21 May 2013

Dana International - best Eurovision performance ever!

The Eurovision Song Contest has been broadcast every year since starting in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programmes in the world. 600 million people across the globe watch each year, including my family. Well done Denmark for their great success this week.

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In 1970, Ireland’s Dana Rosemary Scallon (born 1951) unexpectedly won Eurovision. Her song, a very soft, passive version of All Kinds of Every­thing, was Ireland's first ever victory in this very important competition. Dana, as she was known, was a teenage school student, Catholic, anti-women’s rights in abor­tion, contrac­ep­tion and divorce, and later married with four children.

In 1967, Dana’s family had moved to the Bogside, an area in the shadows of the historic city walls of Derry in Northern Ireland. The Bogside was a majority-Catholic area within a Protestant-British state which probably explains the long and terrible history of unrest in Dana’s home town in the late 1960s and early 1970s. And it also probably explains why Dana’s victory was so sweet for Catholic Irish citizens.

The other Dana, Dana International (born 1969) is an Israeli-born pop singer of Yemenite Jewish parents. Born Yoram, he was the youngest of three children and was named after an uncle who had been massacred by Arab terrorists. 

Dana International in feathers
winning for Israel, 1998

Dana International could not have been more different from Ireland’s Dana. The Israeli lad came out as a transsexual when he was barely into his teens and underwent sex reassignment surgery in London in his mid 20s. Could the very gorgeous Dana International have known at that stage that she was going to have an unlikely win in Eurovision and follow in the footsteps of Ireland’s very plain Dana?

In 1998 Dana International was selected to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest with her song Diva. Diva was an amazing song about strong women in history:

“Viva nari'a, viva Victoria, Afrodita
Viva la-Diva, viva Victoria, Cleopatra”.

Dana International came onto the Eurovision stage in Birmingham, with confident movement, fabulous legs, fabulous dress, amazing voice and jazzy lyrics, and took the audience’s breath away. There was nothing passive about this Dana! Every Jewish viewer in the world (except perhaps for the most religious) prayed to whatever god they had ..for a win for Dana International. Gays, straights and transsexuals thought their moment in the sun had arrived. Jordan and the other middle eastern countries censored her performance and blocked their state-run television programmes whilst the Jewish performer was on stage. Yet she won anyhow!

Dana International released Diva as a single in Europe and the song climbed towards the very top of the hit parade in the UK, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands. She later represented Israel in Eurovision for a second time, but never quite reached the giddy heights of 1998.

For Israel's gay community, Dana International's victory in the Euro­vision song contest was a turning point. When Israelis celebrated Dana International's victory in the streets of Tel Aviv that night, people started to recog­nise that there was a big gay community, full of talent and colour.

Eurovision’s own history page said that Time magazine chose her as one of the important people in the world. Dana International's story is not only the story of a successful singer; it is a rare and in­sp­iring story about courage. She completed the cultural revolution that she started with her first album; a symbol of liberalism and human rights.

Dana,
winning for Ireland, 1970.





4 comments:

Andrew said...

She was fab. Diva was the last cd single I ever bought. She gave people a reason to think about Israel and not just Jerusalem. Israel can be diverse? Who would have thought that. So it is not all about bombs and men with long beards and funny hats. I feel a bit sorry for Ireland's Dana. Things became much worse before they got better.

Mandy Southgate said...

What a fascinating post! They couldn't have been more different if they tried. For me, it shows just how far acceptance and change has come over the years.

Hels said...

Mandy

Agreed. Dana Scallon was lacking colour, energy and excitement but that was back in 1970. I wonder if we looked at other acts from 1956-70 whether we would find them all lacking oomph.

Then Eurovision developed more backup singers, more dancers, more flash lighting, more exotic props. How very different it had become, by the time Dana International burst onto the scene.

Hels said...

Andrew

The ultra orthodox have only ever accounted for 5-10% of the Israeli population, yet their influence was and is substantial. For the Eurovision voters in Israeli to select a national representative as way out there and talented as Dana International was, I think, courageous.

She changed the attitudes of millions of Europeans, of course, but she also woke up the other 90% of the Israeli middle classes.