Shaike PaikovBorn: July 5th, 1937, Tel Aviv (Israel)
Upon completing high school, Shaike performed his obligatory three years of military service (1955-’58). Soon, he was asked to join the Army Entertainment Group, which performed all across army camps in Israel to cheer up the soldiers. A dedicated soldier of the State of Israel, he served his country in four military conflicts, the Suez Crisis (1956), the Six Days war (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973), and the First Lebanon War (1982-’83). Upon completing his military service in 1958, Paikov went to the Oranim Academic College, a teacher training school in Kiryat Tiv’on (near Haifa). At the same time, he studied modern music privately with composer Abel Ehrlich. Having completed his extensive studies at Oranim in 1961, Paikov became a qualified elementary teacher and music teacher. Mostly based in Hadera from that time onwards, he taught music at schools all over the north of Israel until 1975. Paikov: “Today, it is not usual anymore to work at so many schools at the same time, but I was ambitious and, at some point, taught 1,000 pupils a week. I mainly worked in the kibbutzim, where pupils were more dedicated to music and more talent could be found. I also taught music to grownups and worked with various amateur choirs and orchestras.”
Towards the end of the 1960s, Paikov started to seriously dedicate himself to songwriting. His songs, usually flavoured with more than a pinch of folk tradition, were picked up by producers in Tel Aviv. Some of Paikov’s first successful creations were recorded by Israel’s popular song duo of the day, Ilan & Ilanit; these include ‘Hine lo yanum’ (1969) and ‘Shir shabbat’ (1970). When Ilanit went solo, Paikov penned some of her most prolific hit successes, such as ‘Le’orech ha’shdera she’ein ba ish’ (1972), ‘Tevorchi’ (1977), and ‘Chamsin shel nissan’ (1980). The single most recognized song by Paikov in Israel, though, is ‘Eretz’, one of his patriotic songs, with which Ilanit participated in the 1976 Hebrew Song & Chorus Festival. It established him as one of the main popular song composers of his country. “I composed ‘Eretz’ as a love song to my country”, Shaike explains. “The whole of Israel can identify with the lyrics of ‘Eretz’, which are about the past, the present, and the future of the country and its people. Therefore, these words will forever remain up to date. Some people even think of it as our alternative national anthem!”
Paikov, who had stopped working as a teacher in 1975 to devote himself fully to composing, usually wrote the lyrics to his songs himself. In addition to his patriotic tunes, he composed a number of songs which express an overtly spiritual dimension. ‘Shir shabbat’ and also ‘Tahat eres b’ni’ reflect traditional, almost orthodox sentiments. “I am a secular Jew”, Paikov insisted in a 1979 interview, “but I still feel a strong association with the Torah and with Jewish history. Instead of expressing these feelings in rituals or prayers, I express them in words in music. There is no conflict for me. Just as I am a part of the land, so the tradition is part of me (…). I wrote many of the Beautiful Israel songs as a response to the trauma of the Yom Kippur War. I wanted to give positive reinforcement to my fellow citizens.”
Many of Paikov’s songs from the 1970s have become evergreens – melodies which every Israeli will instantly recognize. Some of his best-known compositions from this decade are ‘Eretz Israel Yafa’ for the Pikud Darom Band, ‘Shiri li’, and ‘Lechof yarden’ for Dudu Zakai, ‘Ani ve’ata’ for the Tseva Tari Trio, ‘Vetavo aleychem habracha’ for Sasi Keshet, and ‘Gam ani rotza lashir al hakineret’ for Iris Sendner. Other artists recording Paikov’s work include Alexandra, Suzan & Fran, Nava Baruchin, Sasi Keshet, Nira Gal, Mali Burnstein, Michal Tal, Chocolate-Menta-Mastik, and Dorit Reuveni. How does Paikov explain the success of his creations? “I guess one of the main reasons is my ability to compose in many different styles. Do not underestimate the role of the lyrics, though! Music and words have to form a tight bond and a high-quality composition cannot have sloppy lyrics. The words of a song have to bring across a message to the world… songs are the ideal vehicle to bring powerful and meaningful lyrics to the attention of a large audience. A third factor which helped me greatly was the expertise of Shlomo Zach, my producer. He managed to couple each of my songs to the right artist.”
