Bogdan Honciuc, our Transylvania correspondent, scoured the Romanian press and found a whole bunch of haters. In the following dispatch he sticks up for Mandinga, who he believes are moving from strength to strength despite domestic criticism.

I was as surprised as many Eurovision fans that Mandinga did not fare better at this year’s Eurovision. They had it all. The beautiful girl (who gracefully accepted the title of Eurovision’s Next Top Model 2012). The catchy tune. The dance moves. And an extensive promotional campaign, both online and on the ground. Moreover, “Zaleilah” proved to be a radio-friendly hit in many countries, and a series of predictions from bookies to bloggers to fan polls anticipated that it would land in the Top 5 of the Grand Final in Baku.

Wiwi and Vebooboo hang with Mandinga in Amsterdam

It was not to be. Romania only received douze points from neighbouring Moldova, and ended up in 12th position. Contrary to popular belief, Romania is not so popular among its Eastern neighbours. First of all, Romania is “a Latin island in a Slavic sea” and Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia, and Ukraine usually neglect our entry, preferring to vote for their Slavic neighbours. Despite our constant support of Hungary, Budapest blissfully ignores us as well. And, last but not least, because Romanians are not well perceived in Europe for various reasons, Western countries have only voted for our entry in direct proportion with the number of Romanian immigrants living in those countries. As such we can only count on Spain and Italy to vote favourably for the Romanian entry. The only neighbour we can definitely count on is Moldova, and vice-versa, which is simply because it once belonged to Romania and we basically share the same culture.

However, 12th place is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact it’s an honourable place to finish. Our country fared much better than Eurovision darlings such as Greece, Cyprus, and Ireland, not to mention Norway, France and the U.K. In the first semi-final, Romania finished second with the televtoers and third overall. And in the final Romania finished seventh with the public.

Sadly, the Romanian public and press don’t like to focus on the positive. Contrast their reaction with that of the British public. Despite the fact Engelbert finished next-to-last, the public in Britain did not blame him for the result. They blamed the rest of Europe. In Romania, however, the public turned on Mandinga, and made Elena Ionescu the principle scapegoat.

It started early. Despite the band’s win at the national contest in March, and its growing popularity on the Internet prior to Eurovision (the number of Facebook likes, YouTube views, and Twitter followers grew exponentially every week), Romanian journalists dismissed Mandinga’s chances of winning before they even landed in Baku. Influenced by the media, many Romanians condemned the choice of a tune sung in Spanish, composed by Costi Ionita (a songwriter known for Oriental tunes), performed by a Cuban-influenced band fronted by a woman generally considered to be just another pretty face with an Auto-Tuned voice. So, unlike most other Eurovision participants, Mandinga did not enjoy the same support back home, which put enormous pressure on the band and especially on young Elena, who had to sing live and represent her incredulous country in front of a world audience.

Mandinga performs “Zaleilah” at Romani’s national selection contest.

The situation didn’t improve after Romania cleared the first semi-final. An earpiece defect that affected Elena almost ruined Mandinga’s performance. But Elena managed to carry on and take Romania to the Grand Final. Viewers back home still blasted her performance. Many wondered if the sound really went out in her ear and if maybe it was an act to cover for the fact that Elena could not actually sing live. Had the technical glitch never happened, perhaps Mandinga’s detractors would have shut up. Instead the pressure piled up for Elena to deliver in the final. Despite a vastly improved, nearly flawless performance on May 26, Mandinga failed to fulfill its promise of making the Top 5.

The Romanian media sounded so disappointed, as if the band had been eliminated from the contest altogether. Fueled by the press, many viewers voiced their criticism and their dissatisfaction yet again. This “loss” confirmed that “Zaleilah” had been a poor choice. Shamefully, almost nobody, except a few journalists, waited for Mandinga at the airport in Bucharest. It was another blow for the band which was poised to begin its ten-year anniversary tour. To add insult to injury, Mandinga’s ten-year anniversary concert, originally scheduled for May 31, was postponed until mid-summer because of the weather.

Fortunately not everything is bleak for Mandinga. Not by a long shot. The band has extended its international fan base to the point that its status updates on Facebook are now trilingual – in Romanian, English, and Spanish. Elsewhere it just won “Best Group” at the annual Romanian Music Awards. It has launched the documentary “Primii 10” (First Ten Years) at the Transylvania International Film Festival. And it released a greatest hits album, “Club de Mandinga”, which is now being promoted on a national tour. Most importantly, the networking and exposure in Baku has already paid off. Mandinga has several concerts lined up in Azerbaijan, Russia, Dubai, Mexico, India, and China. If only the Romanian media could catch up with the band’s success!

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