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Exiled Azerbaijani Rocker Takes Video Dig At Eurovision Host

Jamal Ali clearly timed the release of his video to coincide with this week's Eurovision conclusion.
Jamal Ali clearly timed the release of his video to coincide with this week's Eurovision conclusion.
Azerbaijani rocker Jamal Ali fled his native Azerbaijan last week, claiming that he feared for his safety after the spotlight of this week's Eurovision Song Contest moved on from host city Baku.

Now, he's come out with a video jab at the homeland whose officials jailed him for playing an opposition gig.

The 24-year-old's Berlin exile comes three months after his 10-day detention -- and torture, he says -- for "hooliganism" in connection with his appearance at an opposition demonstration.

He's been profiled recently by major international media including "The Guardian" and "Huffington Post," and was featured in a BBC "Panorama" segment called "Eurovision's Dirty Secret" on Azerbaijan's preparations for "the world's most-watched nonsporting event."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service after his release from jail, Ali said he felt no ill-will toward the police, instead pointing the finger higher up.

"The police are just doing their job," he said. "I was excusing the police officers a bit during my 10 days in detention. Now I understand why they behave the way they do. I'm not fully excusing the police, but their system is like that. It's the way the system works. The commands are coming from the top."

His case marks another PR nightmare in the run-up to Europe's premier talent contest for President Ilham Aliyev's administration, following reports on our pages and elsewhere on its muzzling of the media, the whiff of corruption around preparations for Eurovision, and its woeful rights record.

Undaunted, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov went on the offensive in a "Wall Street Journal" contribution on May 23, saying that "Azerbaijan's pride in hosting the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest" signals Azerbaijan's "re-emergence into the international community and enables [it] to showcase [its] achievements since independence."

Jamal Ali seeks to challenge that narrative in his music clip, "Vermisel," which takes lots of indirect shots at the perceived corrosiveness of the regime on Azerbaijani society.

The musicians who accompany him in the "Vermisel" video are wearing hoods, in a reference to the bag Ali says police put over his head while he was being brutalized in custody.

Ali is seen strolling through rubble in Baku, highlighting the city's forcible razing of homes to make way for the gaudy Eurovision venue, the 23,000-seat Crystal Hall.

"My house was demolished, I'm homeless," he sings. "I have no roof over my head. So what do I need Eurovision for?"

Later, he sets his sights on Baku's mayor and on the presidential family, which reports have sought to link to luxurious properties abroad, asking: "What the hell are you doing? For God's sake, if you want to demolish houses, go and do it in Dubai."

He also strolls past a shifty character in a suit and suggests Azerbaijan has become a police state under two generations of Aliyevs -- father Heydar and son Ilham: "Cameras are everywhere. Someone's spying on us. And this is my message to [them]: my holy middle finger to you."

The video concludes with Ali spray-painting a winged middle finger on the ruins of a rundown building.

Ali clearly timed the release of his video to coincide with this week's Eurovision conclusion.

Taken alone, it's unlikely to overshadow sanctioned compatriot acts like last year's winners Ell and Nikki or singer and presidential son-in-law Emin Agalarov, who was shoehorned into this week's show.

But against a backdrop of all the other bad press that Azerbaijan's government has attracted, the music clip further dulls the glittery goings-on at Baku's Crystal Hall.

-- Andy Heil

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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