Eldad Shrem (אלדד שרים)

Born: April 7th, 1950, Tel Aviv (Israel)
Nationality: Israeli

Eurovision record
Eldad Shrem conducted four Israeli entries between 1975 and 1988, of which he composed one: ‘Ahava hi shir lishnayim’ for Ilanit in 1977. The other three songs, for which he was the arranger as well as the conductor, were: ‘At ve’ani’ for Shlomo Artzi (1975), ‘Halayla’ for Habibi (1981), and ‘Ben Adam’ for Yardena Arazi (1988). Moreover, Shrem was involved in the Israeli pre-selection on countless occasions as a composer, arranger, and producer.

Biography
Eldad Shrem was born the son of a Tel Avivian blacksmith. While his father’s family had lived in Israel for seven generations already, his mother hailed from Germany, where her entire family had been murdered in the Holocaust. Neither of his parents had any background in music. Eldad: “Once, my father tried to sing a tune to me. He was so out of tune that I begged him to stop. The only music I heard in my youth was the singing of cantors in the synagogue. The obligatory music lessons in elementary school were my first genuine encounter with music. My parents could never have afforded a private teacher anyhow. I learnt to read music and to play the recorder, a flute. When I turned eleven, my parents gave me a mouth organ for my birthday. I taught myself to play it. Then, one year later, when I had discovered that our neighbour was the conductor of a youth marching band, I boldly knocked on his door, enquiring if I could perhaps join the orchestra. As he had a spare clarinet in his house, he chose that instrument for me. To me, it was fine, though I really did not know what a clarinet was! Within two weeks, I managed to master this instrument by myself and joined the band. After a year, I started writing arrangements for the orchestra. So the gift of music must have been something I have owned naturally from my earliest years. It just came to me!”

Eighteen years old, 1968

Because he jumped one class, Eldad graduated from high school when he was seventeen (1967). By that time, he knew he wanted to go to conservatory. During his secondary school days, he had been competing in clarinet competitions and, as his talent was recognized, he received scholarships to study with able teachers. “And then, when I was seventeen”, Shrem continues, “I auditioned for the Israeli Philharmonic, which was led by Zubin Mehta. I was accepted, but Mehta wanted me to come back only after I had completed my military service. Now, as nobody below eighteen was accepted in the army, I decided to start studying the clarinet, composing, and conducting at the Tel Aviv Music Academy – originally, I had in mind to start my studies only after having completed my military service. The lessons were extremely tedious… they taught me things that were not new to me. Therefore, I decided to up the speed a bit and I finished two years of courses within one year. By then, I had received a postponement for the army for one year, upon which I managed to do the third and fourth year courses within one year as well. In August 1969, I finished the academy and became an army conscript.”

Incredibly, during his years at the academy, Shrem found time to play the clarinet in the Haifa Symphony Orchestra and… to form a rock group! Shrem comments: “This rock band is still one of the mythic groups in Israeli music history, Uzi & The Styles. Uzi Fuchs was our lead singer, while I played the Hammond organ, wrote all arrangements, and composed some song material. It must sound incredible, because you might get the impression that I was working twenty-four hours a day as a student, but I developed a day and night rhythm which I have maintained since: I usually go to sleep at 7.30AM and get up at about 11AM. I left the The Styles and the Haifa Symphonic upon graduating from the academy and beginning my military service.”

Between 1969 and 1972, Shrem fulfilled his military service. In the army, he immediately got involved in light entertainment, becoming a musical director of the famous Army Entertainment Groups, which were the starting point of the career of countless Israeli artists. Based in Tel Aviv, Shrem’s main task was putting together programmes of songs and entertainment with which the groups toured the army bases as well as civilian stages across the country. Several of Shrem’s songs for the groups were successful in the hit parade; two of his protégés, Riki & André, even embarked on a European tour in ’71. As a result of his success with these entertainment groups, Shrem was drawn from classical to pop music once and for all: “By the time my three years in the army were done, I was famous and so busy as an arranger and producer in the entertainment industry that I forgot to bring back my uniform for a considerable time!”

