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Page last updated at 10:59 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 11:59 UK

Immigrants vie for song contest glory

Forget Eurovision, there is only one show in town, Newsnight's Immigrant Song Contest. Six bands, with six very different stories - the cream of immigrant musical talent - are vying to win, as the host Tim Samuels reports.

There will be something pretty memorable when a former Kellogg's worker from war-torn DR Congo performs his version of Puppet on a String before the Queen of Eurovision herself, Sandie Shaw.

Ya Freddy escaped the conflict in DR Congo and came to the UK as a refugee

Nor should it be too forgettable when an Iranian rock band, who not long ago were imprisoned in their home country for playing a gig, perform their own indie take of Cliff Richard's Congratulations in front of the former shadow Home Secretary.

Maybe they will both be upstaged by a Somalian rap version of Save Your Kisses for Me under the watchful eye of an ex-frontline immigration officer.

What does seem a safe bet is that the final of the Immigrant Song Contest will be somewhat different to that other song contest climaxing this week over in Moscow, Eurovision.

A star of the Afghan wedding scene, Hashmat is known as the Afghan Michael Jackson

Migration stories

Newsnight has scoured the country to find the best bands made up of immigrants who have come to the UK. Once selected, the bands were each given a classic Eurovision song to cover in their own style.

By delving into the back stories of each act, and exploring why they came to Britain, the contest hopes to shed some light on some of the millions of people who have moved to this country, and see just how far they have assimilated our national cherished tradition of celebrating the finest in cheesy music.

After some creative differences with Kurdish rockers, who pulled out over the lyrical content of Gina G's Ooh Aah Just a Little Bit, the line up was established.

Six acts, with six very different stories:

  • Why Not Here: A Polish heavy metal band whose day jobs include kitchen-fitting. They are covering Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz
  • Dhalad: A Somali rapper who fled the civil war which killed his father, covering Save Your Kisses by Brotherhood of Man
  • Hashmat: An Afghan singer who left his country to escape the oppressive Taleban regime and is now a regular on the Afghan wedding circuit in London. He is covering Boom Bang a Bang by Lulu
  • Mann Friday: A Zimbabwean rock band who have still got family living under the Mugabe presidency. They came to Britain to make a go of their music and are covering Waterloo by Abba
  • Font: An Iranian indie-band who were jailed back home for playing a gig. All five band members now live in one room in north London. They are covering Congratulations by Cliff Richard
  • Ya Freddy Wanga: He left the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which a family member has disappeared, to come to Manchester. He is covering Puppet on a String by Sandie Shaw.

Shifting perceptions

Having performed their unique Eurovision covers before an audience at a London nightclub, the six acts are this week heading to the BBC's Television Centre for the showdown on Thursday night.

Indie band, Font were imprisoned in their native Iran for playing a gig in Tehran

Crowning the immigrant act of the year is a judging panel comprised of Sandie Shaw who won Britain's first Eurovision gold with Puppet on a String in 1967; Conservative MP and former Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis; and ex-immigration officer Steve Bateman, who is now a musician.

There won't be any glittering prizes, just the chance to play their song live on BBC TV and maybe shift a few perceptions along the way.

Or as Hashmat says: "People only see the bad side of Afghanistan with the fighting. With this music, I want them to see the good side."

Find out more about the Immigrant Song Contest bands on the Newsnight website and watch the final on Thursday 14 May 2009 at 10.30pm on BBC Two.

Immigrant Song Contest - Day One
12 May 09 |  Newsnight
Immigrant Song Contest - Day Two
13 May 09 |  Newsnight


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