While much of today's international music coverage on Israel focuses on the hot-button issue of artists performing in Israel, few if any look at at Israeli musicians having success abroad.
The list, to be certain, is small: Esther and Abi Ofarim saw success in the late-1960s; Ofra Haza and Noa, both Israeli singers of Yemenite origins, broke through in the 1990s and 2000s; Dana International won the Eurovision in 1998; Yael Naim became the first Israeli solo artist to have a top ten US hit when "New Soul" peaked at No.7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2008; and EDM acts such as Infected Mushroom in the Naughties have found some success through countless appearances on compilations on global labels such as Mucha Mas Musica and Totentanz. But these artists are unique unto themselves and, for the most part, did not sustain their international success for long.
Enter Asaf Avidan, who, with 80 upcoming dates in Europe -- including opening spots for Ben Harper and David Guetta -- and a U.S. release set for next year to be followed by a tour promoted by The Agency Group and songs with English lyrics, is blazing a new path for Israeli artists.
Avidan, 33, is a guitarist and songwriter and the owner of a unique, androgynous-like wailing voice, and just launched the summer/autumn leg of his extensive Different Pulses tour in Frankfurt, Germany on May 3. The tour, in support of his debut Different Pulses released in February on Polydor-Universal in Europe, will keep him on the road until November. While the disc's title may refer to the electronic beats of the folk rocker's latest album, it could also sum up the artist’s free-spirited approach to his career.
Formerly of Asaf Avidan and The Mojos, Avidan is managed by brother his Roiee with whom he co-founded his own record label, Telmavar Records. In 2012 he split from The Mojos and is currently managed by Ori Bahat Management and Production Ltd. He is best known for 2012's "One Day/The Reckoning Song" (Wankelmut Remix) which reached No. 1 in seven European territories including Germany, Italy and Austria and currently has more than 95 million hits on YouTube.
To set up dates taking place in Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and the U.K., Bahat worked with promoters Gerard Drouot Productions, covering France and the Benelux countries; Ponderosa covering Italy, Spain and the U.K.; and Musicpool covering Germany and Austria. Avidan has also played the European summer festival circuit, including France's Eurorockeennes and The Netherlands' Rotterdam Unlimited.
Different Pulses will not be released in the U.K. until June 3 and Avidan will be making only one U.K. appearance. Says manager Bahat, "The Union Chapel, London [capacity 900] is actually the smallest venue on our next European tour. Venue capacity ranges between 2,000 (the Ancienne Belgique) and 6,000 (Zenith in Paris). Ticket prices average 30-35 Euros [U.S.$39-45]."
And demand for Avidan's acclaimed live act continues back at home. The sole live domestic show scheduled for the rest of the year, a virtually sold out June date in the 4,000-seater Caesaria Amphitheater, has just been supplemented by an additional September date in the same venue.
Meanwhile sales of the disc are strongest in France, says Bahat. According to Lescharts.com, the album entered the charts on Feb. 9 and peaked at No. 5, and has remained on the charts for 13 weeks to date. In April, Avidan was presented with a Platinum disc for sales of over 100,000 by Polydor chief Christophe Lameignere. Italy, where the disc peaked at No. 10, is Avidan's second strongest territory, followed by Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Germany in order of sales success.
Concert poster for Avidan's July show in Nice, France
The U.S. release is slated for early 2014 and will be accompanied by a 15-or-so date, three-week tour of Canada and the U.S. promoted by The Agency Group some time in the Spring of 2014. Says booking agent Christian Bernhardt, "We had to postpone the tour until next year. We didn't expect his European success to be so amazing. He has made great progress inside the industry. The labels are aware of him and he has been taking meetings. He's realistic and has a [level] head on his shoulders."
Bahat refused to divulge any financial details of the Avidan project, stressing only that the artist has retained his free-spirited approach. "We are running the business independently, with no financial help."
While only a handful of Israeli acts have had careers abroad, Bahat bristles at the suggestion that Avidan's rare breakout can be attributed largely to his fluent English and English-language lyrics, pointing instead to an "extremely unique talent and a lot of hard work." Bernhardt agrees. "Nowadays a lot of artists singing in their own language find success. In Asaf's case it's mostly the music and his voice."
Avidan may sing in English because he spent part of his childhood in Jamaica with his diplomat family, and the language comes naturally to him. But there is also a recent and growing trend amongst Israeli artists to use English rather than Hebrew. In the 80s and 90s Israeli groups had Hebrew names like Kaveret [Hive]' and sang in Hebrew, because to do otherwise would mean commercial death at home, and they could only dream of success beyond Israel's borders. In the 2000s, groups such as Rock4 adopted Anglicized names and English lyrics in doomed attempts to break out of the small Israeli market.
Times have changed. Nitzan Horesh, media commentator and frontman for English-language group Electra, notes that whereas in the past Israel's political establishment -- which takes an interest in popular music that would be considered unusual in the West -- regarded singing in anything other than Hebrew as tantamount to treason. Nowadays, however, the Foreign Office actively supports English-language acts as positive for Israel's image abroad.
In the wake of Avidan's success Electra, along with eight other Israeli acts, participated in September 2012’s 'Family Invasion' tour of Germany sponsored by Israel's Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, with the participation of the Foreign Office. The aim was twofold: to introduce Israeli acts to Europe's second largest music market and to introduce the German public to the 'regular Israeli' behind increasingly negative political headlines.
Avidan appears to be one step ahead of even this trend. Bahat refuses to pigeonhole him as an 'Israeli artist' at all; rather, he is part of the global rock and roll community asking only to be judged on the music alone.