Eurovision Betting Analysis: Can Norway Regain Eurovision Crown with ‘Haba Haba’?

Watching the Norwegian competition to select their Eurovision entry, called Melodi Grand Prix (MGP), has been a happy hunting ground for me.

In February 2009, I watched on an internet feed as Alexander Rybak performed in the MGP semi-final. I was so confident of the performance catching fire both in his home country and across Europe, I placed a bet on Norway to win Eurovision at 16-1 at the very moment he stopped fiddling. Three months later, he indeed won with a record points score.

This year, I was despairing of a poorer quality MGP until the penultimate song in the last semi-final was performed, and I knew Norway would have to send it to Eurovision to give themselves any chance of qualifying, let alone winning.

That song was Stella Mwangi’s ‘Haba Haba’, which duly won MGP and currently vies to be favourite for the 2011 Eurovision prize at this early stage. Can the steel drums of the African-inspired song follow in the footsteps of Rybak’s folk-tinged winner?

‘Haba Haba’ has a few things in common with ‘Fairytale’. It’s an immediate, crowd-pleasing, feel-good number, very effectively staged with a nice routine involving the backing singers and dancers.

It has proved very popular in Norway, spending the last two weeks topping Lady Gaga in the national charts. Rybak was also a number 1 hit after MGP.

But the analogies end there, for a few key reasons that suggest to me we won’t be returning to Oslo in 2012.

As Sofabet reader David noted in a comment, another song to which ‘Haba Haba’ invites comparison is France’s 2010 Eurovision entry, Jessy Matador’s ‘Allez Ola Olé’ – a crowd-pleasing, feel-good number that became a summer hit in Europe following the contest.

Superficially, the similarity is that both songs sound African. And some have made a connection between that African-ness and the distinctly – though not universally – Eastern skew of countries which gave France nul points (they were Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine).

I disagree with those who see suggestions here of racial motivations, because many of the same Eastern nations scored Britain’s Jade Ewen (who is mixed race) highly in 2009. In terms of racial attitudes in the former Soviet states, let’s also not forget that the Caribbean-born Dave Benton was part of Estonia’s winning act in 2001.

I do think it’s arguable, though, that African-sounding beats may not go down as well in Eastern Europe as they do in western and central Europe – ‘Haba Haba’ is an inferior version of Shakira’s World Cup theme ‘Waka Waka’, which was a very big hit across the western and central region last summer.

In comparison, Rybak had Belarussian origins and his folk-tinged performance was more universally appreciated across eastern as well as western and central Europe.

However, I’m not sure how far a comparison based on African-ness can take us – as musical genres go, it’s a wide one. I think a much more meaningful comparison between ‘Haba Haba’ and ‘Allez Ola Olé’ is that both are catchy and fun with a great dance routine, but without much substance. This is reflected in the remarkable disparity between the televote and jury vote for ‘Allez Ola Olé’.

TV viewers gave it 151 points, for an eighth-place finish in the televoting constituency. However, national juries gave it just 34 points, placing it 22nd.

Presumably the juries deemed its repetitive, paper-thin catchiness unworthy of high scores. I think the same will happen with ‘Haba Haba’. It will put a smile on the audience’s faces, but the juries will crucify it.

While televoters may warm to the enjoyable steel drum riff and chorus, juries will notice how the song tends to go round in circles. Nor will they be impressed by Stella’s vocals, which are noticeably weak.

I reckon ‘Haba Haba’ will have to storm the televote by a Rybak-esque amount to overcome jury disfavour, and I don’t see it happening. Despite some similarities, ‘Haba Haba’ is no ‘Fairytale’ and Stella is no Rybak.

That’s not just my opinion. It’s also reflected by the Norwegian viewing audience of MGP. Sure, Stella won comfortably, but look more closely at the figures and you get a very different story.

While Rybak and ‘Fairytale’ inspired 715,000 votes in 2009, Stella and ‘Haba Haba’ received fewer than 250,000, reflecting the weakness of the MGP field in 2011. To put it in context, fewer Norwegians picked up the phone for Stella than for the distant MGP runner-up in 2010, the Brit-Norwegian boyband A1.

So I certainly won’t be backing Stella at current stingy odds of 5-1 on Betfair. I think that’s very poor value, and indicates that some of Norway’s recent good results have the bookmakers running scared unnecessarily. Indeed, like her market rival, Germany’s Lena, I will be backing against Stella if her song contracts further in price.

