Israel’s concert promoter-to-the-stars, Shuki Weiss, has good news: American superstar Alicia Keys is coming to Israel. The news comes after a few years of last-minute cancellations by mega music acts, and is a sign for Israeli promoters to look for brighter days on the international booking agenda.
The 35-year-old Keys is considered one of the most successful R&B stars in the US, and has sold over 50 million albums worldwide. She recently received a standing ovation for her performance at this month’s Grammy Awards, where she performed a duet with Maroon 5’s lead singer, Adam Levine.
At long last, the 14-time Grammy winner is set to perform at Israel’s Nokia Center as part of her Set the World on Fire tour in support of her new album, Girl on Fire.
“’Girl On Fire’ is about finding your voice, about being unleashed and about trusting your instincts and trusting yourself,” Keys said in a recent press release. “I’m in love with this album, and I’m excited to go to new places on this tour, among them Tel Aviv.”
So, whose idea was it to bring her to the Holy Land? None other than Weiss himself, who is considered by many to be “the godfather of Israeli music promoters.” Throughout his life, the promoter’s dream has been to bring Israeli audiences the type of world-stars acts that European countries book. In a career stretch of 35 years and counting, he’s managed to bring in acts like Madonna, REM, Lady Gaga and U2. Most recently, he’s responsible for bringing Depache Mode back to Israel this past summer, for a concert in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park that launched the band's European tour in honor of their new album.
Aside from getting to wine, dine and mingle with some of the world’s finest musicians himself, the Netanya born publicist told the Jerusalem Post recently that he wouldn’t be where he is today if he didn’t have extreme passion for the music. “For me, that’s the moment. I still get goose bumps every time, whether it’s 50,000 people at Hayarkon Park or a few hundred in a club,” he said.
But much to Weiss’s frustration, Israeli music fans have been faced with several letdowns over the years, as high-profile acts confirmed their arrival only to cancel at the last minute. In 2011, Weiss watched on as, one by one, artists withdrew from booked performances at the fear of what political statement would be perceived by agreeing to play an Israel venue. In an interview, Weiss recounted several of these consecutive withdrawals as "a form of cultural terrorism which is targeting Israel and the arts worldwide."
Even the famous Elvis Costello pulled the plug on a 2010 show, despite holding several pre-show press conference with Israel journalists. His reasoning: “guilt conscience.”
“He became the idiot,” Weiss told the Hollywood Reporter in lieu of Costello's cancelation. “He tells the largest circulation newspaper in Israel how much he's looking forward to meeting his fans after so many years, and 48 hours later, he says he thought about it and he's cancelling the show? What happened in those 48 hours? Was it a letter from the Palestinians telling Elvis Costello how bad the situation is in Gaza? We know how bad it is. If you can do something, if you want to have influence on the issue, come over and talk about it. In my 36 years in the business, we never have silenced any artist.”"
Then again, there are artists like Macy Grey, a neo-soul singer who polled her fans last year to ask whether they think she should make the trip to perform in Tel Aviv. Many replied in disapproval, and jolted to the streets of her Facebook wall, which became a target of anti-Israel comments and slurs. In a surprise move, the singer chose to abide by her commitment, and later tweeted: "This was the most incredible trip of my life. I am new and I promise to do all the good I can."
Still, success stories like Grey’s are rare, and when top-of-the-line artists such as Keys book performances, it’s kind of a big deal. Yes, it may be one small step for the big-named artists such as Keys, but it’s a giant step for Israel’s concert industry.