Celebrating Diversity at Eurovision: International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples
In order to raise awareness for the needs of Indigenous peoples, every 9 August commemorates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
Indigenous peoples are sometimes also known in some regions as First peoples, First Nations, Aboriginal peoples, or Native peoples, and are the ethnic groups who are the original or earliest known inhabitants of an area.
Groups are usually described as Indigenous when they maintain the traditions or other aspects of an early culture that is associated with a given region.
To celebrate the diversity of the artists at Eurovision and its national finals, we’re taking a look at some of Eurovision’s Indigenous artists, both from Australia and across Europe.
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples
Australia’s indigenous population – known as Aboriginal Australians and/or Torres Strait Islanders – have lived on the continent for more than 50,000 years, and today there are more than 250 distinct language groups spread throughout Australia.
Indigenous Australians are comprised of two groups: Aboriginal people, who are related to those who already inhabited Australia when the British began colonizing in 1788, and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who descend from the residents of the Torres Strait Islands, a group of islands that form part of modern-day Queensland. The indigenous population can be either Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, or both.
Today, Aboriginal Australians comprise roughly three per cent of Australia’s population, with approximately 750,000 people of Aboriginal heritage.
Jessica Mauboy - Copenhagen 2014 and Lisbon 2018
Jessica Mauboy originally came to fame in Australia through her participation in the fourth season of ‘Australian Idol’ in 2006, where she finished in second place to winner Damien Leith.
Just two weeks after ‘Australian Idol’ finished, Jessica signed a recording contract with Sony Music Australia. She released her first live album, ‘The Journey’, in February 2007, and joined girl group Young Divas in September the same year. The group disbanded in August 2008.
Jessica released three studio albums (‘Been Waiting’, ‘Get ‘Em Girls’, and ‘Beautiful’) and featured in two films (‘Bran Nue Dae’ and ‘The Sapphires’).
In March 2014, Danish national broadcaster DR, who was hosting the Eurovision Song Contest that year, gave permission to SBS to perform as an interval act in the second semi-final as a reward for the broadcaster’s ongoing support of the competition. SBS announced just a day later that they would be sending Jessica to sing an original song (‘Sea of Flags’) written especially for the contest.
"Like so many Aussies, I have loved watching the show from my loungeroom and now to be a part of one of the world’s biggest music shows is just incredible." - Jessica Mauboy, 2014
Just weeks after performing in front of 195 million viewers in Copenhagen in May, Jessica took to the stage at the closing ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in August, where she again performed ‘Sea of Flags’. Just a few months later, in February 2015, she performed at the opening ceremony of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup in Melbourne.
In 2016, Jessica was cast as the lead in the Seven Network’s drama series ‘The Secret Daughter’. The role was written specifically for her, where she played part-time country pub singer Billie Carter, and was nominated for a Logie Award for Best Actress (Australia’s version of the Emmy Awards). The show lasted for two seasons.
In December 2017, SBS announced that they would be giving Jessica Mauboy the opportunity to return to the Eurovision stage in Lisbon, this time to compete for the title. Her song, ‘We Got Love’, was released in March 2018.
Jessica called her purple, multi-coloured dress the ‘Dreaming’ dress, explaining that it helped her to tell her stories, her needs, and her happiness.
Jessica placed 20th in the grand final in Lisbon.
Jessica’s father is an Indonesian-born electrician from West Timor, and her mother is an Aboriginal Australian, part of the Kuku Yalanji people of Far North Queensland.
Isaiah Firebrace - Kyiv 2017
Isaiah Firebrace originally came to fame in Australia through his participation in the eighth season of ‘The X Factor Australia’ in 2016, where he finished in first place. His winner’s single, ‘It’s Gotta Be You’, charted in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden.
Following his X Factor win, Isaiah reported his interest in representing Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv in 2017. In March 2017, SBS announced that they had internally selected Isaiah to sing at Eurovision with a song written by DNA Songs, who wrote 'Sound of Silence'.
"Something I want to do is to inspire young indigenous teenagers, and not only indigenous, non-indigenous kids as well. Just to never give up on your dreams no matter how young you are. I think age is just a number." - Isaiah Firebrace, 2017
Isaiah placed 9th in Kyiv in the grand final.
