On January 21 Soluna Samay won Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2012, and the right to represent Denmark at Eurovision. Born in Guatemala, Soluna didn’t move to Denmark until 2000, when she was ten years old. That was the same year Denmark’s Olsen Brothers won Eurovision. “I saw these guys win for Denmark and I couldn’t speak one word of Danish,” she says. “I would never have imagined that 12 years later I would be representing Denmark like they did.”
The 21-year old starlet recently spoke with Wiwi about her childhood in Guatemala, the months she spent driving through Europe in a campervan with her parents, and her Eurovision entry “Should’ve Known Better.” Here are some highlights of our conversation.
Congratulations on your victory at Dansk Melodi Grand Prix! You were fantastic.
How did you celebrate?
I drank a little champagne at the after party and danced with my team, but apart from that I was busy doing press and taking photos with fans. So I actually didn’t celebrate that much right after.
Is it a new feeling to have all this attention?
Oh absolutely. It’s been overwhelming and incredible. It’s been life-changing, and I’ve barely been able to keep up with everything. But I’ve definitely been having a wonderful time and I am trying to enjoy all the attention because I know that eventually it will become a little less until we go to Baku.
Did you know that you wanted to sing “Should’ve Known Better” the first time you heard it?
Yes. I definitely had that feeling. I like that type of song. It’s a pop song but it still has substance. It’s kind of melancholic and the lyrics really touched me. When I sing the song I imagine all the stuff that I’ve gone through. The song is a lot about traveling and having to let go and not really knowing what you have until it’s gone. I felt this was something that could have been written by myself about my own life. I felt that it was not so different from what I normally do musically.
I also thought it was a good song for this kind of a competition. It’s kind of modern Grand Prix. It’s not typical Grand Prix, at least not here in Denmark. It’s a blend of this modern, cool sound and these melancholic lyrics. It was a cool mix.
When did you decide to enter Dansk Melodi Grand Prix?
I actually decided when I heard the song in December. I was contacted by Chief One and Remee Remee who wrote the song together with Isam B. They were contacted by the Grand Prix committee here in Denmark and chosen as song writers for the wildcard. They were allowed to write whatever type of song they wanted, and to find whatever type of artist they wanted. They started searching on Facebook and someone that I don’t even know recommended me because they had checked my music out and seen me, so they recommended me to Chief One who thought that I suited the song really well. They called me and asked me if wanted to be part of it. I heard the song in the middle of December and that’s when I said yes, about one month before the actual contest.
Did you think you had a chance to win?
I thought we had a good chance to make it to the Top 3. I just had a feeling. But as time progressed and all these betting odds were made and there were competitions about who people thought would win, I could see that we weren’t the favorites. We were underdogs in a way. I thought, “It doesn’t matter. As long as I like the song and I can perform this song it can’t go wrong, even if I don’t win.” When we did make it to the Top 3 and were in second place, just before the count of the public was announced, I prepared myself that I would be in second place. So I was very surprised when we won.
During the performance we could see a tattoo on your right arm. Could you tell us about it?
It’s a bird called a quetzal. It’s Guatemala’s national bird. I got it because I was born in Guatemala and grew up there. I feel like Guatemala is a big part of me so I wanted something that will remind me of Guatemala.
How old were you when you got it?
I was 19 years old, so about three years ago.
Does Guatemala influence your music?
Just growing up in Guatemala does. Where we lived it was a very multicultural place with people from all over the world who settled there. There were lots of jam sessions. My father’s a musician and my mother’s an artist, so there were always lots of creative people around. I was never pushed to do anything, but when I wanted to do something I was encouraged and always had the support of my parents. That helped develop my music.
Did your parents teach you how to play instruments?
My father taught me to play the drums when I was five. He’s a street musician so I joined him on one song that I learned by Hank Williams. It was called Jambalaya. That was the first song I ever played with him. There are actually clips on YouTube of it. Later he taught me how to play the bass, and of course I sang along. He didn’t really teach me to sing. It just came naturally I guess. He also taught me how to play guitar.
Soluna sings Britney Spears with her father in 2001:
How did your parents react when you won Dansk Melodi Grand Prix?
They were in Guatemala. They saw the show in a little place with some of our friends who saw me grow up. They saw the show streaming on the Internet. I called them on Skype right after I won and they were ecstatic. They were shouting and screaming and everyone was so excited. I’ve never heard them that excited before in my life. They actually made a little video of it, how they went to this place in a tuk tuk and filmed their own reaction when I won. It’s on YouTube and that’s one of the best videos on this thing. I can see their reaction even though they weren’t in Denmark at the time.
