The Year of Netta, Noa, and National Pride
By and large, the biggest Israeli musical memories of 2019 will undoubtedly restore your faith in the mission and purpose of the State of Israel.
From Jewish pride to pride in the good ‘ol Blue and White…from singers with special needs to singers that are simply “different”…many of the tunes blaring in our AirPods in 2019 are songs you can feel good about sharing with your children.
How often can you say THAT in the entertainment industry these days?
Let’s dive in and take a look at 9 Israeli songs and memories that will remain with us way into the next decade.
1. “Shevet Achim VaAchayot”: The biggest Israeli song of the year
If you are old enough to remember 1985, then you certainly remember the hype surrounding “We Are the World”. The world was blown away by the sight of dozens of their favorite music stars in the same room, recording a song to help end hunger in Africa. Later that same year, Israel tried something similar with “Am Echad Im Shir Echad” (One Nation with One Song), performed by the top Israeli singers of the time. The song achieved moderate popularity that year, reaching #35 on the “songs of the year” countdown. Today, however, most people you speak with tend to remember the song as cheesy and forgettable.
Fast forward to April 2019. In the middle of Passover, we awoke to one of the biggest Israeli songs in recent memory. Recorded by 35 of Israel’s most popular singers, “Shevet Achim VaAchayot” celebrated all things Israel – uniting the country in song on the eve of its 71st birthday. This song offered something for everyone: a memorable refrain, patriotic lyrics, star power…not to mention a video with beautiful scenes of Israel and an appearance by the lovable President Reuven Rivlin. Eight months later, we’re still all still humming along. The song has spawned countless parodies, at least one English-language version (commissioned by the folks at Birthright Israel), and a worldwide Israeli dance phenomenon. It also was, by far, the subject of the most-read post on our web site this year.
2. “A Million Dreams”: The Shalva Band wins the hearts of the nation – and the world
After Netta Barzilai won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel in 2018, all eyes were upon Israel. With the competition taking place in Tel Aviv this year, could they possibly repeat in 2019? The selection process began on “HaKochav Haba”, a TV reality singing competition whose winner would represent Israel in the Eurovision. One contestant after another paraded on television, with aspirations to perform on the world’s biggest stage. And then? The Shalva Band – a talented group of musicians with disabilities – showed up to audition, and every other contestant must’ve realized that their Eurovision dreams were shattered. Their powerful vocals, and even more powerful story, had the whole country in tears. As they progressed through the competition, steamrolling all others, Israelis thought they had another Eurovision victory in the bag.
That is, until Jewish religious practice got in the way. Days before the HaKochav Haba finale, the Shalva Band withdrew from the competition due to a Eurovision requirement to rehearse on Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath. Forced to choose between their convictions and their dreams, the members of the band opted to remain true to their religious beliefs.
At the end, the inspirational band won far more than the Eurovision. Performing a tear-jerking rendition of “A Million Dreams” in front of millions at the Thursday night Eurovision semifinal, Shalva captured the hearts of the world. Since then, they’ve released two hit singles, performed all over the world – as well as for President Trump, and continue to inspire all who encounter them.
3. “Home” at Eurovision 2019: Tel Aviv throws the musical party of the decade
While the Netherlands may have won the Eurovision (with Shalva coming in a close second without even competing), Tel Aviv was the true winner. The city put its best foot forward, welcoming the WORLD to its doorstep. And visitors were not disappointed. Tel Aviv’s gorgeous beaches and party atmosphere were exactly what Eurovision visitors were seeking, and Israel received high accolades for its hospitality, its preparedness, and its world-class television production values. The Eurovision did more for Israel’s image than a whole team of diplomats ever could. And Gal Gadot helped too.
As for Israeli music? The stars were on parade all week long. Netta welcomed visitors to her homeland. Dana International reminded them of the last time the contest came to Israel. Idan Raichel sang at the finale, bringing his multicultural music to a world stage. Ilanit, Nadav Guedj, Gali Atari, Izhar Cohen and many others performed some of Israel’s greatest Eurovision hits, while newcomer Kobi Marimi welcomed everyone “Home”. Despite Kobi’s disappointing 23rd place finish in the competition, his home-field audience embraced him with the warmest of ovations. Truly magical.
4. “Bassa Sababa”: Netta Barzilai is no ‘one-hit wonder’
Netta was a national hero after winning Eurovision 2018. Could she possibly live up to the hype going forward? In a word…yup. Her follow-up single, “Bassa Sababa” became a tremendous WORLDWIDE hit for Netta, reaching #3 on Billboard’s “US Dance Club Songs” chart. On the eve of the Eurovision in Tel Aviv, she followed up with “Nana Banana,” and most recently, released a (mostly) Hebrew-language duet with Omer Adam called “Beg”.
