There are three weeks to go until the Eurovision song contest kicks off in Azerbaijan. But already an air of intrigue is enveloping the event, centering on whether a son-in-law of President Ilham Aliyev will be included in the lineup of performers.
Thirty-two-year-old Azerbaijani pop singer Emin Agalarov, the husband of Leyla Aliyeva, the elder daughter of President Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, announced in late March that he would take part in the Baku-hosted event, appearing as a guest singer during an intermission in the contest. Pro-government Azerbaijani news sources eagerly picked up on the announcement, presenting the appearance as a done deal.
Government critics seized on the news as yet another sign of the blurred distinction between the Aliyev family’s private interests and Azerbaijan’s public sphere. Mehriban Aliyeva, the first lady, serves as chairperson of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012’s Organizing Committee.
The announcement concerning Agalarov’s inclusion in the lineup came as a surprise to representatives of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the 85-member national broadcaster association that produces the yearly Eurovision shows. Sietse Bakker, an EBU senior executive, indicated that producers have no knowledge of a Eurovision invitation being issued to Agalarov.
“At this moment, we cannot confirm any interval act,” said Bakker, the event supervisor for the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, referring to reports of Agalarov’s reported appearance. “We will announce the interval guests shortly before the event.”
Eurovision will kick off in Baku on May 22 and run through May 26. It is expected to attract an audience in the tens of millions. The show starts a day after the worldwide release of Agalarov’s latest album, “After the Thunder,” by EMI Music.
On his personal website, Agalarov had described his Eurovision appearance as “truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.” But Bakker hinted that Agalarov might be jumping the gun. “Regardless of what artists say on their websites - we announce interval acts at a later stage, as usual,” Bakker said.
Responsibility for inviting guest singers lies with Azerbaijani public television, Ictimai TV. All invitees must then be approved by the Eurovision Song Contest committee, Bakker stressed.
Ictimai TV did not respond to queries concerning Agalarov’s pending performance during Eurovision. Bakker, meanwhile, downplayed the notion that Azerbaijan’s presidential family has “an overwhelming presence” in organizing Eurovision’s program. “At this moment, there are nearly 1,000 people from all over Europe working on the preparations for the Eurovision Song Contest,” Bakker noted.
While First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva heads the organizing committee, Bakker emphasized that “the actual production of the shows is under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union.”
In an April 30 interview with Eurovision.az, Agalarov, performing in a free pre-Eurovision concert in Baku, did not mention his Eurovision plans, stressing instead that the event will offer “an exciting opportunity for our country, for our city, to be able to showcase, through the contest, what we have here around us.”
In a random sampling of opinion, Baku residents seemed lukewarm on the possibility of Agalarov’s appearance in one of Europe’s most popular musical competitions. One young woman, 22-year-old Alyona, who declined to give her last name, said there were more qualified Azerbaijani candidates to fill a guest-signer slot. She named rapper Miri Yusif as one possibility. "Agalarov is also good, but it would be too predictable to have him on that show," Alyona said.
Khadija Ismayilova is a freelance reporter in Baku and hosts a daily program on current affairs broadcast by the Azeri Service of RFE/RL.
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