"Zaleilah" is a song by Romanian Latino band Mandinga. It premiered in early September, 2011 and it serves as the lead single off their upcoming fifth studio album Club de Mandinga. The band premiered the song live at the 2011 Romanian Music Awards on September 16. It was performed at a New Year's Eve event at Romexpo and live during the X Factor finale, the day after. The band shot a music video for the song in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in early 2012. It premiered in February. The same month the band, encouraged by their fans, submitted the song for the Eurovision National Song. They passed towards the grand final. They won the National Final and so the song will represent Romania in the Eurovision Song Contest 2012. The song was performed at the first half of the first semi-final and on the finals, on May 22 and 26 in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Mandinga is a Romanian Latino band consisting of around ten musicians. They separated from the former lead vocalist Elena Gheorghe in 2006 with the new lead singer being Elena Ionescu. After the breakup and adding new members to the group, the band re-oriented into Eurodance influences, but stuck to their Latin roots. In 2010 they recorded some songs written and produced by the Romanian producer, singer-songwriter and musician Costi Ioniţă. Costi Ionita was nominated at the beginning of 2012 at the Grammy Awards, section "Best reggae album".One of the songs to be recorded later in 2011 was "Zaleilah". The title is the name of the dance they perform during the choreography, while the lyrics talk about a perfect love between soloist Elena Ionescu and her love interest. The song starts with the lines "Mandinga/Everyday/Mandinga/Zaleih-lah-leih-lah-leih". The orchestration presents a Cimpoi (Romanian bagpipe), a saxophone, drums, a flute and a piano. The song was a success all over Romania in early 2012 and the fans encouraged Mandinga to submit it to the Romanian pre-selection for the Eurovision Song Contest 2012. The song passed the selection and entered the grand final as the 10th song to be performed on March 10, the year when Mandinga turned 10 years of activity. "Zaleilah" was performed after Miss Mary's "Rollin'" and before T&L's "Twilight". After the voting ended, it was announced that Mandinga was the favorite with 7,000 votes thus getting 12 points from the televoting. The juries gave Mandinga 85 points converted into 10 points. They won the selection with a total of 22 points and a margin of 3 from the runner-up "Şun-ta" by Electric Fence. As a result they represented Romania in the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 which was held at the Baku Crystal Hall in Baku, Azerbaijan. They performed 6th in the first semi-final on May 22, and finished 3rd to qualify for the grand final. The song eventually finished in 12th position with 71 points.
The song was written by Romanian singer-songwriter and producer Costi Ioniţă in the summer of 2011. The lyrics were written by the soloist of the band, Elena Ionescu along with band mamber Secada Dihigo Omar. The song is a Latino piece and it features eurodance influences throughout the composition. The song opens with flip sound and then a bagpipe rushes into it. Soloist Elena Ionescu starts singing the line "Mandinga, everyday/Mandinga, Zaleilah..." over the bagpipe solo. A meren-pop/dance breakdown starts and continues until it slows down once with the first verse. She sings "Siento el ritmo del cuerpo tocandome/El perfume del viento besandome".
After the win, the song was criticized by some Romanians, including listeners, music critics or socialites. Folk singer-songwriter Gabriel Cotabiţă harshly criticized the song and Ionescu's vocal abilities mentioning that she shouldn't think of herself as a Whitney Houston and he even advised her to appear as naked as possible on the Baku stage in order to be remembered, noting that she has an ordinary voice and the song is rather boring and reductive. Telenovela actor and singer Lucian Viziru wanted to disqualify the song from the competition stating it is an "already successful song, released in September, 2011" and that it sounds cheap and redundant. He also stated that it is unfair how they passed the pre-selection only because some judges were from the record label they belong to. Furthermore, fans associated the song "Zaleilah" with Michel Teló hit "Ai se eu te pego!". On the other side, two former Romanian representatives support the song. 2005 contestant Luminiţa Anghel called the song "a positive one, that makes you think of the upcoming summer and some exotic sejours". She also appreciated the show on the Romanian final, calling it "tonic!". Mihai Trăistariu from the Eurovision Song Contest 2006 praised the song and said he is sure Mandinga will be somewhere in the top five on the grand final in May. Television man Lucian Mandruta also praised the song and said he "came across to the talent when he less expected it" with the author to the song, Costi Ioniţă.
