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HUNGARY: Joci Pápai “Az Én Apám”

HUNGARY: Joci Pápai "Az én Apám"

Hungary’s national final, A Dal. After six weeks of competition, thirty songs have become one, and victorious artist Joci Pápai is about to pack a powerful blend of traditional and modern sounds in his Eurovision suitcase. As it turns out, I could be referring to 2017 or 2019 – but it’s Az Én Apám that I’m talking about. Reviewing Origo in the lead-up to Tel Aviv would, in the words of Kate Miller-Heidke, make ZE-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-RO sense.

Speaking of Origofor a second, though…when that qualified in Kyiv, Joci became the first artist of Romani descent to warble his way into a Eurovision final. Now he’s made ESC history again as the first artist to represent Hungary twice (not that András Kállay-Saunders hasn’t tried his hardest to do the same – he’s a reverse Sanna Nielsen who wouldn’t look quite as lovely in a sparkly LBD). Having Joci back is a blessing for me, as someone who loves his music unconditionally. After discovering him through A Dal two years ago; crying with happiness when he won the comp back then; and diving into his back catalogue, I found that everything he’d produced prior to and including Origo spoke to me on a heartstring-tugging level. That’s a power he’s had over me ever since (which makes him sound like a malevolent villain from a Disney movie, but despite a passing resemblance to Jafar that’s not what I meant).

When I heard Joci was giving A Dal another go, I had to be sedated. But once calm enough to actually listen to Az Én Apám (My Father), I found myself under his spell yet again. And now I feel the need to explain to everyone who thinks this song is far inferior to Origo why it isn’t. So here goes.

Az Én Apám is about Joci’s father, but it isn’t a rehash of Michael Schulte’s You Let Me Walk Alone. Nor does it depict the tumultuous father/son relationship of Mahmood’s Soldi. Instead, it’s a stroll through Joci’s childhood and emphasises the influence his dad had on him as a boy. During the three minutes we learn how fortunate Joci feels to have been close with his father, and how he intends to raise his own children in the same way and be the role model he himself had to look up to. This story is told in a style Salvador “Make Feelings, Not Fireworks!” Sobral would approve of, without bells, whistles or bombastic musical explosions (i.e. beat drops/key changes). It’s simple but effective, and sounds as mystical and beautiful as Hungarian-language songs always do. The structure is slow burn, with drama and ethnic instrumentals layered on gradually – extra accoutrements added after Joci won A Dal, and to the song’s benefit.

Even post-revamp, I would agree that Origo is more of a statement piece than Az Én Apám. Still, this song is haunting and atmospheric too, only in a more understated way. I’ve hypothetically fist-bumped Joci for NOT returning to A Dal with Origo Part II and trying to replicate his 2017 success exactly. He’s showing a different side of himself this time, but his authenticity is just as strong. When he performed in A Dal – barefoot, dressed in black and still rocking his man-bun – there was nothing cold or contrived about the performance. It was honest, believable, and had me wishing I’d worn waterproof mascara.

The lack of moisture-resistant makeup in my life was magnified when I read a lyrical translation. If this passage I’ve Frankensteined together doesn’t make you want to bear-hug your dad or father figure, then you might want to move to Antarctica where your cold, cold heart will feel at home:

“My father raised me like the wind, blowing softly, singing, telling fairy tales. He lived where every road ended. One thousand and one years aren’t enough for a life…with a song he drove my sadness far away. All I can give him is that I belong to him, and I can say to my son with pride, ‘He's my father, and here's my home’.”

SO BEAUTIFUL. Even so, ignoring the tug on my heartstrings and (reluctantly) considering how Joci might fare at the ESC this time, I can see that he may struggle to qualify. The song stands out to me personally, but unfavourable comparisons to Origo will continue amongst Eurofans. Not to mention that Hungary may be overshadowed by the likes of Cyprus, Estonia, Greece and Portugal.

On the other hand, semi one is missing a lot of big hitters: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Malta, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland are all competing on the Thursday night. And thanks to the Ukrainian shenanigans, it’s a less difficult semi to get out of. Let’s also not forget that Hungary has a formidable qualification record from 2011-present, and the first semi is not unfriendly for them in terms of potential supporters. I do suspect Hungary will squeak though (with an impactful, emotive and in-tune squeak, mind you) which will be enough for me. Even I would be shocked if Joci equalled or outdid his 2017 8thplace in Tel Aviv.

Possible results aside, I appreciate this entry so much (in case you hadn’t noticed). As a love letter to Joci’s father and a promise to leave the same lasting impression on his own children, it’s easily as hard-hitting as Origo – itjust tells a different tale in a different way. If music is Joci’s ongoing autobiography and each song is a chapter, then this one is a throwback to his childhood and the memories that make him the man he is today. That’s a man who, in my opinion, gives the Eurovision bank balance a boost just by being present. Cha-ching!