Gaita-Lurdes professionally known as Gaitana (Ukrainian: атана, romanized: Haitana), is a Ukrainian singer and songwriter. Gaitana’s pop music style has been described as having elements of jazz, funk, soul, and folk. She competed in the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 in Baku, performing the song “Be My Guest” and finishing 15th.Gaitana is the second Eurovision contestant of African origin born in the former Soviet Union, following Lithuanian singer and guitarist Viktoras “Victor” Diawara of LT United.
Gaitana was born in Kyiv to a Ukrainian mother, Tatiana Petrova, and a Congolese father, Klaver Essami. Her family left Ukraine when she was a baby and relocated to her father’s hometown of Brazzaville. They spent five years in the Republic of the Congo before Essami and her mother returned to Ukraine in 1985. Essami could only speak French and Lingala when she returned to Ukraine after spending most of her childhood in the Republic of the Congo, though she later became fluent in Ukrainian and Russian as well. Essami’s estranged father stayed in Brazzaville and ran a transportation company.
Gaitana attended a music school in Kyiv, where she learned to play the saxophone. She later pursued a degree in economics. Essami has been a decorated athlete and champion table tennis player since her youth. Essami finished third in the children’s music competition Fantasy Lotto Nadiya in 1991. Following the competition, Essami began singing in Volodymyr Bystryakov’s children’s music ensemble. Because R&B music was not popular in the Soviet Union, Essami became acquainted with foreign songs while attending underground music venues as a teenager.
Gaitana debuted professionally in 2003, with the release of her debut studio album O tebe. Slidom za toboyu (2005), Kapli dozhdya (2007), Kukabarra (2008), Taynyye zhelaniya (2008), Tolko segodnya (2010), Viva, Europe! (2012), and Voodooman (2013) are her other albums (2014). Her songs are available in Russian, Ukrainian, and English. Following Barack Obama’s inauguration as President of the United States in 2009, Essami performed in Kyiv at a special inauguration ball in his honour.
Gaitana was chosen to compete in Evrobachennya 2012, Ukraine’s national final for the Eurovision Song Contest 2012. “Be My Guest” was the song she competed with. Essami went on to win the competition, finishing first among the professional jury and second among Ukrainians. Following her victory, Essami was subjected to racist remarks from members of Ukraine’s far-right. Yuriy Syrotyuk, a high-ranking member of the nationalist Svoboda political party, stated that Essami’s selection as the Ukrainian representative would hinder Ukraine’s ability to join the European Union, as she is portraying the country as if they are “of a different continent”.. In response to the comments, Essami stated that Ukraine was her beloved motherland and that non-white Ukrainians should not feel compelled to leave the country in order to be acceepted.
Nevertheless, Gaitana continued as the Ukrainian representative to the contest in Baku, becoming the first Afro-Ukrainian to represent Ukraine in the Eurovision Song Contest. She competed in the second semi-final on 24 May 2012, where she placed eighth and qualified to the final. Afterwards, she placed 15th in the final held on 26 May, scoring a total of 65 points.