Born in Portland, Victoria, and raised in Moama, New South Wales, Isaiah is an Aboriginal Australian; his father is Yorta Yorta, and his mother is Gunditjmara.
Zaachariaha Fielding (of Electric Fields) - Eurovision: Australia Decides 2019
Zaachariaha Fielding, of half of the duo who form Electric Fields, first came to people’s attention through his auditioning for the third season of ‘The X Factor Australia’ in 2011 and becoming a finalist in the third season of ‘The Voice Australia’ in 2014 (as part of the duo ZK).
In December 2018, SBS announced that Electric Fields would be one of the ten competing acts in the first ever Eurovision: Australia Decides to be held on the Gold Coast in February 2019.
"The Eurovision Song Contest is the Olympics of camp! It’s a flamboyant spectacle and we’re excited to be part of the first ever Eurovision selection show on home soil. We want to tell a story on stage with fierce energy that will hopefully shoot through the cameras and out of the TV screens at home." - Electric Fields, 2018
Electric Fields were a big fan favourite and came second in the jury vote, the public vote, and overall at Eurovision: Australia Decides. They then went on to present the Australian jury results at the Eurovision Song Contest in May.
Along with Michael Ross, Zaachariaha performs as the duo Electric Fields, where they combine modern electric music with Aboriginal culture, singing in Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, and English.
Electric Fields won Male Music Artist at the National Dreamtime Awards in 2019, won Best New Talent at the National Indigenous Music Awards in 2017, and were nominated for the ARIA Award for the Best Australian Live Act at the ARIA Music Awards in 2019 (Australia’s version of the Grammy Awards).
Zaachariaha is from Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara – also known as the APY Lands – located in the north west of South Australia.
Mitch Tambo - Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020
Mitch Tambo first came to national attention in Australia when he became a finalist in the ninth season of ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ in 2019, behind winning pole dancer Kristy Sellars. In his audition, he performed his single ‘Walanbaa’, where he received a golden buzzer. In his semifinal he received another golden buzzer after performing an English-Gamilaraay bilingual version of ‘You’re the Voice’.
Immediately following his performance in the grand final of ‘Australia’s Got Talent’, Mitch’s EP began charting on iTunes charts across the world, and a Twitter campaign was launched to have him represent Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest.
In November 2019, Mitch signed a record deal with Sony Music Australia, and was announced as a participant in Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020.
"I’m thrilled to be part of Eurovision Australia Decides in 2020 and to get the chance to perform on the world’s biggest stage. Eurovision songs often mix elements of traditional and contemporary sounds, which is exactly what I set out to do in my own music. Most importantly, it brings different cultures together all under the banner of music, which is a beautiful thing!" - Mitch Tambo, 2019
Mitch came sixth in the jury vote, fourth in the public vote, and fifth overall at Eurovision: Australia Decides.
Mitch was nominated for New Talent of the Year 2020 at the National Indigenous Music Awards.
Mitch is a proud Gamilaraay and Birri Gubba man who lives in Melbourne.
Casey Donovan - Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020
Casey Donovan originally came to fame in Australia through her participation in the second season of ‘Australian Idol’ in 2004, where she finished in first place, beating out runner up Anthony Callea. Throughout the entire season, Casey only finished in the bottom two once.
Casey released her debut single, ‘Listen With Your Heart’ the same month, and her debut album, ‘For You’, the next month.
Since appearing on ‘Australian Idol’, Casey has appeared in productions of ‘The Sapphires’, William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, and ‘Chicago’. She has also appeared in and won the third season of the Australian version of ‘I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!’
In November 2019, Casey was announced as one of ten acts to perform in Eurovision: Australia Decides 2020.
"‘Proud’ is merely a reminder to yourself, to be proud of who you are, proud of all of the ups and downs, to keep getting up despite the pain and push forward no matter how many people put you down. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy at that. It’s an anthem of self-love and acceptance – a little reminder that we have to stand tall and proud." - Casey Donovan, 2019
Casey came third in the jury vote, first in the public vote, and second overall at Eurovision: Australia Decides.