In the early 1970s, Shrem worked as an arranger and producer with all top artists in the Israeli light entertainment business, including the likes of Shlomo Artzi, Svika Pick, Ilanit, and Izhar Cohen. Meanwhile, he found time to spend a year in Italy (1972-’73) to obtain a degree in composing and conducting at the National Music Academy of Saint Cecilia in Rome. “I wanted to do my M.A. there, because I was fond of Italian popular music”, Shrem explains. “A friend of mine, actress Aliza Adar, introduced me to film composer Ennio Morricone, who allowed me to be his assistant. I was in the control room whilst Ennio was conducting in Rome’s Studio One, which, at that time, was the biggest recording studio in the world; it could accommodate a symphony orchestra as well as a comprehensive choir, hundreds of people. I learnt so much just by watching Morricone at work. Meanwhile, I kept on working for the Israeli market all the same… I regularly came back to Tel Aviv for two or three days and then flew back to Rome again. In those days, making an LP in Israel was still quite a straightforward thing, working as we were with four track recordings only. Recording a studio album usually took me about a month, from start to finish, allowing me to work on twelve to fifteen records a year. Even during my stay in Rome, all Israeli pop idols were standing in line… I was the hottest person in town! I was always more of an arranger than a composer; I would have liked to do more songwriting, but usually there was no time to come up with more than one song by me per album on average.”

In August 1973, when his visa for Italy expired, Shrem came back to Israel, just in time to tour the army bases again with the Entertainment Groups to cheer up the soldiers in the Yom Kippur War, which broke out in October of that same year. In December, he set off on another adventurous journey, which took him to the United States. First, he became a musical director at the talent and literary agency of CMA (nowadays ICM Partners) in New York, upon which he set off to the west coast to write a Ph.D. thesis at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He returned to Israel late in 1974. Shrem: “Thanks to my manager, who knew one of the directors of CMA, I could start working in New York. I arranged and produced the music for show programmes which were performed in Las Vegas and holiday resorts around the United States and the Caribbean… shows with stars of bygone days such as Tony Williams and Cyd Charisse. Initially, it was like a dream come true, but soon I began feeling like a slave. When I had finished a production, I went to – let’s say – Aruba or Hawaii to conduct the first couple of shows, but I only got to stay for a week, because then someone else took over and I had to come back to New York to start the next project. I had a nice house with a big studio on the outskirts of New York to my disposal, but after four months I decided I had had enough of doing the same trick over and over again and tore up the contract. Upon that, I settled down in LA, working on a dissertation in musicology on the connection between American soul music and traditional Yemenite music, which I finished before the end of the year. I could have stayed in the States, but I was not happy there. Coming from a country like Israel, where you have friends forever and you can ask your neighbours for help at any time, I felt people in Los Angeles were not real. “I love your music, I will call you back tomorrow”, they said… after which I never heard of them again. It happened to me all the time.”

Though, contrary to his spell in Rome the year before, Shrem had discontinued his work as an arranger for the Israeli market, he was back in business immediately upon his return in 1974. Shrem: “It was as if I had never left. In the 1970s, the market in Israel did not have all these talented young professionals coming from music schools by the dozen yet. Few people did all the work and I was one. In the 1970s, I belonged to a new generation and was considered a revolutionary, having the experience of rock ‘n’ roll as well as classical music. Because, in America, I had become interested in jazz, one of my first plans for the Israeli market was founding a close harmony group in the style of Manhattan Transfer. The quartet I founded consisted of one woman, Shlomit Aharon, and three men and was given the name Hakol over Habibi. I put together a song programme for them with which they toured Israel between 1975 and 1978. It was unbelievably successful and the group performed it over 1,000 times!”

