The Shalva Band, comprised mostly of young adults with various disabilities, performed at the semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv Thursday. They quickly conquered viewers' hearts and as the eight-piece band, which includes Israelis with blindness, Down syndrome and other physical and developmental disabilities, called on spectators to never stop dreaming. The band performed a rendition of A Million Dreams from the film The Greatest Showman.
Among the many that shared Shalva's special interval performance on social media was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stated, "you moved the world!"
The band made it to the finals of The Rising Star, an Israeli contest that determines who represents the country at the Eurovision. Predicted to win with high grades by judges and audience members, they dropped out because performing at Eurovision would have necessitated violating the Sabbath in order to participate in the Saturday night final broadcast.Israel's contestant this year is Kobi Marimi with other contestants hailing from France, Australia, Azerbaijan, Hungary and several dozen other countries all staying the week in Israel for the performances.
The group began in 2005 as part of the Shalva organization's music therapy program and has since performed around the country. A week before the Eurovision, on Yom Haatzmaut, Israel's Independence Day they performed at the main ceremony in Jerusalem. Shalva, the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities helped disabled individuals and their families.
Millions watched Thursday night's second semi-final for the Eurovision contest which features musicians from various countries, mostly Europe. Israel's contestant Netta Barzilai won last year's contest enabling the Jewish state to host Eurovision for 2019. The finals will be held Saturday night with American pop star Madonna headlining.
Members of the Shalva Band said Wednesday at a press conference that they were living out their dream by appearing at contest.
“We didn’t get here the way we wanted; we thought something else would happen,” said co-lead singer Dina Samteh. “But even so, they chose us to represent the State of Israel, and who we are, and to share our message – and for us it’s a great honor.”
“When we first started playing together people wouldn’t listen to us, they would just leave the room,” he said. “We worked hard and we became better and better, and we believed in ourselves. After a lot of hard work, we got to Hakochav Haba – and in the beginning we didn’t believe that we were good enough to make it to the end.”
Band director Shai Ben-Shushan said the response they have received from appearing on the show has been incredible.
“We’ve made a huge change in Israeli society,” he said. “Today, when we walk in the street, the Israeli people want to embrace us – not because we’re a gimmick, but because we’re good at what we do.”
Asked about the band’s next steps and dreams, Samteh said that, “we’re already in the middle of our dream... we just want to keep creating and keep writing songs, and performing in Israel and overseas.”Amy Spiro contributed to this report.