Casey’s father is of Aboriginal descent from Gumbaynggir country on the NSW mid north coast.
Sámi (Sámit) peoples
The Sámi people are indigenous to large northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, even the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Unfortunately, their ancestral lands are not well-defined.
Approximately 10% of the Sámi people are connected to reindeer herding, providing them with meat, fur, and transportation. In Norway alone, 2,800 Sámi people are actively involved in reindeer herding on a full-time basis. In some regions of these Nordic countries, reindeer herding is legally reserved for only the Sámi people for traditional reasons.
There are currently estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000 Sámi people in the world, with significant populations in Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
Mattis Hætta (Norway) – The Hague 1980
Mattis Hætta is a Norwegian Sámi singer who has worked in pantomimes and joiks in Alta, Kautokeino and Luleå.
In 1980, he took part in Melodi Grand Prix alongside Sverre Kjelsberg, and went on to win the right to represent Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest, held in The Hague that year.
Mattis and Sverre’s song, 'Sámiid ædnan’ (‘Sámi Soil’), was inspired by the autonomy movement among the Sámi people of northern Norway at the time. It mentions the traditional music of the region and a hunger strike held in front of the Norwegian parliament building the year before.
‘Sámiid ædnan’ (‘Sámi Soil’), came 16th in The Hague. The song is sung in Norwegian, with no Sámi language words in the joik chorus.
Roger Pontare (Sweden) – Dublin 1994 and Stockholm 2000
Roger Pontare is a Swedish singer of Sámi descent who was born in Arjeplog municipality, and currently live is Vingåker.
Roger’s history with the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the longest of any Sámi singers. He has represented Sweden at the contest twice, and has taken part in the Swedish national final, ‘Melodifestivalen’, on three other occasions.
In 1994, Roger took part in Melodifestivalen alongside Marie Bergman, and the duet sung ‘Stjärnorna’ (‘The Stars’), which went on to win the show. The duet went on to perform in Dublin, where they came 13th on the night. The song was sung in Swedish.
In 1999, Roger took part in Melodifestivalen again, this time as a solo act, with the entry ‘Som av is’ (‘As of Ice’). The entry came 5th on the night, failing to win the right to compete in Jerusalem, but was on Sveriggetopplistan (then known as Hitlistan) – Sweden’s music charts – for seven weeks.
In 2000, Roger once again took part in Melodifestivalen, again as a solo act, with the entry ‘When Spirits Are Calling My Name’ (originally under its Swedish title of ‘När vindarna viskar mitt namn’). The entry went on to win on the night, and represented Sweden on home soil in Stockholm at Eurovision that year.
At Eurovision in 2000, Roger wore a Sámi costume associated with the indigenous population of Lappland in northern Sweden. The song extolled the traditions of indigenous peoples and their efforts to protect their territories and cultures.
Roger was joined on stage by a Cree Indian dancer, a Thule Eskimo, and a Norwegian Sámi. He placed 7th on the night.
Roger competed in Melodifestivalen again in 2006, with the hopes of representing Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest for a third time, with the entry ‘Silverland’, but failed to pass the second chance round.
He also attempted most recently at Melodifestivalen in 2017 with the song ‘Himmel och hav’ (‘Sky and Sea’), but came 5th in his semifinal, failing to qualify for the final.
Agnete (Norway) – Stockholm 2016
Agnete Johnsen was born in Varangerbotn in Norway, daughter to Sámi children’s author Signe Iversen. She herself is an ethnic Sámi.
In 2008, Agnete was a member of the band The Blacksheeps. They competed in Melodi Grand Prix Junior 2008 with the song ‘Oro jaska, beana’ (‘Be quiet, dog’), a song in both Norwegian and Sámi.
They won on the night, and went on to perform in Aarhus, Denmark for Melodi Grand Prix Nordic 2008, the Scandinavian version of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. They went on to win the competition.
In 2011, The Blacksheeps competed in Melodi Grand Prix 2011 with the song ‘Dance Tonight’, with the hopes of representing Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest being held in Düsseldorf that year. They placed second. The band broke up the same year.