Upon winning the Eurovision in 2018, Netta told the audience, “Thank you for choosing different.” Netta continues to dare to be different, and her gamble is certainly paying off.
5. “Seder HaAvoda”: Ishay Ribo brings Jewish music to the masses
When I saw Ishay Ribo perform in New York this past March, I was blown away by just how popular he was in the United States. People from all walks of life, religious and secular, were singing along enthusiastically with every single word. I soon came to realize that Ishay Ribo was quickly becoming Israel’s biggest musical celebrity of 2019. Here’s a guy who sings about faith, God and Judaism – and even the most secular Israelis are singing along! To hear Ishay Ribo’s music on mainstream Israeli radio is remarkable; to hear his songs covered by secular Israeli artists is surreal.
When Ishay Ribo released “Seder HaAvoda” prior to the Jewish high holiday season, it only raised his star power even more. This powerful song, describing the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, was extremely well-received throughout Israeli society and the entire Jewish world. Watch for Ishay Ribo to continue his rise in popularity in 2020.
6. “Yassu”: Static & Ben-El Tavori continue to dominate the charts
Same story, different year. Everything these guys touch turns to gold. At any given point throughout the year, you’ll find a Static & Ben-El song atop the charts in Israel. In January, it was “Yassu” – their Greek-themed hit collaboration with Eden Ben Zaken and Stephane Legar (which also happened to be the most-played song on Israeli radio in 2019). In June, it was “Bananot”, their African-themed hit slightly reminiscent of “The Lion King”. October? It’s “Imaleh”, capitalizing on the latest popular expression in Israel.
But 2019 also saw the launch of Static & Ben-El’s long-awaited American music career, and it wasn’t long before we started hearing cringe-worthy English language versions of their Israeli hits. For those of us who knew the Hebrew versions, “Silsulim” and “Tudu Bom” in English just didn’t work. But the boys started showing up on American radio shows, and who knows? Maybe by this time next year, Static & Ben-El will be mega international music stars. And speaking of Israeli artists with international aspirations…
7. “Pouch”: “Noa’s Army” conquers the land
Noa Kirel has been turning heads on the Israeli music scene since she was 13 years old. Now 18 (and legal!), she’s ready for world domination. Singer, dancer, actress, model…there’s not much that Noa Kirel can’t do. Her “army” of managers, agents, and handlers have worked hard to position her for bigger and better things. So this year, she released “Drum”, an English-language song just begging to find a larger audience. She also scored a huge hit with “Pouch”, produced by star producer “Jordi” (Yarden Peleg) – the guy largely responsible for the soaring careers of Static and Ben-El Tavori.
8. “V’david Yefeh Einayim”: Yigal Bashan is sorely missed
Last December, the Israeli music community was shocked to learn of the tragic passing of music legend Yigal Bashan, who took his own life at age 68. Immediately, the community sprung into action, commissioning a tribute album of Yigal’s songs. The final album – featuring Shlomi Shabbat, Noa Kirel, Itay Levy, Jane Bordeaux, and others – was released on December 9th, exactly a year since his passing. However, some “teaser” songs came out early, including this amazing cover of “V’David Yefeh Einayim” by the sisters of A-WA. Transporting us back to 1978, their cover is modern, Middle Eastern, harmonious and fun!
9. “Katavti Alayich Shir”: Oh, yeah. Omer Adam sang some songs too
The biggest star in Israeli music is STILL Omer Adam. Sure, he had a string of #1 hits throughout the year. But what brought him over the top in 2019 was truly remarkable. This past summer, Omer Adam made history by filling all 50,000 seats at HaYarkon Park in Tel Aviv. While it’s not unusual to sell-out a show there, it IS unusual for so many Israelis to come see an Israeli singer. See, that venue usually hosts international artists, like Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, Jennifer Lopez, and others. But Omer’s sold out show at Park HaYarkon brought him to a new level in the world of Israeli entertainment.
Think he’s only popular in Israel? Think again. In December, Omer announced that he would perform in North America for a series of shows in Toronto, New York, Miami and Los Angeles. The New York show sold out in a matter of hours, so a second show was quickly added to the schedule. That show sold out in about an hour.
Your favorite Israeli music memories of 2019?
But now it’s your turn. What Israeli music was at the foundation of your 2019 soundtrack? Did you see any Israeli concerts in 2019? What was your favorite new song? Your favorite new artist? Let me know in the comments, and let’s all keep singing in 2020!