The “Balkan Ballads” of 2012

One regional music preference that lingers through the years is the great love that the former republics of Yugoslavia maintain for strongly emotional, beautifully sung ballads with an extra helping of local ethnic instrumentation. The “Balkan Ballads” fall in and out of fashion with the Eurovision voting public at large, but their built-in voting public of Serbia, Montenegro, FYRO Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia, plus their former Soviet-era comrades in the Eastern bloc who appreciate an almost overblown three minute drama, guarantee them a high placing in the final scoreboards.

This year’s crop of BBs come to Baku from the usual suspects, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and (former Yugoslav republic of) Macedonia, plus one nearby nation that is not so well known for sending big ballads. The other countries around the Balkan peninsula, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova, usually send more upbeat ethnostompers to Eurovision, and tiny Albania has sent a truly DIFFERENT ballad this year, Rona Nishliu’s primal-scream tearjerker “Suus”. Her entry is classy and brilliantly sung, but maybe too intense for what voters still think of as a pop song contest…

Serbia’s Zeljko Joksimovic is back performing in Eurovision after a dazzling near-victory in 2004 with the beautiful “Lane Moje”. His current entry is melodic and spectacular, but has the Eurovision voting public changed in the last half-decade? Voters don’t seem nearly so inclined to support entries in any language besides English these days, and once Zeljko announced that it would be the Serbian language version he would perform in competition, his betting odds slid a bit toward fifth or sixth place.

The third major traditional Balkan ballad for 2012 comes from Slovenia, which always has a tougher time than the other ex-Yugos. The Slovenes identify themselves as much with their Italian and Austrian neighbors as the other ex-Yugoslavian republics, and even speak a language that is a bit different from the Serbo-Croatian of their neighbors. But 16 year old Eva Boto’s “Verjamem” has a familiar sound and effect, due to its impeccable pedigree. The song is written by Vladimir Graić, who won the whole Eurovision shebang in 2007 for Serbia with his similar-sounding “Molitva”. Listeners have inevitably compared this year’s entry with the former winner, not always to the advantage of “Verjamem”.

The entries from FYRO Macedonia (“Crno i Belo”, a rock/ballad hybrid) and Croatia (the traditional “Nebo”), while pleasant enough, are probably not memorable enough to trouble the final boards. Meanwhile Bosnia and Herzegovina is quite strong with a lovely little ballad, but a little soft and not forceful enough to carry it much above the middle of the scoreboard.

It should prove interesting to see the final fates of these local favorites, performed in their nation’s own languages. Will 2012 still offer enough support outside the Balkan region to carry any of these to the ranks of top contender?

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