10 June 2016 (released)
10 June 2016
Ukraine was always the dark horse of the Eurovision Song Contest 2016. Their entrant Jamala had been in the running to represent her country in a previous year, but pulled out of the race due to a controversy surrounding the entry that moved forward in the competition. She spent the next few years exploring a diverse sound over a series of releases and returned to the pre-selection race with an emotionally charged exploration of her Grandmother's suffering in the stunning 1944. Delivered in a mix of Tatar and English the song presented the EBU with an issue - would the content be deemed too political for the friendly contest? A decision was made that she could enter, but the initial odds were long and many felt the style of the song was not aligned with a typical entry. However as the finals drew closer, the focus on her entry grew as Russia continued to protest it's political drive. Yet it was the compelling, raw and real delivery of the charged song in the final that saw Jamala win over both the public and the jury. While she lost out to Australia in the jury vote and Russia in the public vote, she proved the most popular when the scores were combined and was suitably crowned.
While previous winners have been album ready due to the foregone conclusion that they would soar to victory, Jamala quietly returned home to a victor's welcome and has spent the past few weeks fastidiously working away behind the scenes to ensure she was ready when she returned to the international stage. Armed with a European record deal with Universal, she now takes the tentative first steps towards international stardom as she unveils her post-Eurovision collection 1944.
As with her entry, 1944, Jamala's release does not play the mainstream game. The collection, which compiles choice cuts from her Ukrainian back catalogue alongside new compositions is delivered in a healthy mix of English and Ukrainian, with the aforementioned Tatar also present. As an artist who was well established prior to the international competition, Jamala stands her ground and does not sell out her sound for the sake of success. What she delivers is wholesome, real and true - all reasons that she stands out so firmly from her contemporaries.
Rather suitably the collection opens with the hypnotising 1944. Due to it not being typical Europop, it stands out as one of the finest Eurovision winners of recent years. Like Conchita Wurst, Lena and Loreen, Jamala delivered a song that was musically powerful and well-constructed, that fitted both it's time but had a timeless feel and connected with it's audience on a level that was more than sheer entertainment. Thankfully the remainder of the album resonates in a similar fashion.
While I'm Like A Bird showcases a soulful R'n'B edge, it is the mesmerizing jazz tinged garage fusion that is Hate Love that really epitomises the core of Jamala's sound. She is an artist who uses her jazz background to add a free form feel to all her compositions. Her determined but emotionally driven vocal drives straight for the heart, with the addictive beat getting the feet and hips moving uncontrollably. Throw into the mix a clear understanding of the pop hook and the importance of the middle 8 and Jamala proves herself a strong contendor for playlist on everything from BBC 1 Xtra to BBC Radio 2.
The stripped back understatement that is Watch Over Me showcases a mellower side to Jamala, before she moves on to the spacey dance driven Perfect Man. My Lover provides another album highlight, as it effortlessly draws you in to a thoroughly enjoyable sing-along to it's catchy chorus. Teaming up with Ukrainian sextet The Erised for the louche Drifting Apart, Jamala slows it all down and has you hanging off every word as she breaks your heart in this moving break-up song.
Determined not have you in tears, she immediately ramps it up in to fifth gear for the feisty You've Got Me that showcases a Diana Ross undertone to her vocal. Had this song been released in the seventies it would still be dominating dancefloors today. Sonically Thank You is the closest to the song that soared to victory over Dami Im and Sergey Lazarev last month. With the jazz influence it's most evident, this is a big voiced anthem.
With My Eyes drops the beat again and shows why the UK radio system is flawed. In every way this deserves to be a a radio hit, but sung solely in Ukrainian it would never even be considered, which is a great shame. Way To Home bridges the gap beautifully before the slinky album closer Breath, which ends the collection in style.
Jamala not only won the Eurovision Song Contest with an entry that challenged the formula, but she has gone on to release an album that itself defies expectations. This is not a throwaway pop collection, it is a well-written, cleverly thought out and intelligent release that is as addictively entertaining as it is intellectually engaging.