A considerable part of Paikov’s more than 700 compositions competed in song festivals in Israel. His creations were particularly successful in the IBA Children’s Festival, a prestigious local event, which he won on four occasions: in 1971, the first edition of the festival, with ‘Lama kacha’ for Avi Toledano; in 1972 with ‘En den dino’ for Yaffa Yarkoni; in 1973 a third successive victory with ‘Chag yovel’ for Avi Toledano; and lastly in 1981 with ‘Ima’ for Ronen Bahunker. Many years later, ‘Ima’ was chosen by the Israeli audience as the best children’s song ever written by an Israeli composer. Several other of Paikov’s participations in the IBA Children’s Festival, such as ‘Hagigat Aviv’ for Chocolate-Menta-Mastik and ‘Le’artzi yesh yomhuledet’ for Eli Gorenstein, have become evergreens. For the 1971 edition of the Hassidic Song Festival, Paikov penned ‘Sisu vesimchu’ for vocalist Sasi Keshet. In the Hebrew Song & Chorus Festival, Paikov was successful with ‘Eretz’ for Ilanit (1976) and ‘Otcha’ for Ilana Avital (1977).
Was competing in song contests important to Paikov? “Yes, very important”, he smiles. “From my youth onwards, I have been an ambitious person, always keen to compete with others. I want to achieve what others cannot do… that is part of my character. To me, it was even more interesting to go abroad, participating in international festivals. My songs represented Israel in song contests all over the world.” Paikov participated in the Viña del Mar International Song Festival, a huge annual open-air event in Chile, on no fewer than six occasions, winning the second prize twice, with ‘Le’ehov’ for Ilana Avital (1978) and ‘Morning love’ for Shlomit Aharon (1991). In the Far East, Paikov participated in the Seoul Song Festival (South Korea) and the World Popular Music Festival in Tokyo (Japan) in 1982, in both cases with boy-singer Ronen Bahunker. In South Korea, Bahunker performed ‘Ima’ in English: ‘Mother’, while his effort in Japan, ‘Mikol shirey a’havati – Of all my love songs’ finished sixth. For the latter song, Shaike Paikov was honoured with the Outstanding Song Award by an expert jury. The composer also participated in the Rio de Janeiro Song Festival (Brazil) and the Malta Children’s Festival. In 1993, Paikov performed the role of jury member in the Bucharest International Song Festival, Romania.
Away from the world of hit parades and music festivals, Shaike Paikov wrote the soundtracks to several Israeli movie productions, such as ‘Koreyim li shmil’ (1975), ‘Nurit’ (1975), ‘Na’arat haparvarim’ (1979), ‘Rechov 60’ (1981), and ‘Nurit II’ (1983). American producer Charles Andrews offered Paikov the opportunity to come to Los Angeles and start a new career as a film composer for the Hollywood movie industry, but he turned it down, not wanting to leave his family behind in Israel. Shaike Paikov also composed jingles for radio and television, music for commercials, and theatre productions. He wrote the music to an Israeli dance performance by Yonatan Karmon at the Olympia Music Hall, Paris, which was conducted by Paikov’s good friend Yitzhak Graziani.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Shaike Paikov continued to be much in demand as a songwriter. He wrote and arranged ‘Kmo tzipor’ for Ofra Haza’s debut album in 1980, while songs such as ‘Li nishar chalil hashir’ for Ilana Avital (1987), ‘Perach nadir’ for Adam (1989), and ‘Anashim yesh ba’olam’ for Itzik Harush (1993) managed to climb the charts in Israel. In this particular period, Paikov’s compositions were also recorded by the likes of Shoshana Damari, Yehoram Gaon, Israela Kriboshe, and Uri Feinman.