Poster advertising one of the successful Hakol over Habibi theatre shows

In spite of his reservations about life in America, Eldad Shrem spent another year in Los Angeles (1977-’78) as a producer of R&B music for MGM Records. In 1978, he came back to Israel for good. Shrem: “I was asked to come over to create the second stage show for Habibi, which was called ‘Espresso Generation’ and ran from 1979 onwards. It was at least as successful as their first programme. The original idea was to go back to America after three months, but in Israel I met the woman who became my first wife, upon which I decided to leave my job at MGM altogether.” In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, apart from teaming up with ‘his’ group Hakol over Habibi, Shrem also worked as an arranger and occasional songwriter for the likes of Yardena Arazi, Ilanit, Roman Sharon, Avi Toledano, Svika Pick, and Shlomo Artzi. In 1980, he co-arranged the debut album of Ofra Haza, ‘Al ahavot shelanu’.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Eldad Shrem did not only participate in the Eurovision Song Contest as well as in the Israeli preliminary contest on many occasions, but also in several other festivals in Israel and abroad. For the IBA Children’s Festival, he composed songs for Avi Toledano (1971) and Sarai Tzuriel (1985). In 1973, Shrem wrote the music to ‘Mi ha’ish’, with which Dany Granot participated in the Israel Song Festival, whilst the arrangement of the wonderful winning entry in that same competition, ‘At va’ani noladnu betashach’ by Edna Lev – Shrem’s girlfriend at that time – was also penned by him. Internationally, Shrem represented Israel as an arranger and conductor in the 1973 Athens Song Festival, held in the Panathenaic Stadium, with singer Aliza Azikri. Four years later, he was the winning conductor at the Viña del Mar Song Festival in Chile, accompanying Nava Baruchin who performed the Israeli entry ‘Song of love’. Shrem about his frequent involvement in competitions: “Participating in song festivals like these was not really important in forwarding my career – first and foremost, it was a lot of fun. In Athens, I met Nathalie Cole, who represented the United States. Later onwards, I worked with her in the MGM Studios in Los Angeles. Viña del Mar was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my days. The atmosphere was simply incredible! It was an open air concert with 80,000 spectators attending the final. While Nava performed the song, at once, she started making signs to me. She wanted me to look over my back to see what was happening in the crowd. When people there liked a song, they took newspapers and lit those on fire. Nava wanted me to enjoy the moment as much as she did. It was a marvellous sight! There was also a dark side to being in Chile in the Pinochet days, however… except for us, the foreign guests, there was a curfew every day from 8PM onwards. We could see men being shot in the streets. As it was dark and we were inside a bar, it was impossible to make out if they were lethally wounded, but all the same I came back in Israel with a lot of bad feelings.”

In the 1980s, Shrem changed his activities: “In these years, the style of pop changed into something I was not exactly fond of, as a result of which I found myself working on projects I did not support with whole my heart. The dance music of the 1980s, where the melody consists of nothing more than just a bass drum, is so boring. To my mind, most of the Israeli pop of that decade was awful. Although I could have continued working on similar projects as in the ‘70s, I decided I wanted to do something else.” Therefore, Shrem turned to other areas of the music industry. In ’81, he founded his own company for radio jingles and commercials, which was hugely successful in the 1980s; he sold it in 1996. He also found his way in the world of theatre. He composed several original musicals, including ‘Children of the city’ (1982), ‘Mother of Orpheus’ (1992), and ‘Miss Israel’ (1994, co-written by Nurit Hirsh) as well as the rock opera ‘Don’t desert me’ (1984), whilst he arranged and conducted the Israeli productions of many foreign musicals, such as ‘Evita’, ‘Chicago’, and ‘Les misérables’. In the 1990s, the musical projects he worked on as a musical director included ‘Cabaret’, ‘Blood Brothers’, ‘West Side Story’, and ‘Guys and Dolls’. Although theatre became Shrem’s main professional working area in the 1980s, he also composed the soundtracks to a number of films, including ‘Kompot na’alyim’ (1985) and ‘Tel Aviv-Los Angeles’ (1988).

Since the early 1990s, Shrem’s focus has mainly been on television work. In 1991, he formed a big band to back up a talk show of national broadcaster IBA, but this programme as well as the band did not last longer than one year. In 1993, he became involved in the new commercial station Channel 2, where has collaborated on many programmes since. Amongst other projects, he became the orchestra conductor in Dan Shilon Live, a late night talk show which turned out to be a huge success with the Israeli audience and ran for many years. Another series on which Shrem worked as a musical director was Israel Damidov’s show ‘Ha’chaverim shel Sasha’. In 2006, Shrem brought together a new big band, including vocalist Gabe Butler, to accompany the Israeli version of ‘Dancing with the Stars’, which has been running every year since.

Shrem and his orchestra in the Israeli version of ‘Dancing with the Stars’

In 2006, Eldad started his own production company, Shremusic. Shrem explains: “The goal I wanted to attain by founding Shremusic was not to be a hired hand any longer. I want to choose my own projects and I like initiating things which I can support with all my heart. In all modesty, I can say I have succeeded: with the exception of ‘Dancing with the Stars’, everything I do nowadays are initiatives of my own. For example, I love teaming up with the Black Hebrews of Dimona, the community of American blacks who immigrated to Israel and became an integral part of our people. Already back in 2001, I put together Sound & Soul, a quintet of vocalists who are excellent at performing gospel and soul classics. The first project we did was a musical I composed, ‘What a wonderful world’. I have been working closely with the Dimona Hebrews since, especially with the brothers Gabe and Eddie Butler – two excellent singers.” Other groups put together by Shrem in recent years include the pop band Fantasy, which specializes in live gigs, and a close-harmony trio, the Doo-Wop Girls. Moreover, he produced a revue show ‘Viva Las Vegas’ about the life and works of Elvis Presley.

