Moving beyond that little song contest

Five years on, Herzliya's Tal Sondak proves there's life after Eurovision.

Tal Sondak disk 88 298 (photo credit: )
Tal Sondak disk 88 298
(photo credit: )
It has been five years since Herzliya's Tal Sondak represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, the singer-musician is making his way back into the spotlight with a new album, Af Eliayich. Though the album sounds utterly different than his Eurovision entry, "Never Mind," Sondak can't seem to shake the song contest association. "Eurovision was a step in my career that everyone remembers. It's not that I'm stuck in Eurovision mode, but, yes, people remember me for having represented Israel. Look at Izhar Cohen. More than 20 years after having been at Eurovision, people continue to point at his taking part," Sondak says over juice at a caf at the Herzliya Marina. Whereas Cohen won the contest back in 1978, Sondak's entry placed just sixteenth. Local music commentators assumed that "Never Mind" would be designated the title track on Sondak's solo album. Instead, it's gone by the wayside. "The album isn't a continuation of Eurovision, both because of the style of music and because I see the contest as a one time project," the 29-year-old told The Jerusalem Post. "It was a great honor to represent Israel at the song contest, but now it's time to move forward." Af Eliayich is an "emotional and interesting" CD, its creator says. "It's a very personal album, too." The title track has earned admirers among music fans and is a nominee for Song of the Year at the AMI Awards set for February 1. Musically, Sondak's album is everyday Israeli pop. Lyrically, there are a number of surprises among the tracks. "I didn't want to include only corny songs about 'him and her.' It was important for me to have songs with a message behind them. The topics I chose are subjects that interest me, that I'm in some way connected to," he says. "Isha Muka" (Battered Woman), for example, is not a song one usually associates with popular music. "A close friend of mine was the victim of domestic abuse. This is a subject I felt it was important to address," he says. But who wants to turn on the radio and listen to a song about abuse? "The track is not a song that was released to the radio. It is a song that is a part of the CD as a whole. And when you look at the album as a whole, you see there are a number of songs that are not mainstream," he says. "Yalda Shel Africa," about the hardships of Ethiopian immigration to Israel, is another unconventional track. "My album is not happy. There are a lot of sensitive issues in the disc, but there's also optimism," says Sondak, pointing to "Mazav Zmani" and "Eizeh Yeled" as examples. "Mazav Zmani" was written by Nachum Mochiach and composed by Yair Klinger. Even if today is dreadful and things go badly, the song says, it's only temporary. "What's going on in Israel definitely influences me and what I sing. One can't ignore the situation here and what goes on. It's difficult to sing about everything being great, because it's not like that. It's not easy to live in Israel, and I really love this country and feel connected to it. I'm not a political singer, but what goes on affects one in general terms," he says. One corny song to make the track list is "Im Rak Taskimi." This is the song he wrote for his wedding, and his wife, who was his backup singer at Eurovision, provides backup vocals. "It's a song I wrote for my wife," he says in defense of the sentimental track. "That we used it for our wedding is another matter altogether. The song in itself is a song and therefore there's justification for it [to be] on the album. It's a song I truly love." Sondak wrote and composed a number of the tracks but also accepted help from musicians including Yair Klinger, Rahel Shapira, Lea Shabat and Uzi Hitman. "I wanted to have the best songs, not only my songs," he says. "All the songs were written in partnership so that the song would be my song. I wouldn't use the text if I didn't identify with it." Another song Sondak points out is "Eizeh Yeled," which has become the anthem of children's cancer foundations. He says every time he sings the song he gets goose bumps. "My illness made me look at life in a different way," says Sondak, who was diagnosed with cancer at 13 and battled the disease for three years. "My eyes well up almost every time I sing it. The song reminds me of how I felt back then." Before he got sick, Sondak was making a name for himself on the youth music circuit. He says he was "born to be a musician" and by age six had already tasted life on stage. As a child and teenager he sang at a number of festivals, won top honors and performed with youth troupes both in Israel and abroad. In addition his solo career today, Sondak is responsible for helping the local music scene move forward. He is the musical manager for 14 youth singing troupes and runs an arts center in Kfar Malal (near Hod Hasharon) for 550 kids between six and 12 years old. "This is really my baby," he says. "I really identify with the youngsters. First of all, I too was in a youth troupe, and so it reminds me of that feeling when I was younger. I feel it's an opportunity to work with them and help them advance in their artistic careers. There are some very talented youngsters," says Sondak, who is also a budding pianist. "In the shadow of the reality television shows like 'A Star is Born,' many youngsters want to be on stage and be famous. I don't remember when I was in school that there was such hysteria amongst youngsters to take part in after-school productions," he says. As for being a musician in Israel, Sondak isn't fazed by the limited audience here. "It's tough for singers in Israel, especially as people don't buy enough CDs. It's not an easy market," says Sondak, who counts as his influences Whitney Houston, Sting, Meir Banai and Boaz Sharabi. "I'm not worried about an income. I don't have to tour around the world to make a living. Pop and melodies are back. There's room for everyone, all styles of music, in Israel."