Well we got there in the end. After a long-gestating plan to get “Asiavision” off the ground, we arrive at the inaugural (and snappily titled) ABU Radio Song Festival, hosted in Seoul, capital of the Republic of Korea (or South Korea if you prefer).
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) approached its Asian counterpart (ABU) with the idea of an Asian-Pacific sister to Eurovision. It never got off the ground, and the rights were sold to a private production company. After several false starts, the show never happened. But the ABU couldn’t let the format go, and as part of their annual week-long General Assembly.
Two contests are taking place over the next few days. On the 11th October it’s time for the ABU Radio Song Festival – as you can imagine it is broadcast by radio across the continent. The ABU TV Song Festival follows on 14th October, in a recorded event for television.
It’s not really using the Eurovision blueprint at all, outside the participation of several countries in the region sending songs to try and win the festival. But that’s where it ends: no public voting, no points – winners get 1st, 2nd & 3rd places and that’s your lot, countries can send more than one entry, no 3-minute rule … basically it’s a very different beast. The winner doesn’t even get to host the next one, it’s expected that the contest would continue to follow the ABU General Assembly.
Musically, it’s definitely not Eurovision. Pop music makes way for much more traditional sounds, and the results vary wildly. 26 songs were entered, with 14 making up the finalists, pre-selected by a jury.
These finalists come from: Australia, Bhutan, Brunei, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu and Vietnam. Host South Korea and Malaysia managed to get two songs into the final. Several additional entries by these countries, as well as India, Fiji, Kyrgyzstan and Sudan(!) didn’t make the cut. Fiji were in the final too but pulled out at the last minute.
Well, enough backstory. What were the songs like? As I said, they vary wildly in quality. You can listen along to them all, including non-qualifiers such as the horrific “Tone of Joyful Music of Lorestan”, and surprisingly sweet but terribly named “I stalk your profile” at http://aburadiosongfestival.asia/
South Korea’s Bily Acoustie is a particularly dull form of Jack Johnson’s brand of laid-back acoustic guitar. Sammy Ray Jones of Vanuatu fares even worse with a particularly dreary reggae number. I HATE REGGAE. Is he singing about rennet?
Vietnam’s Chu Manh Cuoung and Sri Lanka’s Surendra Perera go down the very traditional route, no doubt paying to their respective countries’ rich musical heritage. To my jaded Western ears, it’s a bit of an ordeal, particularly Vietnam’s painfully drawn-out effort. So authentic, you can almost hear the gap-year students closing their eyes and nodding their heads appreciatively. Sorry, not for me!
Indonesia’s Rando Sembiring and Malaysia’s Sabhi Sadhi both come with lovely accomplished piano-led ballads, very formal and sweet but they are just lacking that OOMPH they need to make me sit up and listen. Rando does build to some discernible climax but it just needs that little bit more.
Pakistan’s Bilal Ahmed takes a very typical sound for me (for my ignorance, I will mention a Bollywood sound, I know that’s nothing to do with Pakistan, I just don’t have any other reference points). It just dribbles on for far too long. The music is very light and pleasant, it just goes on too long.
Brunei’s Marie Aires also takes the typical ballad route, and has some really lovely moments, particularly the chorus. The verses are a little shrill in places, but the general impression is very pretty, the tune just sounds a bit directionless sometimes.
Who knew Bhutan were so modern? Dechen Wangmo pits a traditionally vocalled and understated vocal in Dzongkha (which I admit I’d never heard of), but switches to English for the chorus. There are a lot of unusual melodic moments, a rather unhinged sounding xylophoney instrument plonking away in the background. It’s a lot better than it sounds on paper.
Malaysia’s K-Town Clan are exactly how they sound on paper, which is basically a mash up of LMFAO and Pitbull doing Flo-Rida’s “Low”. It’s a bit of a mix of loads of big obnoxious club hits of the last few years, but it totally works for me. Real trash but lots of fun.
Fiji may have withdrawn their sole finalist, but I must say I’ve been enjoying Sevanaia Yacalevu‘s cheesily upbeat tropical pop. If you remember Vengaboys’ seminal summer hit “We’re going to Ibiza”, and stir in a bit of Peter Andre’s “Mysterious Girl”, you’ll get most of the way there. Really naff, vocals are cheery and namedropping Fiji at key moments, but very lovable.
Iran entered 4 songs this time, including a particularly painful 9-minute number. But Mohsen Manouchehri‘s “Iran” makes you sit up and take notice. In Eurovision style it blows you away with ethnic-slanted blockbuster pop music. OK it’s all in Persian so I can’t understand it, but this is one I’d have rather seen in the TV festival, it just begs for pyrotechnics, crazy costumes, and dance routines. EPIC IRANIAN POP.
THE TOP 3
3. Jae Eng – Promise me (Singapore)
Doing what neighbours Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei were trying to do, Singapore pull off a real contemporary ballad. Just enough beat-driven production in the back, a gorgeously falsetto singer. Being in English certainly aid my enjoyment, and a great instrumental breakdown in the middle, they know what they are doing. Really top quality.
2. Afrodino – Pepperoni (South Korea)
How can you not be intrigued by that title? No idea what most of it is about, apart from the frequent references to pepperoni pizza. It just fills me with this unexplainable upbeat feeling. That “Pepperoni, pepperoni pizzaaaa” hook really gets me every time. A smooth easy tune, even a little pepperoni rap near the end. Endearing and sweet.
1. Danielle Blakey – Fearless (Australia)
Of course Australia have an advantage when it comes to winning over Western viewers (which of course has zero value since we wouldn’t be voting), but this is an accomplished and gorgeous country-tinged pop song. In fact it sounds more American than anything, has that special magic that the right kind of pop-country crossover has. Her voice is lovely, the rhythm is infectious and that chorus is uplifting as anything. Perhaps it’s as much to do with being a comfortable sound for me, but still that shouldn’t detract from the song.
But will the judges pick the same top 3? Doubtful, but we don’t have long to wait and see!
Sunday’s ABU TV Song Festival sounds very interesting though, especially as K-Pop behemoths Girls Generation are apparently representing the host nation, and electro-J-pop heroines Perfume represent Japan.