka. Verka Serduchka) who stated:

“When will you be yourself? You’re always following someone else. When will you have your own song?”. Followed by “You are wasting money, buying songs and making your composers rich”.

Followed by Andriy’s personal criticisms of Viktoria,  her JESC-winning sister Anastasiya, the JESC contest and her reasoning for entering. Full translation can be read here.

Analysis & Breakdown of ‘1944’
‘Officially’ the song is in reference to the Soviet Red Army’s deportation of approx 250,000 Crimean Tatars in 1944 which included Jamala’s ancestors. However, the recent annexation of Crimea by Russia remains to be seen as the main reason for the production of “1944”. If the song referenced the annexation specifically, then Russia (more specifically Channel 1) would have ‘concrete’ grounds to contest it’s involvement within Eurovision due to Rule 1.2.2 (h):

“The lyrics and/or performance of the songs shall not bring the Shows, the ESC as such or the EBU into disrepute. No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the ESC.

Jamala’s first words in the song are “When strangers are coming. They come to your house”. While discussing the lyrics with a native Ukrainian he stated that the ‘majority of the public believed she said “when soldiers are coming…”  linking the recent reports of Russian military upheaval on Crimean citizens with Jamala’s lyrics.

Providing authenticity to the song, the chorus is sung in Crimean Tatar, which borrows the unofficial national anthem of Crimea “Winds Of Alushta”. In English she sings:

“I couldn’t enjoy my youth. I couldn’t live there. I couldn’t enjoy my youth. I couldn’t live there.”

The song’s bridge involves Jamala belting notes which can be compared to the ‘screaming of her nation’ under the pain and suffering previously and currently providing onto Crimea. Overall, highlighting the haunting, sombre theme of the track.

In reference to the reason she wrote and performed “1944”:

“This song really is about my family… my grandmother,”
“I had to write it. I really go through that time both when I wrote it and when I perform it”.
“It is a memorial song and it is difficult for me to sing it.”

When asked regarding the similarity on the events of 1944 and current times within Crimea. Jamala stated:

“Now the Crimean Tatars are on occupied territory and it is very hard for them. They are under tremendous pressure. Some have disappeared without a trace. And that is terrifying. I would not want to see history repeat itself.”​

This begs the question: can “1944” remain eligible for Eurovision in its current version? Political scientist and Ukrainian correspondent for ESCDaily, Dave Boomkens offered his opinion:

“I immediately think of Armenia’s entry last year. In 2015, Eurovision.tv stated that Genealogy’s “Face the Shadow” was about universal values and its message tells that happiness is born when people are united and live in harmony with their loved ones. But everybody knew that the song conveyed political messages and was intended to pay tribute to the victims of the Armenian Genocide.”

Similar case was present last year for Lisa Angell’s “N’oubliez Pas publicly shown to be in regards to World War 1, however mainly accepted as a revolution song in regards to the recent Paris bombings by ISIS.

Dave finalises:

“In both cases, the EBU were not very difficult in their acceptance. That makes it all more interesting: will the EBU allow Jamala’s 1944 at Eurovision? Most likely. However, I still would predict Jamala as runner-up of the Ukrainian final.”

Ultimately the song has garnered huge attention for its unique take on a song written specifically for Eurovision. Jamala’s chilling vocals with the hollow, ethnic instrumentation showcases a whole new side to both Ukrainian and European music. Intervention is unlikely and hopefully, if it happens, it results in “Face the Shadow” (ARM 2015) as opposed to “We Don’t Wanna Put In” (GEO 2009).