The song was released to iTunes Romania on February 9, 2012 and it has quickly entered the Romanian Digital Chart, where it peaked at number-one selling over 20,000 units as of May 1. The song was also a smash hit in the airplay charts as it peaked at number-two so far on the official Romanian Top 100. On the Romanian Radio Airplay Chart, "Zaleilah" debuted at number-six on March 12, 2012, registering 152 plays from 6 radio stations allover Romania. It has since rose a position to number-five. Its music video has also gained over 10,000 plays since its debut on Romanian television, of which 117 plays within five days on only two Romanian music TV channels of eight existing, entering the Video Chart at number-nine for the week of March 12 and then move as high as to number-three. The song also entered the airplay charts in Moldova and Israel.
The song was premiered live during the 2011 Romanian Music Awards, held in Braşov, Transylvania on September 17. The band firstly performed a cover of "Danza Kuduro" by Don Omar featuring Lucenzo. Afterwards, Elena appeared on the stage and part of the "Zaleilah (Extended Mix)" was performed. Then, the lead singer sang the intro of the song live, then singing partly live/partly lip-syncing. That night, they also premiered their new show concept ("Club de Mandinga") and they have also won an award for "Best Performance". They also performed "Zaleilah" live on "De suflet", a show broadcast on Pro TV International, on October 30, 2011. The song was also performed live at the "WinterKiss Kiss in the Mix" event, organized by Kiss FM in Predeal, on December 26. That performances was praised for Elena's good vocal range. A few days after that, on New Year's Eve, the song was performed live on the X Factor finale. In early 2012, the band also performed the song at other occasions, such as the Bamboo Nights party, held in the Bamboo Club in Bucharest. On March 1, Elena performed a studio stripped-down version of the song, accompanied by a piano, drums and a slow guitar.
On March 10, the song was performed live at the Selecția Națională. The song was performed as the tenth of that night, and the third of the second half. Four of the band members drummed a military beat as Chupy marched into the stage playing a bagpipe. As the lyrics started, Elena entered the stage in a black head-to-toe leather costume and wearing a cap that she immediately took off. During the first breakdown, all the band members started jumping energetically. When the "When you make me feel so special..." part broke off, all the male members left the stage and all light have been shut down and one spotlight was put on Elena's face. Some pyrotechnics were used as the song ended. After being announced as the winners, the band reprised the song, this time being joined on stage by the songwriter Costi Ioniță and by the presenters.
On March 14, while on Cronica Cârcotaşilor, they performed an acoustic version of the song and then took the stage once again to perform the radio edit version. On the 13th of April, the song was performed during the second semi-final of the second season of Romania's Got Talent. Before leaving for Baku, the band has also performed the song live at "Ne vedem la TVR" a show by Marina Almasanu, who was the head of delegation of Romania at the 2010 and 2011 Eurovision Song Contest editions. The song was also performed during their "Club de Mandinga Tour" throughout Romania from March to May 2012. The song was added to the set-list as the ultimate encore of the shows. For promotional purposes, Mandinga has also visited Belgium and the Netherlands in April, 2012. They performed the song in front of the Romanian diaspora in Brussels and they also sang "Zaleilah" in front of circa 10,000 people at the Eurovision In Concert event in Amsterdam.
On May 13, the band had their first rehearsal at the Baku Crystal Hall in Baku, Azerbaijan, approximately two weeks before the contest. They took the stage to perform "Zaleilah" right after Albania's Rona Nishliu. The background used received mixed to positive reviews, eurovision.tv's Simon Storvik-Green wrote that "Love and party are two very dominant themes of Romania's performance. The huge LED screens that make the backdrop to the stage in Baku light up with images of drums moving along to the beat of Zahleilah (...), the stage lights up with images of beating hearts in various colours including purples, yellows and oranges, representing the strong fiery nature of the latin beat. Towards the end of the song the purples return to give a slightly softer bridge, working up to a very festive ending with strobe lighting."