ESC favorites: Kalush Orchestra from Ukraine

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Rarely in the history of the ESC was an act as clearly ahead weeks before the final as the Ukrainian band Kalush Orchestra. Your participation is more than a musical contribution.

Kalush Orchestra from the Ukraine at the Eurovision Song Contest

The bookmakers have it in black and white: Shortly before the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, bookmakers see the Kalush Orchestra by far ahead. The odds often change during the final week of the ESC, but since March the Ukrainians have been the undisputed number one in betting shops.

Things looked different before the start of the Ukraine war. The Kalush Orchestra was one of 40 participants at this year's ESC – and was more in the upper midfield in the favor of the audience. Would Ukraine's victory at the ESC be a declaration of solidarity for a people who are being subjected to a cruel war – or are the band around the charismatic frontman Oleh Psiuk and the song “Stefania” so good that they deserve the title?

Rapping like Eminem

27-year-old Oleh Psiuk comes from the city of Kalush in western Ukraine. His role model was Eminem – and all he wanted to do was rap like his American idol. Nevertheless, he studied forestry in Kyiv, but eventually founded his band Kalush in 2019 together with multi-instrumentalist Ihor Didenchuk, MC KilimMen and dancer and DJ Danyil Chernov. The music thrived above all on collaborations with other artists from the Ukraine, and so its level of awareness in the country grew very quickly. The song “Додому” (“Going Home”) with musician Skofka has been viewed almost 23 million times on YouTube. She was signed to universal rap label Def Jam.

Oleh Psiuk with the pink hat a high recognition value

Psiuk's trademarks are his pink hat and folkloric clothing – this makes him one of the most well-known young musicians in Ukraine at the moment. In 2021 Psiuk founded another project: the Kalush Orchestra. The multi-instrumentalists Tymofii Muzychuk and Vitalii Duzhyk are new. With their instruments they ensure even more folklore in the band – and so the troupe for the Eurovision Song Contest was complete. Although they were only second in the Ukrainian preliminary round, they were subsequently nominated due to the cancellation of the original participant Alina Pash.

Rehearsals in times of war

Because of the war that broke out in their country on February 24, they were hardly able to rehearse, Psiuk says in an interview with the magazine “Der Spiegel”. If possible, they would have met online to rehearse. Otherwise they would have other things to do: “Our MC KilimMen took part in the territorial defense of Kyiv. And I founded my own volunteer organization. We help with the accommodation and transport of refugees, with medicine and many other things.”

Kalush Orchestra celebrates entering the ESC final in “Green Rom”

Now they will seen not only as representatives of their country, but also as ambassadors. With a special permit from President Volodymyr Zelenskyj, they were allowed to leave the country to start the ESC victory mission. Before they landed in Turin, they performed in several European countries – everywhere they met a wave of sympathy.

A song for the mother

The song “Stefania” was written before the war – Psiuk dedicated it to his mother. But against the background of the war, some lines from the song unintentionally took on a completely different meaning: “I will always find my way home, even if all the roads are destroyed.” In addition, many Ukrainians see their country as their mother.

The song starts with folkloric singing, which then turns into a pulsing rap in Ukrainian and is accompanied by traditional instruments. Such songs are often well received at the Eurovision Song Contest and stand out from the pop dance numbers that are increasingly being made especially for the ESC. Therefore, the Kalush Orchestra would have a good chance of a good placement even without the sad background.

In addition to the audience, however, a jury also decides on the awarding of points. And she looks closely at the musical quality. And there are other high-quality acts that should often collect the twelve points in the final on Saturday. On the one hand there are the Italians who, with Mahmood & Blanco sent two gifted singers into the competition. Her ballad “Brividi” has a chance of defending the title, other favorites are Sam Ryder from Great Britain, S10 from the Netherlands and Cornelia Jakobs from Sweden.