This past weekend, squeezed between a string of Eurovision Song Contest parties, Tel Aviv’s posh Norman hotel played host to an intimate, invite-only dinner of music industry delegates from the United States. The rooftop-set event was designed as a highlight on the itinerary of the Creative Community for Peace (CCFP) weeklong trip to Israel. CCFP, an entertainment industry non-profit organization dedicated to promoting music and the arts as a bridge to peace and artistic freedom, brought 15 delegates to Israel for Eurovision week.
Among the guests were veteran manager Ken Levitan, founder and co-president of Vector; Craig Balsam, the co-founder of Razor & Tie; manager James Diener, co-founder of Alignment Artist Capital; Aton Ben-Horin, global vice president of A&R for Warner Music Group’s labels; Dan Rosen, CEO of Australian Recoding Industry Association; and Steve Greenberg, president and founder of S-Curve Records.
The event was organized by Jeremy Hulsh, founder and CEO of Oleh! Records, and doubled as a tribute to Seymour Stein, the Sire Records co-founder and veteran executive. Stein, a longtime supporter of Oleh! Records, was unable to fly in from New York to attend the dinner, but will be present at a party in his honor hosted by the music org, Israel’s chief music export and development office, at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on June 19.
“Oleh! Records was founded nearly 15 years ago as a simple idea — to vitally support export-ready and active Israeli and Palestinian musicians to develop opportunities abroad, showcase at music industry events, develop investment opportunities for Israel’s artists, music technology, and as a means to counter the Boycott Divest Sanctions [BDS] movement,” said Stein by way of a letter he wrote to accept his Lifetime Achievement award. “I have seen thousands of incredible talents supported by Oleh! over the years both in Israel and abroad.”
Hulsh, noted Stein, has employed “his talent and networks to build a successful and continual platform for Israel’s music community to thrive at home and abroad. There is great talent here (both Israelis and Palestinians). It might even help toward a peaceful solution. Music has great power and strength.”
“Seymour supporting our cause adds legitimacy and weight to Israel’s music sector,” added Doron Gabbay, general manager of Oleh! Records. “When the man who discovered Madonna and the Ramones says he believes in your organization and in Israeli musicians, it means a lot.”
The dinner provided an opportunity to not only fete Stein, but the work that Oleh! and its annual Tune In Tel Aviv music conference has achieved in putting Israeli artists on the global map. Said Gabbay: “We aim to ensure that the robust, talented community of Israeli musicians are able to overcome Israel’s small population and geo-political situation to attain opportunities that have previously been out of reach.”
Balsam (pictured above, at right, with Hulsh), who is a board member of CCFP, spoke of how the Eurovision-timed mission to Israel underscored the imperative need to maintain a creative space in which artists can freely express themselves — regardless of their home countries’ government and policies.
“It’s important for artists to exchange ideas, it’s crucial to understand each other,” said Balsam. “We are the anti-boycott and we believe that artists should play everywhere.”
“We believe in the power of artists to affect lives and effect change,” echoed CCFP national director Ari Ingel. “Collaborating with Tune In Tel-Aviv and Oleh! Records to bring together artists from all different backgrounds in Israel and the Palestinian Territories — black, white, Arab, Jewish, Christian and more — truly works to further greater understanding between these
To that end, following the dinner, guests headed to Tel Aviv hotspot Teder for a showcase featuring such Israeli acts as singer-songwriter Noga Erez and A-wa, a Yeminite-Israeli band made up of sisters Tair, Liron, and Tagel Haim.
Erez, whose debut album “Off the Radar” received rave reviews when it was released in Israel in 2017, and whose single “Dance While You Shoot” was used in an Apple computer campaign that same year, performed an hour-long hip-hop-heavy set for some 600 fans in attendance.
“We’ve been working with Noga for years,” said Hulsh of the choice to add her to the line-up. “She was absolutely the right artist to showcase for the international industry we had attending because she represents the cutting edge of Israeli musical talent and has her hand firmly planted on the proverbial button of Israel’s pop cultural scene.”
A-wa (pictured above), whose moniker comes from the slang word meaning “yes” in Arabic, was discovered by Tomer Yosef, lead singer of Balkan Beat Box. Known for its mix of traditional Yeminite music, hip-hop and electronica, the trio’s single “Love of my Heart,” nabbed international attention back when it was released in 2016. The band is now signed to S-Curve records, with a new album dropping this summer.
Their mission: to bring Israeli music to the global stage as a way to promote inclusiveness and diversity amongst all types of people and ethnicities.
“We wanted a name that would be very positive, that would represent our music and also something that people could say to others that sounded positive,” said the sisters. “The whole A-wa experience is about bringing people together and embracing our many identities and celebrating life.”