You were born in Guatemala. Your mom is Swiss. Your dad is German. You live in Denmark. What passport do you carry?
I actually have a Swiss passport. Officially I’m Swiss.
You and your parents lived in a campervan for several months at a time. What was that like?
I didn’t really think about it at all because that’s just what my life was like, but, honestly, it was a great experience. First of all my parents were always around. They were there when I needed them and also I got all these amazing experiences just traveling from one town to the next and meeting new people and it was never hard or anything. It was just fun. Back then I took it for granted because it’s all I knew. Now when I look back on how I grew up I really do feel blessed and I feel like, “Wow, this is an amazing childhood that not may people get to experience!” I am very grateful that I got all these experiences and have seen so much of the world.
How old were you?
The first time my parents took me from Guatemala to Europe I was two years old. From then on my parents and I lived in Guatemala, but every summer we would go to Europe for three months and live in the campervan during that time. My father was making money through street performance. The rest of the year we would live in Guatemala and I would go to school down there. Basically we spent three of our months a year in the campervan.
Will your experience of traveling through Europe in a campervan help you at Eurovision?
Well, I mean, just knowing several languages will be a good thing. I’ll be able to talk to a lot of the contestants and the press down there. I guess it’s made me an open person. I’ve seen so many strange and wonderful things that it takes a lot to throw me off course. Maybe that way I’m a little more prepared for all the Eurovision madness.
You have an unusual name. What does it mean?
Soluna means Sun-Moon in Spanish. Sol. Luna. I think my parents saw a book store or something called Soluna and they really liked that name, so they thought they would give it to me if they had a girl. Samay is my middle name. I think samaya is a Brazilian flower. They gave me this name because they thought it was pretty and thought it would be a good artist’s name if I ever did music.
Are they artistic?
My father started playing music when he was 16 and decided to become a street musician when he was 18. And that’s all he’s been doing for his whole life—traveling around and making a living playing one man bands on the street. My mother makes jewelry. She started traveling in her 20s, selling it and making it wherever she was. She still does that here in Denmark.
Two of your songs—”Two Seconds Ago” and “Everything You Do”—are already playing on the radio in Denmark. What’s it like to hear yourself on air?
They are available on iTunes across the world. They are from my debut album called “Sing Out Loud,” and I guess if people search on iTunes for my name they should come up. I’ve been writing songs since I was 11, and when I was 18 I started recording my debut album with a collection of songs I had written myself. It was released last year. It’s quite a special feeling because I really listen to a lot of radio and when your own song comes up it’s really, really cool. My music is out there and people can actually hear it. It’s pretty awesome.
You describe you music as gypsy pop. What do you mean?
All my songs are based on the singer-songwriter tradition, but we produced the songs in the pop genre. But they all have a twist. Some of them are a bit reggae, some are a bit more rock or folk. And also I will start recording an album now, my second album, and I like pop music but I always want to give it some kind of twist. I called it gypsy pop because of the way I grew up.
How old were you when you moved to Denmark permanently?
I was 10. It was the year 2000. After we moved here we did go to Guatemala about four months a year until I was 16. Since I turned 16 I’ve been living in Denmark full-time except traveling here or there for a few weeks.
Did you watch Eurovision growing up?
I never really got the chance to watch it until I was 10 because we lived in Guatemala. The first year I ever watched Eurovision was actually in 2000 in Germany at my grandparent’s house. It was the year the Olsen brothers won for Denmark, and it was the same year we moved to Denmark. So that song “Fly on the Wings of Love” was my soundtrack to my first two years in Denmark.
Has A Friend in London give you any advice about competing at Eurovision?
I did talk to them briefly and they said to make it into a great experience. And to just go with the flow because it can be stressful at times because you get so much attention out of nowhere. For me it’s important that I keep the focus on the music and that I keep making music. As long as I keep working on my own songs and I work on my own album, I hope my music will live beyond Eurovision and not just be in Eurovision and then be forgotten. That’s what hope to achieve.
Do you have a message for Europe?
I hope people get touched by the song because that’s really what I feel when I sing it. It has a strong message. I think that’s why it won in Denmark, so I hope that people feel the same out there in the rest of Europe.