XTRA Throwback Thursday: Balkan Bliss

This week’s XTRA Throwback Thursday is dedicated to the Balkans and the elegent hypnotizing ballads that they bless the contest with, year after year.

Zeljko Joksimovic performing ‘Lane Moje’ at the 2004 contest in Istanbul, Turkey.
In 2004, Serbia & Montenegro made their debut, sending one of the biggest musicians from the region – Željko Joksimović. Cited as the ‘master of the balkan ballads’, Zeljko composed and performed the song “Lane moje” and was quickly penned as one of the favourites to take home the trophy. The haunting melody and ethno-elements went down a storm with televoters and resulted in a 2nd place for the country with 263 points.
Željko’s success triggered a modern trend in balkan ballads at the Eurovision Song Contest. When Serbia & Montenegro became independent in 2006, Serbia’s first entry as their own nation came from Marija Šerifović, with the song ‘Molitva’. The song is notable for its stage presentation as it lacked both a dance routine or any on stage gimmicks – focusing solely on the raw emotion that the song portrayed. The song triumphed with 268 points in the grand final, becoming the first winning entry since 1999 to not feature any english lyrics.
Now that we’ve touched on two successful balkan ballads, I’d like to reflect on my personal favourite from the contest’s past. After narrowly missing out on a victory in 2004, Željko Joksimović returned to the contest as composer of the 2006 entry from Bosnia & Herzegovina – ‘Lejla‘, performed by Hari Mata Hari. The song followed a similar pattern of style to Lane Moje – a subtle elegant melody fused with traditional balkan instruments. To this day, I see this as being one of the classiest live performances in the contest’s history, with Hari and his backing vocalists dressed solely in white accompanied by a stunning starry sky backdrop. As with Lane Moje, televoters were won over and the song secured a respectable 3rd place in the grand final with 229 points.

What the others had to say…

The Balkan countries are one of the most interesting ‘Eurovision blocs’, from their voting behaviour to their musical taste. Even though they may be having a hard time finding their own way in the new chapter the contest opened this decade, we shouldn’t forget how Balkan ballads have become one of the most successful music genres in the competition, always finding their way to the grand final. It certainly is an easy card to play, but I don’t think I will ever get tired of it.
Being a sucker for ballads, I love the fact that the Balkan variety is now “a thing” most years. On balance, though, after all these years, I feel as though Lejla is massively overrated to detriment of other entries more worthy of praise. Whilst I agree the performance was stellar, of all entries in this genre that we’ve had from the former Yugoslavia, my heart will always be with Marija Sestic and Rijeka Bez Imena – who I like to refer to as the better Marija of the edition.

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