The Shalva Band: ‘We hear everyday that we’re making a difference’

Though the band pulled out of competition at the Eurovision over the conflict with Shabbat, KAN invited the group to perform during the show’s second semi-final.

By
May 13, 2019 10:09
The Shalva Band rehearses in Jerusalem last week.

The Shalva Band rehearses in Jerusalem last week.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The Shalva Band has never been busier.

Just a few weeks after the musical group consisting of performers with special needs pulled out of the competition to represent Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest, the eight members of the band are hard at work rehearsing, planning and dreaming of the musical journey that awaits them.

“I thought after we’d finish the show we’d be a little more free to do things I like, to do silly things,” said lead singer Dina Samteh in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “But it’s been the opposite. We’re even busier than when we were on Hakochav Haba, and it’s crazy.”

That sentiment was echoed by her fellow lead singer, Anael Khalifa. “We have a lot more concerts, a lot more events, and it’s fun for us. It’s a lot of fun.”

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, the band was rehearsing at its studio inside the Shalva National Center in Jerusalem. Samteh and Khalifa – along with drummer Yosef Ovadia, percussionists Yair Pomburg and Tal Kima, keyboardist Guy Maman, guitarist Sara Samuels and band director Shai Ben-Shushan – are giving it their all. The dedicated group runs through some of their classic covers, trying out new arrangements and making sure they’re at peak performance level. After all, there is a great deal ahead for the band.

They recently gave a free concert at the First Station in Jerusalem, alongside some of the friends they made during their time on Hakochav Haba – Ofri Kalfon, Daniel Barzilay and Avraham de Carvalho. They then performed in Eilat before heading to New York, where they performed and were honored at the annual Shalva gala dinner in Manhattan.

The Shalva Band also performed at the official state ceremony, kicking off on Independence Day on Mount Herzl, and will soon play at the interval of the second semi-final at the Eurovision in Tel Aviv.

Though the band pulled out of competition at the Eurovision over the conflict with Shabbat, KAN invited the group to perform during the show’s second semi-final for tens of millions of viewers around the world.

“It felt like a victory when we got that invitation,” said Samteh. “They didn’t give up on us. It showed that even though we couldn’t keep going in the competition, they wanted to show the unique side of Israel, which is us.”

Avi Samuels, the chairman of the Shalva Center and the son of its founders, Kalman and Malki Samuels, said that the band has received hundreds of requests to appear around the world.

“Every community in the world, everybody wants them,” Samuels said. “And I have no doubt they’ll be on an amazing journey in the coming few years to continue their beautiful message in Israel and abroad.” Right now, he said, they’re focused on sharpening their skills as professional musicians, “and at the same time to not lose who they are and to continue to convey their beautiful message to the world – and to make real societal change.”

The band won the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Israelis from its very first audition on Hakochav Haba, which was broadcast in November. And as they advanced through the stages of the show, they began to understand just how much they were loved.

“Every audition we did, and every time we raised the screen [and passed to the next round], it felt like we were flying,” said Ovadia, the band’s drummer. “People got up and were excited by us, and I think we opened up people’s hearts... they understood that we brought a message to the world, and that’s the most important thing we did.”

By the time the band was granted a spot in the finale of Hakochav Haba, they were a national sensation. And then came the difficult decision to exit the competition once the band realized it would not be able to compete in the Eurovision finale and also keep Shabbat. Several months later, they are still positive they made the right decision.

“Every interview and every program, that’s the first question,” she said. “But I want them to speak about music, about the connection between us and the music and the audience. For us, that’s everything.

“It was hard,” said Khalifa, “but it was the right decision, one of the most correct decisions we’ve ever made. We decided and that’s it, it’s fine, it’s all okay.

The two lead singers said that while they only performed one original song – “I See Something Good in You” – on the show, they hope to release many more. They also said that they are hoping to one day release their own album.

“We want to do more original songs,” said Khalifa. “We have a few more things in the drawer, things that aren’t totally formed yet.”

Despite the outcome of the show, the band members have been moved by the outpouring of support from the public, and their wide acceptance. They also look back on their time on the series with great joy, especially the connections they made with their fellow contestants.

“When we got to the final four, we said, ‘Can we just send everyone to the Eurovision?’” Samteh joked. Khalifa said that winner Kobi Marimi – who they nicknamed “Kobiland” – was her longtime favorite. “We’re crossing our fingers for him, we wanted him to win for a long time.” The two singers then improvised an impression of Marimi’s unique, operatic-like singing style, before dissolving into giggles.

Looking back on the show, the band is overjoyed that its message is being heard by so many people.

“It’s not always just somebody who has a visible physical issue that we represent; everybody is different,” said guitarist Sara Samuels, the daughter of the center’s founders. “I hope people take that message and embrace everybody – not just people who clearly have a disability. Everyone should be embraced and loved and have a chance to be accepted.”

Samteh said the positive response has been overwhelming.

“What we hear every day is that we’re making a difference, a crazy difference, for people with special disabilities,” she said. “But not just that. A lot of people have said that when they see us on TV, and they see how happy we are with our lives, it makes them think that, ‘Who are we to not be happy with who we are?’ And that’s incredible in my eyes.”


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