May 24, 2016 / 12:02 PM / 3 years ago

In quiet Crimean village, Jamala's family basks in Eurovision glory

MALORECHENSKOYE, Crimea (Reuters) - In her home in a small village on Crimea’s rocky coastline, the mother of Eurovision song contest winner Jamala is surrounded by magazine cuttings about her daughter and bouquets of flowers from well-wishers.

Alim Jamaladinov and Galina Tumasova, the parents of Ukraine's Eurovision song contest winner Jamala, are seen during an interview at their house in the village of Malorechenskoye outside Alushta, Crimea, May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Olesya Astakhova

Galina Tumasova is still basking in the glory of Jamala’s surprise victory for Ukraine 10 days ago, but she recalls her initial concerns about her daughter choosing to sing “1944” - a song she composed about the Soviet deportation of her Crimean Tatar ancestors.

“The neighbors didn’t approve. They were all discussing the name of the song,” Tumasova told Reuters at her modest two-storey home, which is scattered with CDs by her daughter, whose real name is Susana Jamaladinova.

“I said to her: ‘Susana, are you sure people will understand what you’re trying to say with that song?’”

“1944” recalled the decision by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to deport hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars from their homeland in that year. It had added meaning because of the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, a move that many of the region’s ethnic Tatar minority opposed, partly because of a historical mistrust of Moscow borne out of the wartime deportations.

Tumasova’s faith in her daughter is apparent: “When she was a baby, even the sound of her crying was musical.”

She said all her doubts about the song evaporated once she saw Jamala perform it in the initial rounds of the contest.

“The audience cried,” she said in an interview at the house in the village of Malorechenskoye where she lives with her husband Alim, built in the local style centered around an open courtyard.

“You cannot stay silent about history, that’s why Jamala sang about her own people.”

The 2014 annexation of Crimea split Jamala’s family: she moved to the Ukrainian capital Kiev while her parents, in their 60s, stayed in Crimea under de facto Russian rule.

But a large framed photo of the 32-year-old Jamala still commands pride of place in her parents’ home, propped up on a piano in the courtyard.

On the same plot as the house is a building which the family used to run as a small guesthouse. They said since Russia took over control of Crimea, they has stopped taking paying guests because fewer tourists come and the taxes are too high to justify keeping it open.


Jamala was pitted against the strongly fancied entry from Russia in the Eurovision contest in Stockholm. Her victory sparked celebrations in Kiev, but Russian politicians in Moscow said the contest had been hijacked by politics. The Russian entry finished in third place.

Some in Jamala’s homeland are ambivalent about her win. “Her talents should be used in the service of her people, and not politics,” said Ruslan Balbek, deputy prime minister in the Moscow-backed Crimean government and an ethnic Crimean Tartar.

“She rode into first place on a political horse,” he told journalists.

At the singer’s family home, a 25 km (15-mile) drive north of the town of Alushta, Tumasova said her daughter had composed the song based on the recollections of Jamala’s great-grandmother, who was among those deported during World War Two.

The great-grandmother, according to Tumasova, described how she was packed into a railway goods wagon with dozens of others for the weeks-long journey into exile in Kyrgyzstan, near the border with China.

During the journey, the great-grandmother’s daughter died. Fearing the guards might discard the corpse along the route, she concealed the body until the train stopped for long enough for her to carry out a proper burial.

Tumasova, who is also a musician, said she preferred to focus on her daughter’s musical achievements, not on the political undertones.

Additional reporting by Olga Petrova; Editing by Christian Lowe and Pravin Char

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