In the early 2000s, Shrem managed to create a niche for himself in the music business, namely crossover projects with classical orchestras. It all started with ‘The Beatles are back’, a programme for which he wrote new arrangements to many of the Fab Four’s major successes; he performed it in theatres across Israel with a quartet of singers and several symphony and chamber orchestras, including the Jerusalem Symphonic, the Haifa Symphonic, and the Tel Aviv Philharmonic. Moreover, Shrem does several theatre concerts a year with his big band. In 2012, he conducted an open-air concert with new arrangements to ABBA hits to an audience of approximately 10,000 spectators. “Conducting is great”, Shrem concludes. “What could be better than making music with a big group of musicians? I like creating music and then performing it as a conductor with my big band or a fully-fledged orchestra. I hope to continue doing this for many years to come.”

Shrem conducting his big band

Eldad Shrem in the Eurovision Song Contest
Eldad Shrem was the conductor of the Israeli entry in the Eurovision Song Contest on four occasions, which makes him Israel’s second-most experienced festival maestro, only preceded by Kobi Oshrat (five times). Shrem’s first involvement came in 1975, when he was just twenty-four years old and the festival was held in Stockholm, Sweden. He accompanied Shlomo Artzi, who performed his own composition: ‘At ve’ani’, which finished in an eleventh place. Shrem: “Although I occasionally composed material for Shlomo in those days, he usually wrote his own songs. ‘At ve’ani’ was typical of Shlomo’s style in those years: straightforward Israeli pop. Later onwards in his career, he became an Israeli Bruce Springsteen. He composed ‘At ve’ani’ as a melodic song, but while writing the arrangement, I decided to up the tempo – so it was turned into an upbeat track. Going to Sweden with Shlomo was exciting… I was young and green and it was my first Eurovision! Admittedly, I was frightened at the prospect of working on such a big event, but the orchestra was excellent and I did not have to give the musicians any instructions – it was a case of just moving your hands and finding out everything worked.”

To their disappointment, Shlomo and Eldad found out they were not given the opportunity to really enjoy their stay in Stockholm. The early 1970s were the years of the Munich Massacre and the Yom Kippur War. Clearly, Israeli and Swedish authorities believed the duo, representing Israel in this big international manifestation, ran the risk of being attacked by terrorists. Shrem recalls: “The two of us were watched 24/7 by two armed guards. At night, they guarded the door of our hotel rooms. We were escorted to the concert hall for the rehearsals in their car – a Volvo. While preparing to go on stage to rehearse, we were isolated in a closed room with our security people. Afterwards, we were immediately taken back to the hotel. We could not socialize with the other participants at all. They were so unbelievably strict with us!”


Eldad Shrem making his debut in the Eurovision Song Contest as a conductor, accompanying Shlomo Artzi in Stockholm (1975)

As if this was not enough, Shrem was dissuaded to go on stage for the live broadcast: “It was just one minute before we were due to perform the song… I was in a room alone, when my security guy came running to me, claiming there was an alarm. According to him somebody wanted to hurt me. After the performance, I was told by Shlomo, who had been waiting in a different place in the building, that he had been told the same. Security would have preferred us not to go on stage, but this time both Shlomo and I disagreed – and we went on stage, did the song, and of course nothing happened. It was an uncomfortable feeling, though, going on stage with all of this on your mind. Why would people want to shoot us? It is not exactly the atmosphere in which an artist likes to work. Once I had counted in the orchestra, however, I had fun – I felt very sure about my job. It was quite an experience though… in other music festivals, like the one in Viña del Mar in Chile, the security measures were not as tight as in Eurovision.”

It was only after the Eurovision Song Contest was over, Shrem and Artzi could finally unwind: “After the contest, we had an appointment in Hamburg to record a German version of ‘At ve’ani’. Shlomo and I were best friends in those days and we decided to make the journey to West Germany by car. We were actually four, as Shlomo had his wife and his sister with him. We rented a car and made a road trip from Stockholm to Hamburg… and finally we were without security, being able to move freely! We had a very nice time.”

