Double Exposure for Israeli Musicians Trying to Impress Industry Reps From Abroad

Why hold two concurrent events showcasing promising Israeli acts to international music industry reps?

Gaya’s music photos

Israeli bands’ dream of performing at festivals and clubs around the world has become more of a reality in recent years than ever before. One reason for this, of course, is the ease with which performers can independently make contacts in the global village that the world has become. Another factor is new awareness on the part of government agencies and the Israeli music industry of the power that music, including alternative music, has in representing Israeli culture abroad and for the revenue that it can generate from there.

Over this coming weekend two concurrent events will be held with similar purposes: the International Music Showcase festival in Jerusalem and “Tune In Tel Aviv.” Both events seek to present the best that the local popular music scene has to offer to senior representatives of the industry from abroad.

This all prompts the question: When audiences and artists wait all year for an event such as this, how is that two similar events have been scheduled concurrently, without any coordination?

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The International Music Showcase (“Hasifa beinleumit” in Hebrew) has been held for the past five years in Jerusalem and is considered the official Israeli showcase of its kind. An initiative of the Foreign Ministry, it is produced by Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine nightclub with support from the Ministry of Culture and Sport, the Jerusalem Foundation and the Jerusalem municipality.

Forty-eight acts – from among the 600 that applied – have been selected to appear at this year’s event, to be held over the next two weekends (one dedicated to rock and indie, the other to jazz and world music). Among the notable acts are Marina Maximilian, Ester Rada, Oren Barzilay, Shai Tzabari and Kutiman, and guests from abroad include booking agent Biljana Bilic from the Exit music festival in Serbia, talent scout Calle Rydberg from Sweden and Ben Mandelson, who founded and runs world music’s Womex festival. Admission to all the performances, at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem and the Zone club (“Haezor” in Hebew) in Tel Aviv, is free.

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Tune In Tel Aviv, now in its fourth year, is produced by the Oleh! Records non-profit organization. This year’s event, to be held this coming weekend, will take place at clubs around Tel Aviv, including Papaito, Kuli Alma and Rothschild 12 and will feature panel discussions in addition to performances. Among the artist on the schedule are Riff Cohen, Boom Pam, Tiny Fingers and Adi Ulmansky. Prominent guests from abroad include Seymour Stein, chairman of Sire Records and vice president of Warner Music; Steve Symons, content director at the Glastonbury Festival; and Daniel Miller, the chairman of Mute Records. The charge for admission for the entire festival is 50 shekels ($13).

Contrary to what it may seem, Oleh! Records is not a record company but rather a non-profit organization that helps Israeli artists build an international following. The organization’s director, Jeremy Hulsh, says he unsuccessfully attempted to work with the Foreign Ministry.

“Nine years ago, when I founded Oleh!, the first people I met with were from the Foreign Ministry,” he says. “I told them they had a problem with hasbara [public diplomacy] and I suggested using Israeli culture and Israeli music. Prior to that they had supported world music and classical music, but I brought the SXSW festival [in Texas ] to their attention, for example, and the CMJ festival [in New York]. A lot of the relationships that they built over the years they achieved via Oleh!. They were very pleased to get the connections, but not to support the one who initiated them. I view the government as an excellent vehicle for support for Israeli music, but not the Foreign Ministry. They are not qualified to work with musicians.

“I wanted to receive Foreign Ministry support from the beginning,” Hulsh said, referring to contacts this year over a possible joint event with the International Music Showcase. “This year, I told them: ‘I have little money, but I do have connections. You have a lot of money, but you don’t know a lot of people. Let’s collaborate.’ They said no and to a significant extent copied our event. In the past, they have supported our event, [but] not with a lot of money. We received more support from other countries. Last year, we received more support from the U.S. State Department.”

The organizers of the International Music Showcase confirmed that they had a meeting with Hulsh, where they say they informed him of the dates of their own event, but he nonetheless chose to schedule his event at the same time. It also should be noted that the International Music Showcase was established a year before Hulsh’s event, and although the Music Showcase has been funded by the Foreign Ministry, artistic management has been handled by the Jerusalem club Yellow Submarine, which is also a non-profit.

In the absence of Israeli government support, Hulsh has gotten assistance from outside donors. “This year Tune In Tel Aviv is taking place despite the lack of government support and thanks to Jason Arison of the Arison Family Foundation,” he says. “Jason gives us the support that we need. We hope in the future there will be an appropriate budget provided by the government, and that the Culture Ministry will also give to alternative music, but the people who sit there are not connected to the street. They don’t know what punk is, don’t know what hip-hop is, and they are the reason that progress is slow.”

Rafi Gamzu, who heads the Cultural and Scientific Affairs Division at the Foreign Ministry, responded as follows: “The Cultural and Scientific Affairs Division has been holding International Showcase events for about 20 years now in the fields of dance, music, theater, etc., to which purchasing agents from around the world have been invited. It’s the most professional framework for the export of Israeli artistic work, which the Foreign Ministry is responsible for through the Cultural and Scientific Affairs Division. Actually this week the showcase event for rock and indie music is opening in Jerusalem, and next week, the showcase for world music and jazz will open. About 100 guests who are directors of festivals or homes to music events in their countries are expected here for these two events.

“Jeremy’s claims that we stole his ideas and contacts are in the best case ridiculous. Efforts in the past, by both our headquarters in Jerusalem and our cultural attaches at our missions abroad, to collaborate with him generally ended in disappointment.”