Festival da Canção has become my favorite national final to watch. Like the Sanremo Music Festival, it is really more about celebrating the national music scene than it is picking a Eurovision entry. Unlike Sanremo, it gets the job done in a relatively tight package.
I realize some fans will quibble about that given the final lasted about two hours and 45 minutes and only an hour of that was spent presenting the songs. On the other hand, I watched all five hours plus of the Sanremo final; trust me, Festival da Canção was really well-paced. And let’s be honest, when a good hour and a half of the show’s total running time was spent celebrating Portuguese music history in gorgeous, electrifying ways, I think you’d have to be pretty churlish to want them to get to the point already.
Given all this, I was pleasantly surprised that the song that ultimately won the 2021 competition was a slice of Southern blues rock. I wasn’t expecting that.
The Black Mamba kicked off the first Festival semifinal, and I was immediately struck by them. Their song opens with an old Hollywood orchestral flourish before Pedro Tatanka begins to belt in his smoky alto timber. As “Love Is on My Side” progresses, it gets more lush and more epic in scope. It wouldn’t sound out of place on classic rock radio.
I have two dings against it, though. One is that, at just under three minutes, it’s way too short. A song like this needs room to build and breathe and have an epically awesome guitar solo. The Eurovision format cuts “Love Is on My Side” off at the knees.
The other is that The Makemakes got nul points at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest with a similar song. Given how strong and diverse this year’s song selection is, I’m afraid The Black Mamba may suffer a similar fate to their Austrian counterparts.
For now, all I can hope is that they bring out an extended six minute version of “Love Is on My Side” so they can really make it feel complete.