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Amateur Slovak singer prompts debate over opening ceremony of ECOC

NEITHER the scheduled performance of British jazz funk band Jamiroquai, nor the various attractions organised throughout Košice, have prompted much debate over the opening ceremony of the European Capital of Culture (ECOC) 2013, the biggest social and cultural event of the year. Rather, it is the inclusion of Slovak amateur singer Anna Gaja, the wife of the mayor of Košice’s borough Sever Marián Gaja, who will perform two of her songs at the event, which has proven controversial.

NEITHER the scheduled performance of British jazz funk band Jamiroquai, nor the various attractions organised throughout Košice, have prompted much debate over the opening ceremony of the European Capital of Culture (ECOC) 2013, the biggest social and cultural event of the year. Rather, it is the inclusion of Slovak amateur singer Anna Gaja, the wife of the mayor of Košice’s borough Sever Marián Gaja, who will perform two of her songs at the event, which has proven controversial.

While one of the main organisers of ECOC referred to Gaja’s involvement as a good marketing campaign, the singer claims to know nothing about it.

The debate started after a 13-year-old video for Gaja’s song “Love in the Rain” was published on the internet, the Omediach.com website reported on January 7. The author of the article, journalist Miroslava Kernová, likened it to a “bad imitation of [popular Slovak singer] Dara Rolins”, who is Gaja’s idol.

Along with the public, several Slovak artists also responded negatively to the information.

Ján Sudzina, head of the Košice – ECOC project, later announced that asking Anna Gaja to attend the opening ceremony was only a marketing strategy.

“When preparing the opening ceremonial we were thinking about how to conceptualise the media campaign so as to reach the largest group of people,” Sudzina explained to the TASR newswire. “We had two possibilities. [Either] use a big amount of public money for an advertising campaign, which we could not afford and did not want to do at the time, or come up with a marketing event which would, because of doubts over the correctness of the selection of performers or political background, arouse a public debate.”

Before publishing this information, only a very few people visited the ECOC website, though the organisers invited several well-known foreigner artists, like French architect Dominique Perrault, US musicians Frank London and Paul Shapir and director Emil Kosturica. Now the number of visits to the website has broken records, Sudzina stressed.

The organiser also said that Anna Gaja “showed an understanding” of the campaign, TASR wrote.

Yet, Gaja responded that she was unaware of the plan to use her as part of the campaign. She said that the organisers called her in October and offered her to perform at a concert, organised on January 19. She realised only later that it was to be the opening ceremony of ECOC, Gaja said in the interview with the Korzár regional daily.

The singer added that she had not expected such a response since the media have never shown much interest in her or her career.

“Journalists, relatives, friends, known and unknown people are bombarding me on the phone and through the internet. The whole family is suffering from this,” Gaja stressed, adding that she does not need such scandals in her life.

When asked about her husband’s response, she said that he felt from the very beginning that it would be a problem.

“He was afraid they would connect my performance to his function as the mayor of [Košice’s] borough Sever and a member of the supervisory board for the ECOC project,” Gaja told Korzár.

The singer added that she does not believe that the negative attention will cause any harm to her or the event, saying that “every marvel lasts three days” and that in a few months “nobody will remember that some Anna Gaja exists”.

Meanwhile, the reporter from Korzár daily tried to contact Sudzina to question him further about the alleged campaign, but the organiser has refused to comment on it.

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