Two years later, in 1977, Eldad Shrem’s own composition ‘Ahava hi shir lishnayim’ was internally chosen by the Israeli broadcaster IBA to represent the country in the Eurovision Song Contest, due to be held in Wembley, London. Ilanit performed it and finished eleventh amongst eighteen participants. Eldad had not written the song with the festival in mind: “No, not at all. I composed it for Nava Baruchin and it was a soulful song with lyrics in English which were mine too. When publisher Shlomo Zach heard the demo, however, he said he wanted to keep the song for Ilanit, who he wanted to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest with it. For me, it was a nasty situation, as Shlomo was – and still is – a friend of mine and the prospect of doing another Eurovision was attractive, but Nava was my ex-girlfriend with whom I was still quite close. When I told her Shlomo wanted the song for Ilanit, Nava did not take it lightly! She started crying and was really cross with me. As for the song itself, I had to change the whole atmosphere to make it suitable for Ilanit, who, of course, cannot do what a soul singer can. So this soul ballad was turned into a typical Eurovision pop song with a huge orchestration. In truth, it took away a little bit of the power of the original. Shlomo Zach asked Edna Peleg, whom I did not know personally, to write suitable Hebrew lyrics to it.”

In a stark contrast to what happened in Stockholm, Eldad, who naturally conducted his own composition, and the rest of the Israeli delegation were allowed much more freedom of movement in London. Shrem recalls: “For me, going to London was about having a good time. I was due to move to the USA, where I had signed a contract as a producer for MGM Records, and all I wanted to do before going there was just relaxing. It was nice spending time with Shlomo Zach and Ilanit, who is such a sport – a sweet girl and a good singer! I worked with her throughout the 1970s. Shlomo had hired a background choir of three English girls, with one of whom I had a love affair in London. It did not last for longer than that one Eurovision week, though.”


Eldad conducting his own composition ‘Ahava hi shir lishnayim’ in the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, London

Shrem categorically denies the allegations of that year’s Swedish conductor, Anders Berglund, who claims Shrem had a double-role as a security officer and was armed with a gun throughout the Eurovision week in London. Shrem: “This is just his imagination! During my time in the army, I had to follow basic shooting training. I could never stand the noise and the smell of guns. Until this day, I never go to shooting ranges. I remember another conductor – the host conductor, Ronnie Hazlehurst! I instantly liked him, as he had the same approach to the job as me: working very seriously to get the best possible result, but having fun at the same time. Ronnie was a very funny man, full of jokes. If I was disappointed about coming eleventh? Well, it did not really come as a surprise to me. I knew our song was not strong enough to land a place in the top five.”

In 1979, Eldad’s composition ‘Rikdi et haketsev haze’, interpreted by Chaim Zadok, came fifth in the selection which saw the eventual Eurovision winner ‘Hallelujah’ walking away with first prize. One year later, Israel did not participate in the Eurovision Song Contest due to the fact that it was held on an important religious day in the Jewish calendar. Nevertheless, IBA organized a song festival, for which Shrem arranged several songs, including ‘Al havot shelanu’, with which the young and beginning artist Ofra Haza tried her chance, and the eventual winner ‘Pizmon chozer’, a pleasant melodious tune performed by the quartet Ha’ahim ve Ha’ahayot (Brothers & Sisters). In a ‘normal’ Eurovision year, Shrem would have conducted the winning entry of the Israel Song Festival in the international final, but it was not to be in 1980.

In 1981, Shrem was the conductor of the Israeli delegation for the Eurovision Song Contest for the third time. The song ‘Halayla’, interpreted by the group Hakol over Habibi (internationally, the group’s name was abridged to just ‘Habibi’) won the pre-selection and, as Habibi’s founder, arranger, and producer, Shrem was the natural choice to conduct their contribution. Cruelly enough, however, Shrem could not help but feeling disappointed about Habibi’s win in the Kdam, the national final in Israel. Eldad: “In that year’s Kdam, there was a song which I had composed myself, ‘Cinderela’. A group of six girls, Sexta, performed it and they came second. I was very unhappy… as an arranger, I was part of the winning team of Habibi, but still I felt unhappy! ‘Cinderela’, however, became a big hit in Israel and was covered by numerous artists, which felt as a consolation.”

