Not many things stay the same in Europe. But since 1956, one event has taken place each May without fail: The Eurovision Song Contest. For the competition, which is watched live by over 125 million people, 43 countries send their very best pop acts to compete for public and jury votes in a 4-hour spectacle of song, dance, and tense country-by-country voting.
Eurovision was a launching pad for performers like ABBA and Celine Dion, and that brand of candy-sweet pop has become a hallmark of the contest (along with dancing Russian grannies, Finnish demon rock, and Engelbert Humperdinck).
This year, the competition will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, and one entry captures the international spirit like no other: Mandinga’s “Zaleilah.” The lyrics are in Spanish and English. It features the bagpipe. And the video was shot in Dubai (watch it below).
Oh, and it’s representing Romania.
AFAR caught up with three of Mandinga’s seven members—vocalist Elena, trumpeter Alex, and co-founder/drummer Chupi—over e-mail just days before the first semi-final.
First things first, what does “Zaleilah” mean?
ELENA: “Zaleilah” is the name of the dance that we do when we perform and it’s also the name of the princess that I play in the video.
Where did your interest in Latin music come from? Was it something you listened to a lot growing up?
ELENA: Although it might seem unlikely, Romania is a very Latin-oriented country. It’s not unusual for people to enjoy this type of music where we come from. The Latino sound is something we grew up with.
ALEX: And three of our members—Tony, El Niño, and Omar—are from Havana, Cuba.
What other genres and cultural influences have you incorporated into your music?
CHUPI: Mandinga started 10 years ago as a Latin jazz band, and pretty soon we started to play all kinds of Latin music, going into Latin salsa and other genres like Balkan salsa. Since last year, we’ve been giving the club sounds a shot. So all of these genres combined are now the sound of Mandinga, and our shows sometimes incorporate them all.
The video was filmed in Dubai. What was that experience like?
ELENA: Dubai was absolutely breathtaking. Almost everything there was a new experience. I had the chance to shoot some scenes in the desert. That was pretty cool. Watching Dubai from the window of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, is one of my favorite memories.
What are you most looking forward to in Baku?
ELENA: Representing Romania at Eurovision is the most important moment for Mandinga so far. We want to make Romania proud for choosing us, and conquer some new ground by making new fans. Oh, and we are also looking forward to teaching some people the “Zaleilah” dance!
Finally, what are your favorite songs competing in Baku this year, and why?
ALEX: We have some good competition, but “Zaleilah” is our favorite. I will now try to hypnotize your readers. Vote for Romania! Vote for Mandinga! Vote for “Zaleilah”! “Zaleilah” is your favorite!
Watch the video for “Zaleilah”:
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