Eurovision History: BAME representation – Aussievision

Chris Hockman

People from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds have long struggled against oppression and under-representation. There has been a renewed focus on these highlighted by the recent events in the United States, which have triggered a wave of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across the world, including in Europe and Australia.

As part of our Throwback Thursday series, we wanted to look back at the history of BAME artists at Eurovision from the 1960s to now. It’s important to note this isn’t a complete list as it aims to show highlights over the last sixty years.

1960s – the beginnings

The Netherlands led the way starting in 1964 with Anneke Grönloh, whose song ‘Jij bent mijn leven’ (‘You are My Life’) came 10th with two points. Anneke was both the first non-white competing artist and the first to be born outside Europe (in Sulawesi, Indonesia).

The 1966 edition of Eurovision saw its first black performer in Milly Scot – an artist of Surinamese origin – carried Dutch hopes with ‘Fernando en Filippo’. Milly deliberately opted for a rumba number, a style of music which provided a strong point of difference to the rest of the more traditional field. The song finished 15th out of the 18 performers.

The first black male entrant was Eduardo Nascimento from Portugal who competed the very next year in 1967 with his song ‘O vento mudou’ (‘The wind changed’). Eduardo was from Angola but moved to Portugal in the mid 60s winning Festival da Canção and booking his spot in Vienna where he finished 12th place among the 17 entries.

The 70s and 80s – slow progress

The 70s really belong to Sandra Reemer in terms of representation. The Dutch singer with Indonesian heritage represented the nation three times, finishing 4th (1972), 9th (1976) and 12th (1979).

Additionally Silver Convention, who had global disco hits previously, represented Germany in 1977 finishing 8th with ‘Telegram’.

The 80s saw Debbie Cameron, an American-Bahamian living in Denmark, represent the nation in 1981 finishing 11th with ‘Krøller eller ej’ (‘Curls or Not’).

In 1987 another Dutch-Indo singer Justine Pelmelay finished 15th for The Netherlands with her song ‘Blijf zoals je bent’ (Stay the way you are).

1990s – some breakthrough

The 1990s was a breakthrough decade with 14 acts featuring black artists with two of these finishing runner-up.

Joëlle Ursull with ‘White and Black Blues’ finished 2nd place for France in 1990 losing out to a Europe united behind the message of ‘Insieme: 1992’.

In 1998 Imaani with ‘Where Are You’ almost saw back-to-back wins for the United Kingdom losing by just six points to Dana International who was of course making her own history.

Additionally the Dutch really led the way again with representation. Four of their ten acts featured black artists during the decade and all finished inside the Top 10.

Meanwhile Béatrice Poulot became the first black artist to represent an Eastern European nation when she performed with Dino Merlin for Bosnia and Herzegovina and their song ‘Putnici’.

2000s – a winner

The 2000s saw the first black winner, Dave Benton.

Together with Tanel Padar and 2XL, he secured Estonia’s only victory to date in 2001 with the song ‘Everybody’.

Benton made history not just as the first black winner but also as the contest’s oldest winner.

The UK were represented by black artists on three occasions during the decade with Jade Ewan getting their best result with a 5th place in 2009 with ‘It’s My Time’.

2010s – increased representation

The decade saw an increase in representation overall, but it was not without some issues.

On the positive side, we saw Loreen, born to Moroccan migrants in Sweden, win the contest in 2012 with Euphoria, which has gone on to become the most popular Eurovision song of all time (winning the annual ESC250 poll eight-times in a row thus far).

Other notable results during the decade were 2nd place to South Korean-born Australian Dami Im in 2016 with ‘Sound of Silence’; 3rd to Cesár Sampson from Austria in 2018 with ‘Nobody But You’; and 5th to both András Kállay-Saunders in 2014 with ‘Running’ and John Lundvik with ‘Too Late for Love’ in 2019.

It must also be noted that Dami, Cesár, András and John all received much lower results from the televote than the jury.

Progress does appear to be being made at Eurovision, and 2020 would have been a historic contest seeing nine BAME acts seeking to lift the coveted crystal trophy.

Despite these more recent improvements Eurovision as a whole has been overwhelmingly white. However Australia is a notable exception.

Australia’s diverse representation

The national broadcaster SBS itself has a mission to provide multilingual and multicultural broadcasting to Australian audiences, and at Eurovision it is fulfilling that rather successfully.

In our entrants we have seen five out of six acts representing Indigenous and multicultural identities and ethnicities.

Guy Sebastian was born in Malaysia and has parents are of both Indian/Sri Lankan and Portuguese descent, Dami Im was born in South Korea before moving to Australia at the age of 9, while our 20/21 representative Montaigne (Jessica Cerro) has described her ethnicity as “Argentinian, Spanish, Filipino and French”.

However it is our Indigenous representation that Australia can be most proud of.

Jessica Mauboy, who has an Indonesian father and a mother from the Kuku Yalanji people of Far North Queensland, performed during the 2014 Eurovision semi final interval finishing the performance with a dual Australian and Aboriginal flag. She then went on to make the Grand Final in Lisbon in 2018.

And of course Isaiah Firebrace, who has a Yorta Yorta father and Gunditjmara mother, finished in 9th place in Kyiv in 2017.

Where to now?

Speaking of 2017, that was the contest with the slogan ‘Celebrating Diversity’… which was hosted by three white men and had an overwhelmingly high number of white performers.

This was only three years ago, so we can’t take progress or representation for granted.

Eurovision is for everybody and we hope to see the progress made recently continue, providing greater opportunities and more diverse representation on the Eurovision stage.