From the early 1990s onwards, however, Paikov has mainly focused on a new, totally different project in Chile. “Chile is a country I got to know thanks to my involvement in the Viña del Mar International Song Festival”, Paikov explains. “The country’s natural resources are impressive. For a start, Chile has forty percent of the world’s copper reserves. I got interested in mining and visited a copper mine up in the Andes Mountains for the first time in 1983. After having read somewhere about the possibility of finding gold in the Andes, I decided to give it a serious try myself. Since 1990, I have made more than 250 flights to South America, looking for gold and other precious metals. My motivation to do so is not that much different from competing in song festivals: I want to achieve what other people have failed to do. Therefore, I have stopped writing music on a daily basis. Even today, however, I sometimes like to sit at my piano to compose… and at such moments I feel that the ability to compose fast and with ease still has not left me.” In December 2011, an honorary concert of three hours with Paikov’s music, in which some of Israel’s most popular singers participated, was organized in Rosh Haayin.
Shaike Paikov in the Eurovision Song Contest
Paikov decided to conduct the orchestra for his song in the Eurovision Song Contest himself. Not everybody agreed with this, however. “There was an issue about this matter with Silviu Nansi Brandes”, Paikov recalls. “When we won the Kdam, he jumped onto the stage all of a sudden, shouting to each and everyone: ‘We are the winners, we are going to Eurovision’. He claimed the arrangement was his and that he had the right to conduct the piece in the Eurovision final. The truth, however, was that Nansi, who is a very able synthesizer player, made a first demo version of the song. When ‘Derech ha-melech’ was selected for the Kdam selection programme, I completely reworked the arrangement with strings and brass. My mistake had been allowing Nansi to have his name credited as the song’s arranger. He had begged me to have his name there, because he would be given more money from the Hed Artzi record company. He knew the Kdam arrangement was not his work and that only the piano part of the final version was played by him… when he jumped onto the stage, I was completely taken by surprise. Where did he come from? I had not even realized he was in the hall. Perhaps he thought I was not a trained conductor? Well, I can assure you I was taught the basics at school and that I conducted in recording sessions as well as on stage. Yes, I am mainly an autodidact at this subject, but it has not impeded me from getting great results in festivals in Korea, Japan, and Chile. I told Nansi to go home and leave me in peace… I can imagine he was keen on conducting in the Eurovision Song Contest, but it was my song and my arrangement!”
In Lausanne (Switzerland), where the 1989 Eurovision Song Contest was held, ‘Derech ha-melech’ finished twelfth among twenty-two competing songs, picking up exactly fifty points. For Paikov, it was a bitter disappointment. “When I walked off the conductor’s stage after our performance, I was certain to get first prize, because my song was simply the best of the evening. Backstage, however, was publisher Shlomo Zach, who told me something had gone wrong with the sound: Gili and Galit had not heard the orchestra while they were singing. I was beside myself with anger, because I had given very strict instructions to the Swiss sound controller during rehearsals. Initially, the mix of the vocals and the orchestra was not right, but we managed to get a good sound mix in the end. On the night, however, he ruined the balance again! Can you imagine what the effect of the sound problems was on Gili and Galit, two very young and inexperienced singers? Of course, it affected their vocal performance negatively. I am convinced the sound man did it on purpose… he must have been an anti-Semite. After the show, Shlomo and I tried to talk to him about what had happened, but he did not even look our way and simply walked past us. This made me even angrier, but there was nothing we could do about it anymore…”
After having finished third in the 1992 Kdam with his composition ‘Yeroushalem’, interpreted by Ronen Bahunker, Paikov managed to write the winning entry for the Israeli Eurovision selection programme in the year after. A group of six, Lahakat Shiru, performed ‘Shiru’, a hymn about the joy of singing with lyrics by Yoram Tahar-Lev. In the international final of the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest, this Israeli entry finished second-last with a meagre four points. What went wrong?
Paikov: “It is a long and complicated story… to begin with, I did not want to participate in the 1993 Kdam at all. A couple of days before the submission deadline, Sarah’le Sharon called me. She is quite famous in Israel, being a TV personality and working across the country to organize sing-along concerts of folk music, but… she is not a singer! I knew her very well, as I had been her music teacher in the Ashdot Yaakov kibbutz in the early 1960s. On the phone, she told me she wanted to participate in the Kdam Eurovision – not even to win, just to be there and compete. Honestly, I was not very keen on her idea, as I am not the kind of composer to participate in a competition without any chance to win. Imagine, I once did four song festivals in one year and won all of them. With Sarah, it would be impossible to win, as she does not remotely have the vocal abilities required to be a soloist. I told her the Kdam was a competition for twelve young people jumping around the stage like madmen, with the best of them being selected for the Eurovision Song Contest – not exactly an environment tailor-made for a forty-five-year-old woman. Sarah, however, did not take no for an answer and kept begging me, claiming that it would be the dream of her life to be in the Kdam with a song written by me. She even wanted to finance part of the project from her own money.”
