‘A one-woman band’: How Israel’s Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai rose to fame
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She'd 'perfected the looper,' recalls her music school head

‘A one-woman band’: How Israel’s Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai rose to fame

Rimon music school president says the 25-year-old singer, an 'original' and 'inspiring' talent, has what it takes to build a successful international career

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Sunday was a day of celebration for Israelis, who rejoiced in Netta Barzilai’s win at Eurovision 2018 with “Toy,” an Asian-inflected dance song wrapped in messages of women’s empowerment.

Girls went to school with their hair coiled in Netta-inspired side buns, while morning DJs replayed various versions of the song that brought Israel its first win in the popular singing contest in 20 years.

Much of the rest of the country, meanwhile, dragged itself to work after staying up until after 2 a.m., celebrating the final, victorious tally of the song contest.

The production of “Toy” was a collaborative effort, with the song co-written by Stav Beger and Doron Medalie, an Israeli hitmaker who told The Times of Israel he thinks of the annual song contest as part of his DNA.

Also part of the team was Avshalom Ariel, the song’s 25-year-old producer, a classically trained composer from Tel Aviv University who knew Barzilai from a theater project they worked on together several years back and thought she could bring the right touch to the Eurovision stage.

But while the production of Israel’s 2018 Eurovision offering was a joint effort, it was Barzilai, the idiosyncratic, uber-talented singer, who brought home the win, showcasing her impressive vocals and looper skills at Saturday night’s final event.

Ariel described Barzilai, 25, in a recent Time Out Israel article as a soul and R&B singer and avant-garde artist who always uses her voice in experimental ways.

Netta – Toy | A Capella Press Conference | Eurovision 2018

Love my A Capella crew ????Avshalom Ariel Maayan Bukris Danielle Mazuz'Eurovision Song Contest Eurovision 2018Rights for this video belongs to Festival da Canção

Posted by ‎Netta Barzilai נטע ברזילי‎ on Thursday, 3 May 2018

“She’s a brilliant vocalist, artist and inspiring personality,” said singer Hagar Levy. “A big shoutout to her producer Avshalom Ariel as well. They are a power duo, putting pop on the map again in and for Israel.”

Barzilai, said Yehuda Eder, the president of the Rimon music school in Ramat Hasharon, where Barzilai studied in 2016, was a musical talent who “just came and conquered all of us.”

She was studying voice and electronic music at Rimon — a school of 500 full-time students that also offers an academic degree program with Boston’s Berklee College of Music — but came to the school with her now-famous looper already in hand.

The looper, a kind of electronic keyboard that allows musicians to record what they are playing or singing and then “loop,” or repeat, it while playing over it, was an instrument that Barzilai had been using for several years before studying at Rimon, said Eder.

Skilled looper usage allows one singer to sound like they are performing with three or four other singers, he explained.

“Everyone uses it a lot now, and there’s a huge demand for it this summer in our youth program,” Eder said. “But she had perfected it already. She would make so many changes in sounds that it was a very original tool in her hands. She was a one-woman band, and she just brought it to another level. She became the example of what you can do with a looper.”

Israel’s Netta Barzilai performing ‘Toy’ in the first Eurovision 2018 semifinal, May 8, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

At the end of her year at Rimon, Barzilai asked Eder what she should do next and he said he told her to go out and do what she was already doing.

“We just fell in love with her,” he said. “She took every opportunity she had and turned it into something greater.”

Barzilai isn’t the only musician in her family, said Eder. She has one brother studying double bass at Rimon and another who raps.

“They’re a family of musicians,” he said.

Born in 1993, Barzilai was raised along with her two brothers in the Tel Aviv region. While she was still a child, Hebrew media has reported, her parents moved to Nigeria where she lived for four years, learning rhythms of African lullabies sung to her by local nannies.

She emerged onto the national stage after winning season five of “HaKochav HaBa,” Israel’s version of “A Star is Born.”

Now, however, Barzilai will need emotional and mental fortitude to deal with the fandom and celebrity that comes with her Eurovision win, while continuing to work on her music.

“She can go far,” Eder said. “She can really make it in Europe and America. It’s all about your attitude and knowing who you are. But the skies are the limit for Netta.”

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