Last month, Azeri broadcaster İTV announced that 22-year-old rising star Nadir Rüstəmli would represent The Land of Fire at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. But how did such a seeming newcomer land this important gig? As it turns out, he’s not a newcomer at all.
He’s a Lifelong Musician
Born on July 8, 1999, in the coastal city of Salyan, Nadir was raised in a musical family. His father played the guitar, his mother played the piano, and Nadir and his siblings grew up taking music lessons at a local academy. Nadir in particular took to the training, studying piano and guitar and taking private vocal lessons from Nailə Mirməmmədli, a legendary Azerbaijani composer.
While music was his passion, Nadir still valued an education, eventually graduating in 2021 with a degree in business administration from the Azerbaijan University of Tourism and Management. His studies did not prevent him from pursuing a career in music, however. Far from it.
He’s Already Been a Rising Star
In 2018, Nadir and a group of other young musicians formed Sunrise Music Band, a pop jazz quartet (see left). Many of the members were students of the aforementioned vocal coach Nailə Mirməmmədli.
Through hard work and determination, the band made a name for itself in the domestic music market, performing gigs at schools, restaurants, and cultural events. In March of that year, mere months after making its debut, Sunrise Music Band was awarded Favorite Music Group of the Year by the Brand of Azerbaijan Awards. In April, the band made several media appearances, including an interview on an İTV news program and a truly wild cover performance of Ruslana‘s Eurovision 2004-winning anthem “Wild Dances” on a chat show. (See below.)
Though the band dissolved in 2019, Nadir didn’t sit idle for long. During his time with Sunrise Music Band, Nadir had been on a parallel track in pursuit of a music career. And he was doing quite well at it.
He’s a Seasoned Competitor
While in university, Nadir competed at a number of domestic music competitions, and he did it with great success.
In both 2017 and 2019, he participated in the ‘Student Spring’ festival, an annual event thrown by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The festival, held since 2007, aims to bring together university students with music and performing talents, allowing them to showcase their skills and compete against each other. After a round of auditions, the very best singers and dancers advance to the Gala concert, an extravagant theatrical showcase with elaborate costumes and stage numbers. Past Eurovision participants Aysel Teymurzadeh (ESC 2009) and Eldar Gasimov (ESC 2011 winner) are veterans of the ‘Student Spring’ festival.
In 2017, as a first year university student, Nadir placed second in the pop vocal category as part of a duet with eventual Sunrise Music Band compatriot Khayal Rustamov. (Watch his performance at the Gala concert here.) He returned to compete as a soloist in 2019, winning first prize in the pop vocal category with a bilingual cover of Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again”. Watch his performance at the 2019 Gala concert below:
But that’s not all. In 2019, Nadir also competed at the Youthvision International Song Contest, an annual event hosted by the Azerbaijan Student and Youth Organizations’ Union that brings together young vocalists from around the globe to compete for glory and cash prizes. Many Eurovision-competitive countries have been represented at Youthvision in the past, but artists from nations like Uganda, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and The USA have also taken part.
At the 2019 edition, Nadir placed 2nd with a cover of “Latch” by Disclosure and Sam Smith, showing off his operatic vocal capabilities. Also competing at Youthvision that year were Marko Prentić (vocalist for No Name, ESC 2005) and Oana Tăbultoc (recent Selecția Națională semi-finalist). Watch Nadir‘s performance at Youthvision 2019 below:
Despite all of these competitive accomplishments, Nadir‘s biggest, life-changing victory would come in 2021, with a little help from a Eurovision champion.
He Has a Legend in His Corner
Season one of Səs Azərbaycan (Azerbaijan’s edition of The Voice) aired in 2015 and produced several future Eurovision stars, mainly Samara (ESC 2016) and Efendi (ESC 2020 & 2021) The show lay fallow for a number of years, until 2021 when it returned with a coaching panel that included Eurovision 2011 victor Eldar Gasimov.
For the show’s blind audition round, Nadir delivered an operatic cover of Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” that got the “Running Scared” singer’s attention. Both Eldar and the panel’s other male member (composer and singer Murad Arif) were impressed, and Nadir ultimately chose to join Eldar‘s team. This would turn out to be a wise decision.
To watch Nadir’s performances on the season, click on the title of the songs below.
Throughout the course of the season, Nadir performed a number of songs Eurovision fans will be immediately familiar with, including 2019 winner “Arcade“, 2010 2nd place finisher “We Could Be the Same“, and Azerbaijan’s debut contest entry “Day After Day” (ESC 2008). During the battle rounds, he even performed Måneskin‘s internationally chart-topping cover of “Beggin“.
At the finale of the season, Nadir and Eldar dueted on the latter’s 2011 Eurovision winning anthem “Running Scared”. You can watch that performance below:
Ultimately, Eldar‘s coaching paid off, and Nadir was declared the winner of the second season of Səs Azərbaycan, getting almost 43% of the vote in the the show’s four-person final.
Eurovision is His Dream Come True
Unsurprisingly, given his set list on Səs Azərbaycan, Nadir is a life-long fan of Eurovision, and it was a childhood dream of his to represent Azerbaijan at the contest. His name had been in the mix in the lead up to the official announcement, but Nadir wasn’t given the good news until a recent appearance on broadcaster İTV’s morning show. You can watch the moment when he learned he landed the gig (as part of an extended Who Wants to be a Millionaire send up) below:
“I had expectations. My name was known among the people,” Nadir said in the moment. “My childhood dream was to go to this competition. I [am] shocked.”
If the last year of Nadir‘s life is any indication, sometimes dreams DO come true.
Are #YOU excited to hear Nadir’s song? Have #YOU heard of the ‘Student Spring’ festival before? Those gala concerts are WILD! Sound off in the comments below, in our forum, or on social media @ESCUnited.