Ukrainian rappers and breakdancers win Eurovision with musical morale boost

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TURIN: Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest on Sunday, riding a wave of public support across Europe for the beleaguered nation and buoyed by an infectious hip-hop tune.
Kalush Orchestra beat 24 contestants in the finals of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania,” a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk with the modern beats of an energetic breakdancing band.
“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” leader Oleh Psiuk implored in English from the stage after their performance was greeted by an enthusiastic audience.
Britain comes second with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain, with the sexy reggaeton “SloMo” by Chanel.
Ukraine beat dozens of over-the-top acts at the annual kitsch and quirky music event, including Norway, whose Subwoofer sang Bananas wearing yellow wolf masks, or Serbia’s Konstrakta, who challenged national health care while meticulously rubbing their hands on stage.
“Only at Eurovision do people celebrate bananas, heartache and wash their hands in one show,” Swedish fan Martina Fries told AFP on Saturday before the final.
“Eurovision is a way to show that different countries can celebrate together peacefully.”
The joy of Eurovision is in the camp and clowning around, though the nearly three-month-long war in Ukraine weighs heavily on the festivities.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after its neighbor Moscow invaded.
Written before the war, Kalush Orchestra’s “Stefania” mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music with an invigorating hip-hop beat and nostalgic lyrics reminiscent of the homeland.
The group pulled off a crowd-pleasing cultural mashup with the sound of obscure flute-like folk instruments and the sight of embroidered ethnic clothing on stage added to breakdancing and rapping.
President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the group for winning the competition.
“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.
Representing Ukraine at Eurovision while loved ones are suffering at home has been difficult, with a member of the band currently fighting to defend Kyiv, Psiuk told AFP.
“We are very worried about him and hope to see him safe and sound once he returns.”
Other more restrained offerings included Amanda Georgiadi’s Greece’s “Die Together” Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet by Italians Mahmood and Blanco.
Italy hoped the gay-themed love song would bring him a second straight Eurovision win after ‘Zitti e Buoni’ (Shut Up and Behave) last year from the glam rockers at Clue Maneskin high octane.
After a quarter-century of exclusion from the top spot, Britain had hoped for a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted out by the affable, long-haired Ryder.
On the fashion side, the Lithuanian Monika Liu has generated as much buzz on social networks for her bowl cut as for her sensual and elegant “Sentimentai”.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Sheldon Riley – one of the few non-European Eurovision entrants – sang his assertive ballad ‘Not the Same’ through a sparkling veil laden with crystals.
And since no Eurovision is complete without a handful of gyrating, swaying bodies on stage, Spain’s Chanel came to the rescue with her energetic dance and memorable “hypnotic booty” chorus.
The Eurovision winner is chosen by a panel of music industry professionals and members of the public from each country, with votes for their country of origin not permitted.
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