Taking a little step back in time, Hakol over Habibi will forever be ‘the group that turned down a Eurovision winner’; as many Eurovision followers know, Habibi refused to interpret Kobi Oshrat’s composition ‘Hallelujah’ in the 1979 Israeli pre-selection. Upon that, Oshrat formed a new group, Milk & Honey, which went on to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Shrem remembers this episode very well: “The big fight took place in my house. The four group members were divided over ‘Hallelujah’. The three guys liked the song, but Shlomit, the girl, was the only one who was against the idea. She felt the song was below their level… remember, Habibi was a group which was into close harmony and jazz. We worked a lot with Naomi Shemer, one of Israel’s most important composers of the twentieth century. In short, to Shlomit’s mind, ‘Hallelujah’ did not meet the high standards of Habibi. She felt strongly about this, even threatening to leave the group if the others went ahead. She exclaimed: “If you do this song, okay, but then you can do it without me”. As they were bickering over what to do, I decided to choose Shlomit’s side, saying to the guys: “This is not about if ‘Hallelujah’ is a good song or not, this is not about going to Eurovision or not… the big issue at stake is the future of the group! If Shlomit goes, it will herald the end of Hakol over Habibi. It is more important to leave the group as it is.” That was the end of the discussion… and the rest is history. I cannot say I regret what I did, because Hakol over Habibi are still around and they have had a fine career in Israel, whereas Milk & Honey broke up one year after their Eurovision victory.”

Ironically, ‘Halayla’, with which Habibi went to Eurovision two years later, was certainly more poppy than ‘Hallelujah’. Shrem: “It was suggested to the group and to me by Shuki Levi, an Israeli who lived in LA. He was the business partner of Chaim Saban, a media tycoon and probably one of the richest Israelis in the world. Chaim had become a millionaire by bringing Japanese action cartoons to Europe – initially to France. Shuki rewrote the theme songs for these cartoons in French and recorded them. Later, they moved to the US, where Chaim became the biggest power in showbiz. At one point, he bought Shuki out for a lot of money. Now, Shuki sent us a demo of the song with English lyrics, sung by an American black session singer. He thought it was suitable for Eurovision and I agreed. Shlomit wrote Israeli lyrics to it with one of the guys from the group and I wrote a vocal arrangement. After the song won the Israeli selection, I rewrote Shuki’s instrumentation to fit a full Eurovision orchestra.”


Israel’s entry in the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest held in Dublin: ‘Halayla’ by Habibi, conducted by Eldad Shrem

In 1981, the international Eurovision final was held in Dublin, Ireland. ‘Halayla’ scored 56 points, obtaining a seventh place for Israel. Eldad recalls: “It was my first time in Ireland. I found it beautiful – so unbelievably green! Coming from Israel, it is a place which makes your heart beat faster. During the week, there were riots going on, but the Eurovision delegations were kept away from that. We were not taken to Northern Ireland or other dangerous places. I found the Irish organisation extremely friendly – including, most notably, the conductor of the orchestra there, Noel Kelehan. I met him again in ’88, when the festival was held in the same hall. Our delegation included Shuki and Chaim Saban. Chaim had decided to produce the song after it had won the Kdam. Habibi were their usual selves in Dublin, fighting amongst each other. I had created the group, but I had created a monster! They were a quartet of troubled people, for whom nothing was good enough. They were constantly complaining about the sound. I felt like a father, trying to keep them quiet and restoring peace. Conducting the orchestra felt like a minor task that week. Keeping the group happy was far more complicated! Of course, they were dissatisfied about getting seventh in Dublin… they were not convinced they would win the competition, but expected to land a position with the first three.”

In the following decade, Eldad Shrem participated numerous times in the Israeli Eurovision pre-selection as a composer, arranger, and producer. Most notably, he produced ‘Muzika nisheret’, with which Yardena Arazi came second in the 1982 Kdam, while he composed ‘Ha’agada al bel’ for the Kesem Band for the 1983 selection – a big hit success in Israel. Moreover, he was one of the conductors in the preliminaries of 1987 and 1991, but Shrem admits that the music in these programmes was not played live: “No, we used playback tapes. I felt downhearted about that… although our broadcasting service IBA always spent a lot of money on the Kdam, they never used it to get able sound engineers. The live sound in every IBA programme – the Kdam or anything else – was always disastrous. In 1991, the original plan was to play live with an orchestra, but all participants kept on expressing their unhappiness about the sound quality, upon which the organisers decided to pre-record the orchestrations and fake it on the night, including the conducting part. It is a method used in all Hollywood movies, so it is nothing to be ashamed of, but all the same it took away lots of the excitement of working on a live show.”


