Israeli singer Neta Barzilai releases new song about her childhood

Neta Barzilai secured Israel's fourth Eurovision victory in 2018 with her song "Toy."

 NETTA BARZILAI at her home studio in Tel Aviv last year (photo credit: NIR ELIAS/REUTERS)
NETTA BARZILAI at her home studio in Tel Aviv last year
(photo credit: NIR ELIAS/REUTERS)

Netta Barzilai released a new song on Wednesday titled "Playground Politica" which was inspired by her childhood. 

 "I was the fat girl with a unibrow who was very sensitive," she said. "When kids label you, it stays that way forever, and you believe their truth.

"I learned in an international school in Nigeria that had students from around the world. Because everyone was very different with their accents and looked different, no one was different. When I returned to Israel, for the first time, I understood that I was differnt from the others.

"I knew fewer songs in Hebrew and more Beatles and Japanese and Nigerian songs. When I got to Israel, I was a strangers. We left Nigeria because my brother was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, there wasn't any awareness at the time, so my mother decided that we were returning to Israel.

"We didn't have any goodbye party, we just left in the middle of the night. I felt like I left the happy girl in me behind."

 Last year's winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, Netta Barzilai of Israel, performs during the first semi-final of 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, Israel May 14, 2019 (credit:  REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun) Last year's winner of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, Netta Barzilai of Israel, performs during the first semi-final of 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, Israel May 14, 2019 (credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Were you angry with your mother?

"I didn't understand who I was angry with. I was very sad, and I didn't understand why. I don't regret it or think that something could have been done differently in how I grew up, but we need to aim for more tolerant education everywhere."

How did that childhood affect you as an adult?

"I owe a lot of my independent thinking, my freedom as a human being and my mental openness to that school in Nigeria where children are taught to 'solve the problems of Africa.'"

The music video was filmed in Nigeria and combines dancing from Barzilai and Nigerian singer Mr. Eazi, videos of Barzilai's visit in the country and clips from the family archives from her childhood.

"The song has existed for so long in my drawers, and I'm so happy that it's finally seeing light," she said. "It's a very special pearl. It's a very modest school, it has stayed the same. When we went to film in Nigeria, I asked to see the school, and they were so happy that I came. It was like Beyonce going to visit her school. They learned my songs and my messages, and it was really crazy."

The song contains references to the children's song "swing". 

"When I was in the Israeli school, every time I wanted to run away, I would run to the swings," Barzilai said. "I would grab the swing and not let go, I would imagine that it's launching me back [to Nigeria.]"

How did you form a collaboration with Mr. Eazi?

"After we wrote the song, I felt like we needed another voice for this situation. I love afro-pop, and I listen to a lot of singers. Because my energy is so dense and intensive, I wanted someone who was like water and from Nigeria, and Mr. Eazi is exactly that. He told me that when he was listening to the recording of the song, everyone around him was raising an eyebrow. 'I realized that I was jumping to it, it sounded to me like a hit,' he told me.

What's amazing about Mr. Eazi is that he also learned in an international school and grew up in an atmosphere that is almost identical to mine. I believe the universe works in cool ways."

Netta Barzilai

"I saw it as a sign. I don't want it to sound to people like Netta is doing a song about Africa. That's not the situation. It's a song about my happy place.

"The word Nigeria awakens a certain something among many people, and for me it evokes happiness. For me, it's the seed of freedom, accepting each other, self love, creativity and real happiness without worries. The ability to exist in the space is like beautiful shining fireflies.

"The word Nigeria awakens a certain something among many people, and for me it evokes happiness. For me, it's the seed of freedom, accepting each other, self love, creativity and real happiness without worries."

Netta Barzilai

"Although the song has references to afro-pop, it also has tools from Brazil and melodies that remind me of Asia and a girl from Israel."

What was it like filming in Nigeria?

"It was very emotional, the school hasn't changed. They're traditional. The classrooms are the same classrooms, the staff is the same staff, the librarian saved my library card. I couldn't help it, I cried the whole time. 

"I'm used to making clips in which I don't have 100% control, and here I made a clip with another artist, in another country with a Nigerian director. It was hard to let go, but the clip has a return to truth and nature."

Do you feel that you're managing to speak the the Israeli crowd?

"I speak to people, I feel like music is a universal channel that everyone can catch, and it doesn't matter in what language. I have never been embarrassed in Israel, I love to put in [the songs] a lot of Hebrew parts, I'm an international artist who creates from an Israeli perspective."

Israel's reality comes with a lot of complicated issues. How do you experience that as an international artist?

"My job is to do good in the world, and I believe that anything I say on this subject won't bring a solution to any problem.

"When something happens, it hurts my whole body, and I want to go to the south with my guitar and my friends to make people happy. When there was an operation, I did share about and made sure people knew what was happening here, but I don't necessarily think that it leads to a good place. We're in an endless loop."

As an Israeli artist, have you experienced boycotts or difficulty?

"Yes, I felt like it was bullying because I'm an artist that doesn't express herself politically. I come from Israel, but that doesn't mean anything about me. It's sad that people relate me to some kind of monster they've created in their heads, but I endure it."

Who is Netta Barzilai?

Barzilai surprised everyone in the Next Star competition as an odd bird when she brought a looper machine where she recorded herself live on the stage and created groovy symphonies with vocal loops. She won the competition, and was sent to represent Israel in the 2018 Eurovision where she won Israel's fourth victory with her song "Toy". 

From there, she continued to an international career, performed in giant events in Europe and the US and gained a loyal following around the world.

This article was written for Maariv by Kaitz Berbaner and translated for The Jerusalem Post by Ariella Marsden.