It’s been quite a drought since Dana International brought home the Eurovision
Song Contest title for Israel in 1998 with the autobiographical dance tune
No matter who’s picked our entry since – the public, expert
panels – or what kind of music was selected – the pop of Sarit Hadad and Shiri
Maimon in 2002 and 2005 respectively, the bombastic spectacle of Teapacks’ “Drop
the Bomb” in 2007, the heart-tugging coexistence anthem “There Must Be Another
Way” by Ahinoam Nini and Miri Awad in 2009, or even a return to Dana
International and kitsch with last year’s “Ding Dong” – has left the viewing
countries and their voters cold.
This year, it seems like the Israel
Broadcasting Authority Committee tasked with choosing this year’s entry in the
annual competition decided to follow Monty Python’s advice and look for
something completely different. At least, that’s what Ran Shem-Tov, the
founder and frontman of veteran quirky alternative funk rockers Izabo, thought
when a member approached him to submit a song for consideration.
“I was a
little surprised they approached us,” Shem- Tov told The Jerusalem Post
week. “But I was also happy that they believed that a band like Izabo could
create a song that would represent Israel to the world.”
Of course, there
aren’t many bands like Izabo. Formed over 20 years ago by
guitarist/singer Shem-Tov, and including Shiri Hadar (keyboards and vocals),
Jonathan Levy (bass) and Nir Mantzur (drums), the band has marched to its own
intense Arabic-tinged psychedelic disco drum.
With twisting guitar lines,
funky bass, swirling keyboards, and English vocals from Shem-Tov and Hadar that
run up and down the musical registers, the band has garnered supporters across
Europe due to regular touring and two well-received albums – 2003’s Fun Makers
and 2008’s Super Light.
To call them mainstream, however, would be a
stretch. But even though the pop frothiness and garish novelty that
characterizes Eurovision seems far removed from the indie ethos embraced by
Izabo, the song Shem-Tov submitted to the Israeli judges wouldn’t sound out of
place on the Eurovision stage.
“Time,” sung in English and Hebrew, boasts
a solid dance groove, dark bass and keyboard patterns and a rousing sing-along
chorus, while still sounding like prototypical Izabo.
“The verse was
taken from an old demo to a song I wrote about three years ago,” said Shem-Tov,
who knows his way around a pop song, having produced records for Yehudit Ravitz,
Harel Skaat and Dikla.
“When they asked me to submit a song, I changed
the lyrics a little and wrote a new chorus in Hebrew. I recorded it pretty
quickly, playing all the instruments myself. I was a little skeptical about the
whole Eurovision thing, but then I thought ‘what the hell, nothing bad can come
of it. At worst, we’ll have another song for Izabo.”
But instead, last
month the IBA panel – including chairman Yaakov Naveh, IBA plenum member Yitzhak
Sonnenschein, Channel 1 Television Program Division head Rina Hachmon, Channel 1
Entertainment and Culture producer Tal Argaman, and musicians Nimrod Lev, Mira
Awad, Gilad Segev and Roni Yedidia – selected “Time” to represent Israel on May
22 in Baku, where this year’s Eurovision contest is taking place. Shem-Tov was a
little beyond surprised.
“I was really confused at first – why do they
want a rock band in the competition?” he said. “But then I realized that we’re
not just an alternative rock band, we have disco, funk and usually our music is
very happy, so I saw the connection.”
Shem-Tov quickly convened the band
to re-record “Time” properly and make the song’s official video
Both made their debut at the beginning of the month at a showcase
in Tel Aviv. The video shows the band getting into the Eurovision spirit with
circus performer props and colorful suits, a turnaround for a band that usually
wears jeans and T-shirts in performance.
“It’s a difficult question I’m
still grappling with – we know we need to glam things up for Eurovision, but we
still need to look natural and authentic,” said Shem- Tov. “It was a an effort
just to get me into a suit – I never wear them. I’m still thinking about how we
need to look and act for the performance, it’s going to take a while to sort
out. We need to be true to ourselves and find the right balance – that’s the
With a new album being released on the British 100% label and
on Israel’s Anova label the week after Eurovision, followed by plans for an
extensive tour in and outside of Israel after two years of relative inactivity,
Izabo isn’t likely to suffer much if it follows the same fate as Israel’s recent
Eurovision entries. However, it stands to gain a great deal if, against all
odds, the song beats the dozens of other songs and performers representing their
“I’m not thinking about that, but if we win, and even a small
percentage of what happened to Abba [whose 1974 victory catapulted them to
worldwide stardom [happens to us, then I’ll be very happy,” said
Will Izabo join the ranks of Dana International, Izhar Cohen
and Alphabeta (“A Ba Ni Bi” in 1978) and Milk and Honey (“Hallelujah” in 1979)
in bringing home Eurovision gold for Israel? Only “Time” will tell.