Music for Palestine

Boycott flyer. Torino, August 2013.

Israeli pop has never crossed over. Though a few artists have gotten airplay on European radio, and spawned a YouTube meme from time to time, with the exeption of Ofra Haza, it’s never been a big success internationally, and it’s not for lack of trying. Dozens of licensing agents¬† have tried to place it abroad over the years, at best landing niche artists at boutique labels and ad agencies. Think Idan Raichel, and Monotonix.

Leave it to an under the radar, Spaghetti Incident-era Guns N’ Roses riffing adult contemporary singer to get heavy rotation abroad. A more nasal-sounding Axl Rose, the vocals of Asaf Avidan are a painful reminder of how American Israeli artists think they have to sound to in order make it with foreigners.

Pretty bland stuff, for sure. But it’s so conservative, of course it succeeded. Avidan’s music sounds like it came out of a marketing seminar. Every conceivable FM radio signifier, for someone who group in the era of classic rock radio, albeit unplugged, is there. There’s an element of cynicism to it, which is inescapable.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Avidan got received politically. Rising to prominence during a surge in pro-Palestinian activism in Europe, his 2013 tour became a target of BDS activists in the immigrant-heavy northern Italian city of Turin, itself a longtime hive of left-wing campaigning on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Concert advert. Turin, August 2013.
Concert advert. Turin, August 2013.

Starting in June of that year, a September gig by Avidan was advertised throughout town. The appearance of an Israeli artist, at first seemed like a freak accident. In Turin? Despite its longstanding Jewish community, this seemed more appropriate for Milan, or Rome, than a declining industrial center far off the tourist map. The adverts didn’t start to make sense until a BDS-inspired boycott campaign began.

The lead photo is of course more of a programmatic statement. My wife, Jennifer, shot the second picture on her way to work, in the San Paolo district, where her office was located. It stood there, in the middle of a thoroughfare, defaced forever, until someone finally cleaned decided to clean the display off, and pull the advert down. If I remember correctly, it was another two or three months after the gig, that a new advert replaced it.

– Joel Schalit

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