What do you think – am I being too harsh on ‘Haba Haba’?

Watch Stella Mangwi sing ‘Haba Haba’.

18 comments to Eurovision Betting Analysis: Can Norway Regain Eurovision Crown with ‘Haba Haba’?

  • Martin F.

    Nope, I think you’re spot on. “Norway to miss the top 10” is this year’s early money-spinner for me.

  • Paul

    Do you have any opinions on the mass of country qualification competitions at the moment. Odds are available for the Swedish, Austrian, Latvian and Danish and maybe one song in each may have caught your eye (or ear)

    • Daniel

      Hi Martin, I’m in agreement with you there, though it’s about time we had some strong contenders selected. It’s zero out of fifteen for me so far.

      Hey Paul, I do dabble in the Scandi/Nordic National Finals. By the end of the week, when all the Swedish and Danish possibilities have been released in full, I will get back to you if there’s anything I like. But I don’t fancy anything strongly enough from what I’ve heard or seen so far.

  • fiveleaves

    It’s the best song to enter Eurovision since Satellite 🙂

    It will be very hard to beat and is a very worthy favourite.
    The french song was a glorified football chant. This is a flawlessly constructed pop song.
    It’s already in the top 100 european airplay charts. One place behind Lady Gaga.
    I don’t see many of the others getting in the top 1000.

    The competition so far looks poor.
    There are still some big countries to show their hands, but unless one of them can produce something special Stella’s price is heading only one way.

    As for her singing. Lena is hardly a great singer 😉

  • fiveleaves

    As for the Juries.
    As you say in your article about Lena, because Satellite was such a big hit across Europe before the contest, the juries couldn’t ignore it.

    I believe we’ll see the same this year with Haba haba and the juries swingig behind it as the auditorium sing a long to this infectious master piece.

    • Daniel

      Thanks for your input, fiveleaves, and welcome to Sofabet. Whilst we have different interpretations on the merits of ‘Haba Haba’, your prediction that Stella would only come down further in price is proving accurate in the short-term: Stella has passed Lena at the head of the market as I write this, and is now 9-2 on Betfair. Let’s see how she fares once we get more songs selected; I’m hoping some of them will stand out from the crowd and prove worthy rivals.

  • fiveleaves

    Hi Daniel.
    Yes, the it will be interesting to see what appears over the weekend and later.
    But for me someone will have to produce something very good to beat this insanely catchy and commercial song in the public vote.

    It’s main opponent atm, Lena, who I’m a massive fan off, doesn’t look like having the same success around Europe with this years more niche offering.

    iirc Last year Satellite topped the charts in both Switzerland and Austria very soon after it was picked
    atm Taken by a Stranger is no.54 in the swiss itunes charts and a slightly better no.26 in Austria.
    The early signs aren’t great.

    • annie

      i think the not topping the chart situation can be somewhat explained by the fact that the album was released just a week ago and sold very well. i guess you have to be a really hardcore fan to buy both. well, we shall see. I still feel that-surprisingly- there’s nothing better or more contemporary music-wise relevant than Lena out there, and I think she’d have high chances of winning with Taken by a stranger if people weren’t taxing her as much for doubling after last year.
      And I just can’t understand the succes of Haba Haba. Even Jedward or the girl/song from Spain are better as far as I’m concerned 🙂

  • fiveleaves

    Hi Annie,
    Just checking itunes, Lena’s album isn’t in the top 10 in either Switzerland or Austria, so I’m not sure it’s that.
    Infact I read on one forum that her album is no longer no.1 in Germany and has been knocked off that spot by Roxette.
    It’s still no.1 on itunes, so that could be wrong.

    As for Taken by a stranger. I really like it, but I don’t see it have the broad appeal of Satellite.

    She’s incredibly charming though and because of the fanbase she’s built up from last year, she’d do reasonably well with the birdie song.
    I reckon she’ll need all her charm to win with this rather niche offering though.

    As for Haba Haba. It’s a work of genius 🙂 I don’t see how anyone could fail to enjoy it and Stella’s performance.

