Kobi Marimi, Israel’s contestant in the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, which culminates this weekend with a live show at Expo Tel Aviv, is not expected to contend for the top prize and make it two in a row for the home side. But in many ways, Israel is already the big winner of Eurovision. The simple act of hosting the event is a major political victory for the Jewish state – a prize so coveted that some in the Israeli media recently said that their government may have agreed to its latest truce with Hamas sooner than it otherwise would have preferred in order to ensure rockets wouldn’t be flying overhead while the international singing contest was in town.
Marimi, a Mizrachi Jew of Iraqi descent who was born and raised in Ramat Gan, will take the stage singing “Home,” the song that won him the sixth season of the Israeli TV singing contest, HaKokhav HaBa (The Next Star). The contemplative tune opens with a brief cantorial chant – a nice nod to tradition – before Marimi’s baritone builds to the chorus: “I feel the sun upon my skin/And I am someone, I am someone/You pulled my heart, I took it in/It made me someone, I am someone/And now I’m done, I’m coming home.” (Yes, the entire song is sung in English.)
“Home” is a safe choice to represent Israel at Eurovision. It succeeds in evoking a connection to the Jewish homeland, but does not break any new sonic ground, a stark contrast to Netta Barzilai’s raucous, vocabulary-busting “Toy,” which won Eurovision for Israel last year. (Netta will perform her latest single, “Nana Banana,” at Eurovision 2019; also taking the stage will be Datz Ve-Datza, the Israeli duo who finished third at Eurovision 1991, with “Kan,” written by the perfectly named Israeli songwriter Uzi Hitman.)
But if Marimi and Netta make for strange aural bedfellows, another pair of Jewish musicians is making sweet sounds together. They are Ezra Koenig, lead singer and songwriter of the New York group Vampire Weekend, and Danielle Haim of the sister rock trio Haim, who plays and sings on Vampire Weekend’s new record, Father of the Bride. Its release prompted The Forward to search for every Jewish reference on the album, some of which are obvious – a comment about anti-Semitism in the lead single, “Harmony Hall”; ruminations about Israel on the track “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin” – while others make about as much sense as Netta singing “Toy.” (Koenig’s homage to another great Jewish singer-songwriter, Paul Simon, is ever apparent.)
Last week, Vampire Weekend performed “This Life,” the second single from Father of the Bride, on The Tonight Show. Koenig opened front and centre with his signature soft rock guitar riffs, before the camera pushed out to reveal the three Haim sisters to his right, singing backup. “I was told that war is how we landed on these shores,” Koenig mused as Danielle Haim harmonized, “I just thought the drums would all be loud warnings.” All three Haims joined Koenig for the chorus: “This life/And all its suffering/Oh Christ, am I good for nothing?”
They couldn’t have sounded more Jewish if they’d tried.