In 2016, Agnete once again competed in Melodi Grand Prix, this time as a solo artist, with her song ‘Icebreaker’. She won the show, and went on to represent Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm.
The entry came 13th in its semifinal.
Fred-René Øvergård Buljo (of KEiiNO) (Norway) – Tel Aviv 2019
The most recent Sámi representative to make it to the Eurovision stage has been Fred Buljo, a Sámi rapper from Norway who took part as part of the group KEiiNO.
KEiiNO took part in Melodi Grand Prix 2019 with the song ‘Spirit in the Sky’, and won the right to represent Norway in Tel Aviv. The song was a clear fan favourite across Europe, as it won the televote in the grand final, but came sixth overall. The song is bilingual, with both English and Northern Sámi used, as well as some joik.
Fred doesn’t only sing, though. He has also served as a representative on the Sámi Parliament of Norway, first as a deputy from 2013 to 2016, and then as a member of parliament and parliamentary leader from 2016 to 2017.
Since participating in Eurovision, KEiiNO has had a massive fan base in Australia. They came to visit last year, and featured Eurovision: Australia Decides runner-ups Electric Fields on their track ‘Would I Lie’. Their album, ‘OKTA’, was released in May.
Ann-Mari Andersen – Melodi Grand Prix 2008
Ann-Mari Andersen is a Sámi singer and musician from Kautokeino in Norway. In 2008, she participated in Melodi Grand Prix – the Norwegian national final – with the song ‘Ándagassii’ (‘Sorry’). The song made it to the final, but failed to qualify for the gold final.
The song was the first Sámi language song to compete in Melodi Grand Prix in 28 years, since the aforementioned entry ‘Sámiid ædnan’ in 1980.
Ulla Pirttijärvi-Länsman & Hildá Länsman (of Solju) – Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu 2015
The mother and daughter team of Ulla Pirttijärvi-Länsman and Hildá Länsman, members of the band Solju, are both Sámi singers.
As members of Solju, Ulla and Hildá took part in Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu 2015, the Finnish national final for the Eurovision Song Contest. Their entry, ‘Hold Your Colours’, came 4th in the final on the night, beaten by Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät’s ‘Aina mun pitää’ (‘I always have to’).
Jon Henrik Fjällgren – Melodifestivalen 2015, Melodifestivalen 2017, and Melodifestivalen 2019
Jon Henrik Fjällgren might just be the most recognizable Sámi artist to a Eurovision fan that hasn’t actually performed on the Eurovision stage. Jon has participated in the Swedish national final – Melodifestivalen – on three separate occasions.
Jon was born in Cali, Colombia, and is of indigenous Colombian descent. At a very young age, he was adopted by a Swedish Sámi family, and became a part of a siida community (a Sámi local community that has existed from time immemorial) in Mittådalen, where he worked as a reindeer herder.
Jon started singing local traditional songs when he was fourteen, and gained some exporsure when he sang in the presence of the King and Queen of Sweden, who were attending church services locally.
Jon first came to national fame in Sweden when he took part in the sixth season of ‘Talang Sverige’ (the Swedish version of ‘Got Talent’) in 2014. He auditioned with his rendition of ‘Daniel’s Joik’, and ended up winning the season.
Jon participated in Melodifestivalen 2015 with the song ‘Jag är fri (Manne leam frijje)’ (‘I am free’). He came second in the grand final, finishing 149 points behind runaway favourite and eventual Eurovision winner Måns Zelmerlöw’s ‘Heroes’.
Jon participated in Melodifestivalen again in 2017, this time alongside Aninia, with the song ‘En värld full av strider (Eatneme gusnie jeenh dåaroeh)’ (‘A world full of battles’). Jon an Aninia again made it through to the final, this time finishing in third place.
Jon returned as a solo artist to compete in Melodifestivalen again in 2019 with the song ‘Norrsken (Goeksegh)’ (‘Northern Lights’). Jon made it through to the grand final for the third time, this time coming in fourth place.
Elin Kåven (of Elin & The Woods) – Melodi Grand Prix 2017 and Melodi Grand Prix 2020
Elin Kåven is a Sámi singer from Norway who has competed in the Norwegian national final – Melodi Grand Prix – on two occasions with her band Elin & The Woods.
