Eurovision 2006 and Israel
Make no mistake, I am a Eurovision Song Contest freak. For those out there who have no idea what I am talking about, the Eurovision Song Contest is an international event in which European countries dish it out for who can come up with the best song. It has been held annually since the first contest in Lugano, Switzerland, in 1956, and was most recently held in Athens, Greece Saturday evening, May 20th, 2006. It is essentially the European Cup of pop music. It has grown from featuring only seven countries, to an event which now includes 37 nations and is held in two rounds. This year’s winners were the goulish Finnish monster rockers Lordi with their power metal song "Hard Rock Hallelujah".
Despite all the lovely corniness that often surrounds the show, it has produced a number of great songs (my favorite is the jazzy 1963 Danish entry "Dansevise"), and it is fascinating to see what sort of song is seen as a potential hit and source of national pride by a given country. Originally songs had to be in an official language spoken in the country they represented, but this rule has been relaxed over the years, resulting in songs with English chorus lines, and recently most of the entries have been entirely in English, with participants hoping for for an international hit. This phenomenon is not unknown, as the Swedish group ABBA was catapulted to international stardom after the 1974 contest, while Canadian Celine Dion became known outside francophone countries when she represented Switzerland in 1988 and won. And with 600 million viewers in Europe and the Middle East, it is the most watched television event in the world, despite being virtually unknown in the US.
Israel has been an almost constant participant in the event since 1973, placing in the top-ten 17 times, and winning three times, most recently in 1998, with the song "Diva", performed by the transsexual Israeli singer Dana International. The 1979 winner "Hallelujah" performed by Gali und Milk & Honey, became an international Israeli hit. Mostly, the Israeli entries have been very Israeli or Jewish in character, often evoking the sounds of traditional Jewish and Israeli folk songs. This has changed in recent years, with the Israeli songs sounding more and more like European and American pop-music sung in English. While this trend is consistent with the development of the contest as a whole, I think it is rather sad. The contest is broadcast simultaneously in all the participating countries, and it is wonderful that a song sung all in Hebrew can be broadcast directly into the homes of television viewers in countries such as Germany, Russia, Spain, and others, that have been the breeding grounds for so much hate against Jews, and recently the State of Israel.
This year's Israeli entry, "Together We are One", was no exception to this downward spiral. It was sung by the American born Eddie Butler, a member of the controversial Black Hebrews, now living in Israel. The song does have certain sections sung in Hebrew, but is otherwise sung mainly in English, and is a gospel song that evokes images of Baptist churches in Alabama far more than the beauty of the Galilee or the streets of Jerusalem. Butler has a soulful and sweet voice, but one that brings R-Kelly to mind, not Sabras. Sadly, the song was chosen by Israeli viewers themselves in a national song contest earlier this year. One wonders about what has happened to the original flavor of the country and how the Israelis have chosen to represent themselves, and how they will choose to represent themselves in the future. To his credit, however, Butler's performance showed more talent and taste than most of the other entries, who tried to score points by showing as much skin and flesh as possible, trying to push sexappeal and not the song itself.