Eldad Shrem conducting the playback orchestra in the 1991 Israeli pre-selection for Shlomi Shabat with his song ‘Mikan’

Eldad’s last involvement in the international Eurovision final was in 1988, when the festival was held in Dublin and Yardena Arazi obtained a seventh spot for Israeli with the folk flavoured song ‘Ben Adam’, a composition by Boris Dimitshtein with lyrics by Eurovision veteran Ehud Manor. For Arazi, who had been one of the hosts of the 1979 contest in Jerusalem, it was her second participation in the contest as a vocalist, already having participated as one of the Chocolata-Menta-Mastik trio in The Hague (1976). It was chosen as the winner of a pre-selection in Israel with four songs, all interpreted by Yardena. Shrem: “In the years before, Yardena and I had been trying very hard to qualify for Eurovision… I arranged several Kdam songs for her. Now, of these four songs in the 1988 selection, I produced three. So I felt I was a sure winner! I did not even watch the competition, leaving the TV studio when the show was about to begin. When I came home, my daughters were shouting to me from the veranda: “Daddy, you have won, you have won!” But, with 75% chance, how can you lose! ‘Ben Adam’ was clearly not my favourite in the pre-selection. It is a very simple song. Boris Dimitshtein, the composer, was originally from the Soviet Union and the song has the sound of a Russian folk song. When Boris submitted it, it was just a demo with guitar accompaniment. As a producer, it was my job to find the gimmick which would make a song memorable. In this case, I chose to include accordions in the arrangement. I found two local musicians in Tel Aviv – two brothers – to play the accordions on stage alongside Yardena.”

“It was my impression”, Shrem continues, “that Yardena wanted to have another go at participating in the contest to enjoy the experience… simply for the fun of it. We were in Dublin with a delegation of some ten people and we had a great time. Yardena is such a pleasant girl to be around: so sweet and so modest. We went to all parties of the other delegations, but afterwards, we went back to the hotel to continue making music around the piano in the lobby. I or one of the background musicians sat at the piano, with the rest singing along to the tune. More and more members of other delegations joined us in our sing-along. While the circle around us got bigger and bigger, we continued until three or four o’clock in the night. It was the complete opposite experience of what happened to me in Stockholm in ’75, when Shlomo Artzi and I were not allowed to have contact with anyone. In 1988, the entire festival community gathered around the Israeli delegation for the whole week. This was my last Eurovision participation and certainly the most pleasant one. We laughed so much and altogether had an excellent time. We did not even care about the voting.”


Eldad Shrem leading the orchestra for Yardena Arazi (Eurovision 1988, Dublin)

Shrem seems to have had a keen eye for the possibilities of the eventual winner of the 1988 contest, Céline Dion, who participated for Switzerland with ‘Ne partez pas sans moi’. Shrem: “One night, we met the Swiss delegation. Now, I had attended one of Céline’s rehearsals and I was impressed with her from the first moment onwards. I told her I was convinced she would be a world star. She had this je ne sais quoi… something you cannot put into words. When she opened her mouth and started singing, you could simply tell: here is the star. She was very grateful about what I said, thanking me profusely in a little voice.”

Would Shrem consider participating in the Eurovision Song Contest as a composer or producer nowadays? “Well, not really”, Eldad admits. “In 2011, I received an e-mail from a guy who writes lyrics. He wanted me to compose songs to his lyrics to submit them for the Kdam. But I simply did not feel like it, because Eurovision is not a game I want to play anymore. In this stage of my career, I do not have to worry about ruining my name, but nowadays I am keen on just working on projects that I personally like. The Eurovision Song Contest is not amongst them… The festival has gone so far astray from its original values that it is beyond saving. Inevitably, it will eventually fade out, because nobody seems to be interested in it anymore.”

Eldad in his recording studio, December 2011

Other artists on Eldad Shrem
So far, we have not gathered comments of other artists about Eldad Shrem.

Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker interviewed Eldad Shrem in Ramat Ha-Sharon, December 2011.
  • Many thanks to Amir Herschkovitsch for doing some valuable research in Israeli popular music history.
  • All photos courtesy of Eldad Shrem.

Website(s):
www.shremusic.com  

  

Songs conducted
1975: At ve'ani
1977: Ahava hi shir lishnayim
1981: Halayla
1988: Ben Adam