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A Voice for Europe (Language level B2-B2)

Maggio 2015
L’Eurofestival compie 60 anni. Né i media né i critici musicali l’hanno mai preso sul serio, eppure ha dato notorietà a mostri sacri come gli Abba, Céline Dion, Julio Iglesias e viene seguito ogni anno da milioni di persone. Chi vincerà quest’anno? Il presidente del fan club inglese non ha dubbi: l’Estonia!

di Julian Earwaker

File audio:

Last year’s winner, Conchita Wurst.
Last year’s winner, Conchita Wurst.
Paul Marks Jones
Paul Marks Jones

As Conchita Wurst finished his performance, the audience was on its feet, clapping, cheering and waving flags. “Rise like a Phoenix”, the winning song of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, was sung by a bearded man wearing an elegant dress and provided more evidence of the diversity of the world’s most famous musical get-together.


The Eurovision Song Contest, ESC, has always celebrated difference – of culture and costume, language and music. Back in the 1950s, post-war Europe was rebuilding, and the European Broadcasting Union wanted a family entertainment programme to help unify the continent. Inspired by the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy, they launched the first “European Grand Prix”, held between seven nations in Lugano, Switzerland, on 24 May 1956. This year, for its 60th anniversary in Vienna, Austria, the ESC will feature 40 countries from across Europe and its borders. Unusually, Australia will compete as special guests.


Contestants no longer have to sing in their national language and there is no longer a live orchestra for each song. But the colour and flamboyance of the ESC remains – and all of the songs are sung live. Some big names have launched their careers at the ESC: Abba won with “Waterloo” in 1974 and Céline Dion represented Switzerland in 1988 and won. Others were already famous when they entered the ESC: Julio Iglesias for Spain, Cliff Richard and Sandie Shaw for the UK.


But what makes a winning song? “It’s got to have universal appeal,” says Paul Marks-Jones, president of the OGAE – the official UK fan club for Eurovision. “So the song’s got to be memorable. Nowadays it’s got to be in a language people can sing along to as well. And in the lead up to Eurovision it needs a strong video to watch beforehand.”


This year’s motto is “Building Bridges” – an important aim given the tensions in the Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe. As the Grand Final approaches, the atmosphere promises to be very special. In the arena, the crowds will be waving flags and singing along to their favourite songs. But although he will enjoy the ESC semi-finals in Vienna, Paul Marks-Jones won’t be in the arena for the Grand Final of the 60th Eurovision Song Contest. He prefers to watch on television at home with friends, and like the rest of us, enjoying an extravagant celebration of performance and song in all its European diversity.




Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)

This month will see the 60th edition of a great institution: the Eurovision Song Contest. It was originally modelled on Italy’s Sanremo Festival and, like Sanremo, it is considered a bit of a kitsch joke by many people. In Britain it has been parodied by numerous comedy groups, including Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Indeed the real Eurovision Song Contest had elements of Python’s surreal humour last year when it was won by Conchita Wurst, a bearded transvestite from Austria, with the song “Rise Like a Phoenix.” And yet, like Sanremo, the Eurovision Song Contest lives on. Over the years it has helped launch the careers of acts like Abba, who won for Sweden with “Waterloo” in 1974, and Céline Dion, who won for Switzerland with “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi” in 1988, in spite of being a French Canadian. In order to understand the enduring appeal of the Eurovision Song Contest, we spoke to Paul Marks-Jones, UK president of the Contest’s official fan club, OGAE, which stands for “l’Organisation Générale des Amateurs de l’Eurovision”:

Paul Marks-Jones (Standard British/Manchester accent)

If we look at it from a UK perspective, we’re an island and we’re a bit isolated from certain things. Even though we’re part of Europe, we are isolated from certain music stars, film stars, ways of life, and it’s great for smaller countries to show that they do have a music scene, they do have pop stars, they do have people that can sing. People don’t necessarily have to come from the UK, or the United States or Australia; there are people from Moldova who have fantastic voices. OK, they might not sing in English, they might sing in Moldovan, but the message can be understood. And it’s a way of people appreciating the different talent that’s around Europe. And some people might say that some of the music’s a bit outdated, or some of it is not current, but I would argue that that’s not the case. I think it’s because in the UK we don’t hear any European music. We might hear the odd band from Sweden, but you would never see an Italian song in the UK music charts, a French song. If you do see them, they’re always novelty songs. So that’s when the UK public thinks that Eurovision, because it’s being sung in non-English, it must be a novelty.


The international element is also appealing:

Paul Marks-Jones

Where else do you get the opportunity to bring different countries together to compete, but compete in a friendly way? So it’s not like in a sporting arena, where sometimes there’ll be people shouting, you know, the wrong things because it’s not their team that they’re supporting. So it’s a way of people coming together from all over Europe and beyond, into the same arena, the same area, all there for the same reason, and people loving songs from different countries. So, if you’re from the UK, OK, you’re supporting the UK entry, but your favourite song might be from Slovenia, so you’re getting a bond with someone who’s from that country. And you get that all of the time, so it’s really nice to be able to share the passion with other people that really like Eurovision, (who) aren’t necessarily there just to support their own country; they appreciate what’s coming from around Europe as well.


So which country will win this year’s edition?

Paul Marks-Jones

Estonia. They’ve got quite a cool song, male and female duet, and something which is a little bit different, a little bit downbeat, but it has a hook, so people will know it, and if they get the presentation right, then they’re going to be up there.  There’s also Sweden will do well, I think Slovenia will do well as well, and probably Azerbaijan, so they’ll be like featuring in the top five.



• In 1969, the contest resulted in a four-way tie between the UK, France, Spain and the Netherlands.
• Every year an estimated 180 million viewers watch the contest.
• Ireland is the country with the most wins, seven.
• The UK holds the record for the most second-place finishes – 15.
• The most popular song covered by performers in the ESC is “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu”, by Domenico Modugno.
• Norway has the largest official Eurovision fan club, with over 1,400 members. Norway also holds the record for finishing last the most times in the Eurovision Song Contest – 11 times to date.

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Novelty songs; it must be a novelty. Canzoni eccentriche, che si ricordano per la loro stranezza. Si usa il termine novelty act per indicare un numero (teatrale ecc.) fuori dal comune: qui la parola novelty (“novità”) è una specie di eufemismo.

Si usa la parola hook (letteralmente “gancio”) per indicare un passaggio in una canzone per attirare l’attenzione di chi ascolta.

They’re going to be up there.
Saranno nei primi posti. Si dice up there (letteralmente “lassù”) per indicare una persona importante che ha un posto “tra i grandi”: ad esempio Cristiano Ronaldo is up there with Pelé and Maradona (Cristiano Ronaldo è tra i grandi giocatori come Pelé e Maradona).