After a more than 30-year hiatus, the Israel Song Festival will be revived this year, according to a senior Israel Broadcasting Authority source.
The festival, held almost every year from 1960 to 1980, initially offered winners a cash reward. But in 1978, the top finisher was designated as Israel's representative in the Eurovision song contest, a competition sponsored by the European Broadcasting Union. The Eurovision song contest pits member countries - including Israel - against one another for the title of top song.
According to Israel Song Festival rules, the winning song was to be judged by the extent to which it "advanced an original Hebrew song" and the way in which it reflected "the accomplishments of Israeli society and the culture of the Jewish people."
In 1978, however, with the festival winner automatically chosen to represent Israel in the Eurovision contest, the nature of the Israel Song Festival entries shifted to reflect the lively pop style that was favored by the European contest.
The winning entry at the first Israel Song Festival in 1960 was a song that is now an old standard favorite, "Erev Ba" ("Evening is Coming" ), performed by Aliza Kashi and Shimon Bar.
In subsequent years, the festival recognized performers who remained popular in the Israeli music scene over the decades. Arik Einstein won two years in a row, in 1965 and 1966. Other top contestants included Ilanit, Shlomo Artzi and Ruhama Raz.
In 1978, Yizhar Cohen and his "A-Ba-Ni-Bi" song marked a shift in style. The contest lasted only two more years before being discontinued in favor of an explicitly pre-Eurovision song contest in 1981.
The revived Israel Song Festival apparently will not attempt to compete with the style of high-budget music reality shows that are now common fare on television, such as "Kochav Nolad" ("A Star is Born" ), the Israeli equivalent of "American Idol." Israel Broadcasting Authority chairman Amir Gilat promises a competition that he called "more appropriate to public broadcasting than a commercial channel."
Gilat said the goal of reviving the Israel Song Festival is to give a proper platform to artists and songs of the type that entered the Israeli pre-Eurovision selection process, but that were not competitive in the European competition because of their local character. From a musical standpoint, it is not yet clear what kind of songs the new Israel Song Festival will feature. It is expected to highlight both old and new, but the format has not been finalized.
It is also not clear what compensation the winner might receive for a first-place finish. The winning song in the revived competition will not represent Israel in the Eurovision competition, which this year is being held in May in Baku, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.
On Sunday, the Israel Broadcasting Authority came in for criticism for its handling of the selection process for Israel's entry for the Eurovision song competition after it was decided to cancel a formal public local song contest for the Israeli representative. Although media outlets have reported that Maya Buskila will represent Israel in Baku, the broadcasting authority has said no final selection has been made by the professional panel that is making the decision.
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