The international media had high hopes for Romania’s Mandinga and their song “Zaleilah.” Sadly they crashed and burned in Baku—and now Romanian journalists are spewing all sorts of nasty. But according to our Balkans correspondent Alexander Green, composer Costi Ionita is firing back.
In the hours leading up to the Eurovision final, Wiwi’s Eurovision 2012 prediction poll suggested that Romania’s Mandinga were the second-favorite to win this year’s competition, just behind Sweden’s Loreen. The bookies backed us up: They had Mandinga down with a fighting chance of cracking the Top 5. But as it turned out our fine readers and the bookies had tastes that differed sharply from the rest of Europe. Romania only finished 12th in the final and Elena Ionescu, Mandinga’s lead singer, went into mourning. As she said afterwards: “We regret we failed to get a better place for Romania at Eurovision.”
Given the expectations, heartache is expected. But here’s where it gets interesting. Rather than blaming Europe’s bad taste or bloc voting—as the British press have done in defending Engelbert Humperdinck and every other British artist who has ever tanked—the Romanian press spit venom at Mandinga. According to “Zaleilah” composer Costi Ionita: “The first headline I saw after Eurovision on TV was ‘Romania: Eurovision disaster!’”
Such a dramatic take on their 12th-place finish has led Mandinga’s supporters to furrow their collective eyebrows. Ionita says the media’s visceral reaction points to a problem with Romania itself. This is what Costi had to say about the criticism:
The problem is actually Romanian expectations. They expect too much and the song was 12 times lower than their expectations. We Romanians are bad and always consider it necessary to crucify someone. Unless we change our attitude, we have no chance of strengthening as a nation. We are too negative and divided, while other nations are becoming more united.
For those of you who don’t know, Costi (as he likes to be called) is actually one of the most famous music producers in Romania. He has worked with numerous international artists, and actually returned from working with Kat DeLuna in the United States to support Mandinga in Baku. And, as part of the group “Sahara,” his music videos have racked up millions of views each on YouTube. All of that just added to the hype surrounding Romania’s chances.
Reactions to “Zaleilah” winning the national final were mixed from the beginning. Now critics are saying “We told you so.” Costi wants to get all those haters a subscription to some foreign newspapers. “The international press praised our entry, saying that it was a breath of fresh air amongst the Eurovision ballads,” he told Romania’s ziare.com. “You should look at other countries that were ranked below us and were welcomed with open arms when they returned home.” Moldova’s Pasha Parfeny is a good example. He finished 11th—just one spot higher than Romania—and Moldova’s state broadcaster feted him with a special broadcast.
Local journalists have also been spreading rumors that Elena Ionescu wants to leave the band. Costi dismisses the claims, saying that Mandinga feels even closer after Eurovision. Journalists, he argues, tend to spread gossip to boost their readership, regardless of whether it’s true or not. Shame on you Romanian journalists! (Not that we’ve ever done that before…)
All of this does raise an interesting question though: Why did Romania only finish 12th? Just like Wiwi readers, I too was expecting a Top 5 finish for Mandinga. Perhaps the jury didn’t like it? We’ll find out when the split televoting and jury results are released later this month. Or maybe it’s just because people liked the song, but not enough to vote for it over fan-favorites like Sweden and Russia?
Whatever the case, I agree with Costi that the criticism is uncalled for. Is 12th place really that bad of a ranking, considering there were 30 other entries Mandinga beat? I wonder what the Romanian reaction would’ve been if they didn’t qualify for the final! Outside of Eurovision, “Zaleilah” has been distributed in over 40 countries and even reached #1 on the Romanian charts. It has been more commercially successful than many of its competitors in Baku—an accomplishment many artists would value more than a placement at Eurovision. Mandinga have also received more invitations to internationals gigs than ever before, no doubt a result of all the publicity surrounding their Eurovision bid. I mean, hello, people: They got interviewed on WiwiBloggs.Com!
Romanians should be very proud of their entry. It was colorful, quirky, cheerful and uplifting. Mandinga did a great job with their moon-walking bagpiper and a singer who was able to perform despite her dodgy earpiece. Best of all, Elena Ionescu won our annual search for Eurovision’s Next Top Model, so Romania did win something!