Israeli singers Liraz Russo (known by his stage name “Static”) and Ben El Tavor, who make up the pop act Static & Ben El, are still pinching themselves. Getting Grammy-winner and multi-hyphenate Pitbull to share top billing on “Further Up (Na, Na, Na, Na, Na),” their newly-released track and video was, in no uncertain terms, a dream for the Israeli duo.
“We were shocked,” says Static, speaking from Tel Aviv. “Pitbull is a big deal. He’s a megastar. He’s had a huge influence on us as artists. He’s been grinding for a long long time.”
“It’s an honor,” adds Ben El. “We’ve been fans of his forever. It means everything to us to have him on this project.”
“Further Up (Na, Na, Na, Na, Na)” is the first release from Saban Music Group, which just a day prior unveiled a distribution and marketing partnership with Universal Music Group, and it features a familiar melody: an interpolation of Wilson Picket’s iconic chorus to “Land of 1000 Dances” — the “Na Na Na Na Na” chant one you’d hear at a sports arena wedged between White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” — by way of reggae artist Ini Kamoze’s 1994 hit ““Here Comes the Hotstepper.”
For his part, Pitbull, who has collaborated with scores of A-list artists including Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias and is no stranger to creative interpolations, imbues the already catchy Afropop-beat-accented dance-floor banger with his high-energy Cuban-American touches. “Further Up” is produced by Ten Towns Duo Alvaro Rodriguez & Troy Scott along with Yarden Peleg (aka “Jordi”).
As for how the pairing came about? Credit Haim Saban himself. “I’m friends with Pitbull and I sent him the demo after he’d sent me a note asking what I was working on,” says the entrepreneur and philanthropist, who founded his eponymous music label in 2019. “He said, ‘Oh my god it’s a hit, I want to be on it.’ So here we are.”
“This is the first time we’re taking an old song and trying to remake it,” says Static. “We were throwing things out there in terms of what we mix and match and that record was hot back in the day. We were like, this needs new life. And we fell in love with it immediately. That ‘Na, Na. Na. Na. Na’ hook is insane. It’s addictive.”
Static & Bel El first burst onto the scene in June 2017 when their debut single, “Todu Bom,” a bouncy, Carnaval-flavored tune recorded in Hebrew, became a breakout hit. The song soon earned the distinction of the most-watched video in Israeli YouTube history, netting more than 300 million views, and would go on to amass fans around the world. The group, who were close friends before teaming up to make music — “we did Yom Kippur together,” says Ben El — released a string of hits in Israel such as “Barbie,” “Silsulim” and “Zahav.” In May 2017, they opened for Justin Bieber during his sold-out concert in Tel Aviv. On Feb. 15, 2019, Static & Ben El saw the U.S. release of its re-recorded English-language version of “Tudo Bom” featuring J. Balvin and distributed by Capitol Music Group’s Caroline arm.
While the English version of “Tudo Bom” failed to gain the same traction as the Israeli original, neither Static or Ben El were dissuaded from pressing on with their journey to make a splashy American cross-over. “We weren’t disappointed at all,” says Ben El. “We got to hang out with J Balvin so that’s already a big win for us, and we knew form the get-go that ‘Tudo Bom’ was our first shot to test the waters. We learned a lot from it.”
For his part, Saban humbly “takes full blame” for the song’s lackluster performance. “Today is a different day and we have a professional marketing team and leadership,” he says. “We have a new version of ‘Tudo Bom’ that will be on Static & Bel El’s new EP that we release. Now that we’ve got the right support behind it, I still think that the song has the potential to be a hit. Static & Ben El have star quality — in the studio, in the music they play and compose. And I’m not the only one to talk this way. If you talk to the people at Capitol, they will tell you that Static & Ben El are a priority. And it’s not because they are a priority for me; it’s because they believe they have star power.”
“Mr. Saban has been like family to us,” says Static. “He’s giving us the drive to keep doing our thing and keep pursuing our dream.”
Sometimes it takes that second or third or even tenth song to propel a musical act, notes Saban. “In today’s environment where 40,000 songs are uploaded every day on Spotify, it sometimes takes more than one record to break an artist,” he says. “We live in a completely different pace in terms of how records are broken. One minute some unknown song on TikTok becomes a big hit, then you have Mariah Carey: “All I Want for Christmas (Is You”) went to No. 1 after 20 years. So it’s difficult to identify rules and best practices, because things change from one day to the next.”
“I think things come together sometimes when you least expect it,” adds Gustavo Lopez, chief executive at Saban Music Group. “We’re going full-throttle ahead with Static & Ben El. it’s just got to be the right timing, and putting them in the right light.”
The guys are planning a U.S. tour this summer and look forward to introducing a new audience to their eclectic repertoire. “Throughout our career we’ve always changed the way we do music,” says Static. “You can’t take two of our songs and say this one is like the other one. Most artists have one singular theme and they’ll create an entire album around that, and then they’ll do a whole different album. We’ve been doing that from single to single. We’ve been progressing since day one. This is a test of our skill, of our stamina. We are ready to conquer the world.”