Shtar performing live at Kochav Haba auditions
Shtar performing live at Kochav Haba auditions Media Relations - Keshet Productions

Something that took facebook viewers and social media buffs by storm this week in Israel was the airing of an audition clip depicting a haredi rock-rap band called Shtar. The clip came from the reality TV-music show called Kochav Haba L’Eurovision (New Star for Eurovision) which is aired by Keshet TV, on Israel’s Channel 2 Network.

The band is comprised of immigrants to Israel from the United States and Britain and the music of the band is as eclectic as its members.   

The members in no specific order are: Bradley Rubinstein - guitarist, singer, songwriter; Ori Murray, wordsmith, rapper; Tzvi Solomons, drummer; Avi Sommers, bass player; and Dan Isaac the lead vocal.

In an interview with Arutz Sheva, the band described some of their inspiration as well as their love for music. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to reveal to us how they have gotten on in the competition. (Nor were we allowed to ask.)

They chalked up the inspiration for taking the plunge to perform on the reality TV show to fate. They were contacted by a different reality TV show, but decided not to pursue it, as they felt that something was off about how that show was run. Kochav Haba then ‘fell into their lap’ and they felt it was an overall better experience. They contacted the Gatt brothers, another ultra-orthodox group that performed on Kochav Haba during the show’s first season and who came in second place. They received a very good report, so the group decided to accepted the offer to audition.

When asked what their plans are if they make it to Eurovision this year the group said: “We plan ahead for such instances. We may or may not make it, but if we do we have a song in mind that we would like to sing Of course a lot can happen between now and then and our choice may change, or we may even be given one that is written by someone else, but we hope that it becomes necessary to use what we have up our sleeve.”

Eurovision is often an eclectic crowd to put it mildly, with previous winners including a bearded transvestite, and a transgender singer from Israel. The costumes are flagrant and flamboyant, and production quality counts almost as much as the music if not more, as evidenced by previous winners. It is also a highly politicized event where countries often vote for one another based upon treaties or geographic region more than based on the quality of the music. But this doesn’t bother the hopeful group who perform with black kippot, white shirts, black pants and tzitzit flying. If anything, it emboldens them.  

“Eurovision is super liberal and PC, and anything goes. We are as liberal as it gets. We are Orthodox Jews. If people are willing to vote for a transvestite with a beard and not hate on someone like that, how could you hate on us,” said Ori with a heavy amount of tongue-in-cheek involved.   

In reality the group has only met with positive responses from everyone they worked with in the Tel Aviv production studios. “For the most part, the people we come into contact with are really nice and many of them, even though they live in Israel, have never even spoken to religious Jews. The differences from both sides, religious and secular, melt into nothingness” said Dan.  “There is no facade and you just connect to the music and it is really beautiful,” added Brad.

Brad relayed a story of Mookie, one of the judges for Kochav Haba and a famous singer-songwriter in Israel in his own right, who said; “when we come right down to it we can all connect through music.”

The group very much echoed this sentiment. “That is exactly what we wanted. And that is the message that we are trying to get across. That everyone should be happy, it would be a better world if people just liked each other. For after all, deep down we are all in the same. And we can all connect through music no matter our background.”

Shtar performing live at Kochav Haba auditions
Shtar performing live at Kochav Haba auditions Media Relations - Keshet Productions

“People ask us regarding the kind of music that we play and the covers that we choose,”’ said Ori. “At the end of the day, we choose covers that can express who we are, and where we come from. This music has contributed to who we are today, the genre the music and everything we bring to the band is the stuff that we can sanctify from our past and use to uplift our future.”

Ori added a quote from two famed Jewish sages - the Malbim (Meïr Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser) and the Ramban (Nachmonides) - to illustrate the idea of the spirituality of music. “Music is one of those things that people can really connect with. The Malbim in Megillat Esther talks about the the party that King Achashverosh threw to keep the Jews celebrating in impurity. He says: 'Every type of sense was used in Achashverosh’s party except music. Because music is something that is spiritual. And he was very worried that the Jews would connect to their soul and wake up and leave the party, so he did not include it.'" Ari went on to relate further that according to Maimonides music is called (dak shel ha-dak) the "thinnest of the thin" in the physical realm, because it is largely a spiritual force in how it connects to one’s soul.  

Dan added that the band is happy to be able to have such an important vessel to connect people around the world. "In an ideal world,” they say, "we would all act better towards one another if we realized that we are all connected.”

Shtar performing live at Kochav Haba auditions
Shtar performing live at Kochav Haba auditions Media Relations - Keshet Productions

The group has a variety of music influence ranging from rap, to classical jazz, to alternative rock. They began working together when Bard and Ori attended Yeshivat Aish Hatorah together, shared some music and produced a song. “This was around the time that the second trilogy (movies 1,2,3,) of Star Wars came out,” Ori reflected. “Eventually we made an album and Brad demanded that we put a live band together.” Their first album was titled ‘Infinity’. Tzvi and Avi jumped on board, and Tav Hashmini picked them up after Ori sent an album to the Tav Hashmini offices.

In spite of the deal with Tav Hashmini, the group is currently independent. “We can do all the production in house. It’s really about distribution and marketing.” The group is looking ahead to producing another album in the not too distant future and trying to figure out what their next move is  Obviously a Eurovision appearance, if not a victory, would be a big help.  

As it is every year, the final competition for Eurovision is shown live on Saturday night. This year’s host country is Sweden. Luckily for the group, Shabbat ends there around 9pm. So if the group does get accepted, which is still a long way away, they said that they would only perform if the competition will accommodate them coming late and performing only after Shabbat goes out.”   

“We don’t perform on Shabbat,” the group said emphatically, “but we hope that the organizers will be understanding of this restriction, and place us after the first group goes, which will give us time to get there and perform, if we make it.”  

The news Star wars movie is coming this week around the world. So perhaps it is fate that Shtar takes their performance to the next level. Ari signed off by joking: “we should be zocheh to having the force with us this time, as we did when we formed the band.”

The five member group live mostly in Ramat Beit Shemesh alef and gimmel, except for the Tzvi Solomons who lives in Jerusalem.

For those who are not in ‘the know’, Kochav Haba - is the program that selects the Israeli musician or band that will represent Israel in the Eurovision song contest. This year Eurovision, which is the largest aired music competition in the world, will be held in Stockholm, the Capital of Sweden, and the Swedes won last year’s competition.

This is the third season of Kochav Haba which is the continuation of the Kochav Nolad reality TV music show. Both shows were broadcast by Keshet, Channel 2. This year marks the second year that the Kochav Haba show will be selecting the Israeli artist to represent Israel at Eurovision. They also selected last year’s Israeli competitor Nadav Guedj who sang ‘Golden Boy’ which was composed by Doron Medalie.‘Golden Boy’ won Israel the 9th place in the overall voting in the finals. It was the first top ten finish by Israel since 2008 where Israel also placed ninth with the song “The Fire in Your Eyes, performed by Boaz Meuda.

Israel has won Eurovision three times in the past,  The first time Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta won in Paris in 1978 with the uptempo A-Ba-Ni-Bi. On home ground in Jerusalem the following year, Israel won again, this time with the anthemic Hallelujah performed by Gali Atari & Milk and Honey. The third victory came almost 20 years later in Birmingham in 1998. Singer Dana International took top honours with the song Diva, setting off widespread celebrations in Israel.