In the end, Paikov succumbed to Sarah’le Sharon’s pleas and composed ‘Shiru’. “Yes, I agreed to write a song”, he admits, “on the condition that I was given permission to form a group of young people around Sarah to do the singing. I explicitly told Sarah that, if she opened her mouth, she would kill the song. After she had agreed, I wrote the music to the lyrics by Yoram Tahar-Lev, which were already there and were given to me over the phone by Sarah. Adapting the original lyrics somewhat here and there, I managed to compose a tune in a matter of minutes. Sarah instantly liked it. Subsequently, I brought together five young singers – three girls and two boys – for the vocal group. Israel is a small country and, at that time, I had ample contacts to find suitable candidates. Some of them were from kibbutzim, others simply from Tel Aviv. In the studio, they did the main vocals. Sarah did no more than backing them up in the choruses. In the Kdam, Sarah was at the piano, but the focus of the cameras was on the vocal group. Therefore, we managed to win the pre-selection.”
In the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest, the orchestra for ‘Shiru (Sing a song)’ was conducted by Amir Frohlich. What was the reason Paikov was not the conductor this time, when he had been so adamant about this particular issue four years before? “Remember, we were very close to the submission deadline for the Kdam when we recorded the song… only four days were left. At that time, I was working on some other projects and I did not have the time to arrange and record ‘Shiru’ all by myself. Therefore, I turned to Amir, a friend of mine and – more importantly – a talented synthesizer player, and told him what I had in mind with this song. With my basic ideas, he set to work and recorded it with the group. As I was satisfied with the way he had handled it, I promised him that, if we were to qualify for Eurovision, he was my choice to conduct the orchestra. For Amir, who was not really well-known outside the recording studio, it was an opportunity to work in front of a big audience for the first time. He was very grateful to me. After we had won the Kdam, we went back into the studio together and slightly adapted the arrangement for the Eurovision Song Contest.”
Shaike Paikov, Sarah’le Sharon, and the Lahakat Shiru formation travelled to the Eurovision Song Contest in Millstreet (Ireland). Soon, disagreement broke out in the Israeli delegation during rehearsals. Paikov: “After the first rehearsal, we sat with the woman who was the director of the contest (Anita Notaro, BT). All of a sudden, Sarah had an attitude, behaving as if she was the main singer and the five others merely backed her up. For that reason, she claimed the cameras should focus on her. In doing so, she completely ignored the ideas we had given to the Irish organisation about what we wanted the stage presentation to look like. In Eurovision, music is only 10% – the visual aspect is far more important. Therefore, I went to the director afterwards to talk to her in private, explaining that Sarah was there for other reasons than her vocal qualities. By that time, this director was very annoyed by the whole situation, but she agreed to change the camera approach after all and focus on the group rather than on Sarah, who was at the piano in the back. That should have been the end of the discussion, but it was not! When we did the next rehearsal, we were extremely surprised to see that all cameras focused on Sarah once again. What had happened? Soon, it came about Sarah had given a phone call to the director and told her that she was the singer of the group after all. There we were… it was obviously impossible to ask of the director to adapt the camera work again, as she was very aggressive towards us and even claimed she would exclude us from the competition if we bothered her again about the camera approach.”
“From that moment onwards”, Paikov concludes, “I knew we were doomed. Sarah killed everything! She sang too loud and out of tune. I telephoned the Head of Entertainment of Israeli TV in Jerusalem and told him I wanted to come back to Israel. Sarah had gone crazy and I could not do anything about it – so why stay? The Head of Entertainment, however, implored me not to leave Ireland, because he was afraid it would cause an enormous uproar in the Israeli media. In the end, I decided to stay, but I was certain we would lose. It hurt a lot, as I composed a wonderful song, which, under normal conditions, would have been amongst the first three.”
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