    Even Jimmy Saville is a fan 🙂

  • fiveleaves

    Oops wrong link. That’s the brilliant ‘Laka’

    Here is the Haba Haba video

  • fiveleaves

    Oops again.
    Lena’s album is no.3 in Austria, but not top 10 in switzerland.

    • annie

      Yes, I also noticed that it’s down to no2. Well, at least it’s Gold after less then a week. According to wikipedia overall 8th in austria and 27th in switzerland. Oh well, I’m still hoping she’ll do decent.

      And I have to admit, the video version of Haba haba is actually growing on me *blush*. I only saw and heard the live version before and wow, what a difference in quality and sound(at least in my ears and eyes). The live seems to me a bit cheap for the eyes(summer anthem ’95) and shallow) and scratchy for my ears, whilst the video is much more cool, funny and current. It’s interesting, i guess it’s a question of who votes in eurovision: hardcore fans who google the songs and decide their favorites previously or people siting down and watching the show. I only voted 2 in previous years, 1 in pre-youtube era, based on what i liked on the night and last year for Lena who i found on YT, even though I found her performance on the night slightly nervous and shaky.
      Will be interesting to see what the Power of YouTube will bring this year :))

  • Martin F.

    While we’re in Scandi territory, I’m looking at bet365’s Melodifestivalen market and thinking that 25/1 for Sanna Nielsen represents terrific value.

    She’s likely to be the only thing approximating pop-trad-schlager in the final (as I can’t see Jenny Silver surviving Andra Chansen, and that’s pants anyway), she’s looking like being one of very few female performers on offer, Sweden might well want a flight towards traditional sounds after last year’s flop, and there’s the unknown factors of the wholly international juries and the percentage-based televoting system being rolled out for the first time.

    Of course, the juries might be (instructed to be) swayed towards more “contemporary” pop sounds. But I reckon the vote’s just as likely to go all over the shop – so she’s certainly my pick for an “if it isn’t a Saade walkover” bet. And especially at those odds.

    If only they offered each-way…

  • Daniel

    Hi Martin,
    Given the apparent paucity of what’s on offer in the final semi in Sweden, I cannot fault your thinking. Here we have the obvious alternative to hot favourite Saade in a new system that could throw up any kind of result. Saade is 5-4 with a song that’s a copy of Manboy/Hope and Glory/Cara Mia, neither of which were good enough to win MF. And Sanna’s previous unlucky failures can only help motivate her supporters. 25/1 about the winner of the second semi, a popular and seasoned MF performer is indeed too good for me not to have a little bite.

  • Eloise

    I vowed I wouldn’t get immersed in Eurovision this early, yet the pull is too strong and I find myself casting an ear over some of the selected songs! Stella looks a lovely happy performer, but I really can’t see Haba Haba dominating proceedings, and agree that juries may not like this as much as the televoters. The Eurovision has long been accused of having entries with nonsense titles such as “Ding-a dong”, “Ah Ba Ni Bi”, “Diggey Loo, Diggey Ley”, and these type of songs do seem rather to have fallen out of favour and can be thought to lack credibility. Time will tell, and the running order will be, as always, crucial. I do like the Turkish entry, and can imagine they will absolutely ROCK the arena and gather a lot of support. Will wait until more songs chosen before planning betting strategy, though John & Edward not to qualify could be worth looking at when those prices appear. Am now officially becoming absorbed in Eurovision 2011 – hurrah!

    • Daniel

      Welcome back to the messageboard, Eloise, and come jump on the Eurovision bandwagon. I’m with you on ‘Haba Haba’ but was disappointed by the Turkish entry on first listen. It seemed very competently put together but commits the cardinal sin of the contest which is blandness. Here’s hoping it will grow on me, I’ve done so well out of Turkish entries in the past.

    • Andrew

      Hi Eloise! To be fair to Stella, ‘Haba Haba’ does make perfect sense in Swahili (“haba haba hujaza kibaba” = “little by little we fill the pot”, or sentiments to that effect). But I had exactly the same “diggey loo, diggey ley” thought on hearing the Finnish entry, which starts out with some lyrical promise then descends into “Da da dam, da da dam” (or does this mean something in Finnish?)

  • Eloise

    Hearing the African beat of Haba Haba gave me an appetite to hear a favourite from 1992, the fabulous Kali singing in Creole for France. Fiveleaves, if you haven’t heard this before I am sure you’ll approve. Also loved “Laka” too!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>