Performers on the arrivals platform

Social networking Web site Eganu is transforming itself into the biggest portal for showcasing Israeli musical talent - at home and abroad.

ian richter 88 224 (photo credit: )
ian richter 88 224
(photo credit: )
Myspace and Friendster are not as fashionable as they used to be, while Facebook is just getting more and more popular - currently nearing the 60-million-user mark. Social networking Web sites are at the core of the Internet experience now, with user-driven content providing the meat of many of the Web's most popular destinations, including Wikipedia and YouTube. Now Eganu is jumping into the fray, offering Israeli as well as Diaspora-based users the chance to create their own Web presences - complete with image galleries, blogs, music for downloading and selling, publicizing events and networks of friends. Its name a play on the Hebrew for "we've arrived," Eganu started out like any social networking site, but since launching about a year and a half ago has gone through some changes. Many Israeli musical acts - Mosh Ben Ari, Infected Mushroom, Shotei Hanevua, Hadag Nahash, Balkan Beat Box, the Genders, Orphaned Land, Rockfour and Boom Pam, to name a few - have begun to forge careers overseas in recent years, and the exclusively English-language Eganu has become the perfect venue for showcasing the rainbow of talent that Israel has to offer. As of late October, Eganu was home to profiles managed by some 500 musical acts. Since then, this figure has nearly doubled, making the site the biggest network of Israeli musicians. In addition, Eganu boasts several thousand non-musical profiles, which demonstrates that there is an audience and it's growing. Noticing the trend, Tel Aviv club Koltura, which hosts live music shows most days of the week, got involved. The club had recently branched out into other areas of business, from helping to plan the annual Boombamela hippie festival to acting as publicity representatives for many entertainers. Club managers thought that the opportunities for synergy with Eganu were too great to ignore, and soon the two organizations formed a partnership. It started when Eganu and Koltura put on a multi-day music festival at the Tel Aviv Port, which drew audiences exceeding 200,000 this past October. The partnership understandably blossomed from there. Eganu and Koltura recently hired a publicity representative in New York, hoping to bring in new audiences and industry partners - possibly by staging a multi-band showcase festival there. "Their vision is to promote Israeli live music," explains Eganu manager Ian Richter, a 27-year-old immigrant from South Africa, of the partnership. "We're trying to do that on a bigger scale, attracting artists who need more exposure." EGANU'S APPROACH is largely hands-off, providing a platform and an Israel-loving audience. "We're primarily a social network," explains Richter, who refers to his Web site as a "kind of jumping board - a direct link to the fans rather than a consultation service… We're not just putting a few bands on a pedestal - we are saying, go to a small bar in Tel Aviv and this is the music that you can see." And the idea is spreading. In addition to Eganu, several key players are jockeying to get into the game. Since 2006, Tel Aviv-based label, booking agency, recording studio and publicity representative Anova Records also has been doing its best "to develop content without limits," as manager Yair Yona, 26, puts it. But for Anova, Israel isn't a selling point at all. "In my eyes, it's not Israeli music - it's music that was made in Israel," explains Yona. More along the lines of Eganu is the Jerusalem Music Network, which looks to Jerusalem's ingathering of tribes as an opportunity to develop an artists' stable for world music, which it markets to Jews around the world. Still, JMN's coordinator Chanan Rosin explains that the network has made inroads to international world music festivals, too. Meanwhile, Oleh!, a not-for-profit organization, aims "to engage, educate, and promote [Israeli] artists in an active and concerted way" to help them reach Diaspora audiences, says founder Jeremy Hulsh. Oleh! uses the accumulated knowledge of its experts to help bands get the exposure they need to sustain their careers. But Eganu is more about importing the audience than it is about exporting the acts. So where the focus seems to be more on spreading an image of Israel as a culturally vibrant place than it is about artist business development, success is measured according to modest benchmarks. "You see comments on the site, like, 'Wow, I never knew that Israel had a gothic metal scene. The next time I come there I'll come and check you out instead of staying with my family and seeing the sights,'" says Richter proudly. "That's exactly what we're trying to do." IT'S UNCLEAR to what extent Eganu is really opening doors for performances or record deals in wider markets, but user numbers are growing. The site's management is working hard at making new connections, having forged unofficial partnerships with big Israel trip umbrellas like the Jewish Agency, Masa and Taglit/birthright - the idea being that with a critical mass of youth swarming to the site, Jewish community leaders will have no choice but to put on shows and bring in exciting underdog bands. No European or American record labels, concert venues or industry marketing people are signed on yet, but, says Richter, "We are looking for connections, and we do have the resources to push the bands ourselves." "At the moment we're helping bands to gain exposure themselves and have their fan base grow." In any case, there's nothing wrong with exposure being the end unto itself. "If you are interested in Israel and you live overseas, your exposure to Israeli culture will be severely limited," explains Richter. "But there's a whole scene here. You can find Israeli drum and bass DJs and Israeli death metal bands. So a kid in Brazil who might think Israeli music is just the hora may even learn about Israeli bands making Brazilian music." In the end, "We're showing the world the talent that Israel has to offer - above and beyond the usual conceptualizations of what Israeli culture is," says Richter. "The whole point of the site is to represent Israel as democratically as possible and in a way that's not connected to politics, religion and organizations. We want to keep it as open as possible and reflect the clearest view of Israel - to show exactly what's happening, no more and no less."