Singer, dancer and former Czech pop idol finalist Benny Cristo will represent the Czech Republic at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest with the Afro pop song Kemama. The 32-year-old singer of Czech-Angolan heritage won the Czech national round, leaving behind six other finalists. I spoke to him about his success and started by asking about the song he has chosen to compete with.
“Stylistically, this song is Afropop, which is a genre I haven’t seen yet in this competition. So I thought I would give it a try. I really like the tempo of it and I am really comfortable with this kind of music.
“As for the lyrics, the verses are based on my life. I was just trying to put everything that I have been through into this song and make it sound happy at the same time.”
The song is about your own experiences with racism. Do you think this theme will resonate with audiences abroad?
“See, the thing is it’s not really about racism. You can find anything you want in it. I never once mentioned any race in it. It’s just about overcoming diversity which I think will definitely resonate.
“I think we have all been through a point in our lives where we were not sure about ourselves, not really fitting into society and we somehow had to make it through and make a stand. That’s the main message of the song.
“Racism is something that I found on my journey, but it’s something somebody else might not find in the song. You can actually find anything you want in it.
“As long as you have been through something and had to fight something, you should be able to relate to it.”
The song is different from the rest of the songs you play. Why did you choose this particular song?
“I don’t think I have a genre. It is definitely not something that I play too much. At the same time, it is something I have experience with. I have two or three songs that are in this genre, one is called Program.
“So I am familiar with it, I know how to make people vibe to this kind of stuff and I am comfortable singing this kind of stuff on a big stage.
“But when it comes to genres, I have never really had one. I am trying not to be an artist not defined by any genre. That just puts you in a box.”
You also changed your name from Ben Cristovao to Benny Cristo. Why?
Benny is something that my family has called me for ages and Cristo is something that my producer and my friends in L.A. and in Toronto call me, because it makes it simpler for them.
“It is also how I have been presenting myself for the last eight years on social media. I am known on Instagram as Benny Cristo.
“It only makes sense that I if I want to do something abroad, I should stick to the way that I am trying to market myself when it comes to audiences outside of the Czech Republic. And Cristo is simpler than Cristovao.”
“So far, it’s just a lot of responsibility piling up. It’s just a big opportunity and a lot of responsibility and a lot of eyes on you ready to judge whenever you make a mistake.
"So that’s how I feel so far. I don’t feel the proper happiness yet. I am just excited and I am nervous. I never thought I would be at this level, so it’s a lot of fun and it’s a challenge I am looking forward to.”
The semi-final is set to take place in Rotterdam in May. What will you do in the meantime?
“Well I had different plans before I was chosen to represent our country. But since this happened, I am definitely rescheduling. I am going to spend a lot of time with my choreographers and stage designers. I am just going to put together the best thing that I have and start working on this. This is my priority right now.”