Elin & The Woods first took part in Melodi Grand Prix in 2017 when they competed with the entry ‘First Step in Faith (Oadjebasvuhtii)’ (‘First Step in Faith (Safety)’). The song made it through to the gold final, but finished third behind JOWST’s winning entry ‘Grab the Moment’ and future Melodi Grand Prix winner Ulrikke’s ‘Places’.
Elin & The Woods then took part in Melodi Grand Prix again this year, where they competed with the entry ‘We Are As One’. They won their duel in their heat, but failed to qualify to the grand final from the gold duel against Liza Vassilieva’s ‘I Am Gay’.
The Basques are a European ethnic group characterized by the Basque language and their common culture. Although there are different takes on their Indigenous" identity, they have a very long history and primarily inhabit an area traditionally known as Basque Country, a region of Spain located at the western end of the Pyrenees that also goes slightly into south-western France.
The Basque region is currently divided into three administrative units, the Basque Autonomous Community and Navarre in Spain, and the Pyrénées Atlantiques in France.
The Basque population is currently believed to be approximately three million.
Mocedades – Luxembourg City 1973
Mocedades is a Spanish singing group from the Basque Autonomous Community, best known for representing Spain in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1973.
The group was formed by sisters Amaya Uranga and Izaskun Uranga in 1969, originally with eight members. After multiple group changes, Amaya and Izaskun, along with their brother Roberto Uranga, as well as Carlos Zubiaga, Javier Garay, and José Ipiña, formed the six members who became famous for singing at the Eurovision Song Contest.
Their song, ‘Eres tú’ (‘It’s You’), came second in Luxembourg in 1973, but reached phenomenal worldwide success. In 1974, it became one of the few Spanish language songs to reach the top 10 in the United States. It peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and also reached the top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
The song also went of to chart in the top 10 in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. It peaked at #30 in Australia.
In 2013, the song was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame.
Sergio y Estíbaliz – Stockholm 1975
Sergio y Estíbaliz were a Basque vocal duo formed by Sergio Blanco Rivas and Estíbaliz Uranga Amézaga. The pair were known for having worked with the group Mocedades, who they left in 1972 to concentrate on their career as a duo.
In 1975, Sergio y Estíbaliz were internally chosen by the Spanish broadcaster to represent the country at the Eurovision Song Contest 1975 in Stockholm with the song ‘Tú volverás’ (‘You Will Return’).
The song came 10th on the night.
Udmurt (Удмуртъёс, Udmurt’jos)
The Udmurt people are a people indigenous to the Udmurtia region of Russia, although smaller populations of Udmurt people can also be found in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Estonia. The name Udmurt comes from ‘odo-mort’, meaning ‘meadow people’.
The Udmurt people have a literary national epic known as ‘Dorvyzhy’ (‘Дорвыжы’, ‘Homeland Roots’) that was originally written in the 1920’s. The story is a mix of myth and history, recounting the deeds of heroes such as Ozhmeg, Dokya, and the son of Dondy.
The Udmurt people used to be semi-nomadic forest dwellers that lived in riverside communities. Today, most Udmurt people now live in towns.
Unfortunately, the Udmurt population is shrinking, with fewer Udmurt people registered in the 2010 Russian census than in 1939.
Buranovskiye Babushki – Baku 2012
The ethno-pop band Buranovskiye Babushki is comprised of eight elderly women from the village of Buranovo in Udmurtia.
In 2010, Buranovskiye Babushki attempted to represent Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest by competing in the Russian national final ‘Evrovidenie 2010’. Their song, ‘Dlinnaya-dlinnaya beresta i kak sdelat’ iz neyo aishon’ (‘Very long birch bark and how to turn it into a turban’), came third in Evrovidenie in a field of 25 songs.
In 2012, they took part in Evrovidenie 2012 with the song ‘Party for Everybody’. They beat out 24 other songs for the title, and finished in second position in Baku in the grand final.
The group stated that in 2012 they would use any money raised to build the Holy Trinity Church in Buranovo.
To find out more about the UN's International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples head to: https://www.un.org/en/observances/indigenous-day