Susana Alimivna Jamaladinova, also known as Jamala, won Eurovision 2016 with her haunting song “1944,” which was inspired by her own family’s past. Jamala was born in Soviet Kirghizia to a Crimean Tatar father and an Armenian mother. In 1944, Jamala’s great-grandmother Nazylkhan was forcibly resettled from Crimea to central Asia by the Stalin regime. Jamala’s great-grandfather was fighting in the Red Army at the time, so Nazylkhan was forced to take her five children on the journey without her husband. One of their daughters died during the forced transfer.
The song’s chorus is composed of words from a Crimean Tatar folk song called “Ey, güzel Qırım” that Jamala’s great-grandmother used to sing to her. The song also incorporates the duduk, a traditional Armenian instrument, and the mugham vocal style, also originating in western Asia.
With such a strong awareness of her family’s past and desire to honor their memories through her music, we know how important it must be to Jamala to learn about her origins. Her DNA results may be somewhat unexpected, though, in light of her family story: only 32.6% of her DNA is West Asian, and 5.7% is East European. Her predominant ethnicity is actually Greek and South Italian, at 42.4%! She is also 16% Baltic and 3.3% Ashkenazi Jewish.