Shlomo Artzi, dubbed the ‘Jewish Springsteen’, chats to Francine Wolfisz ahead of his one-off London gig.
Described by critics as the “Israeli Springsteen”, Shlomo Artzi has sold more than 1.5million albums over four decades.
The popular folk rock singer was born on a kibbutz in 1949 and grew up in Tel Aviv. His father, Yitzhak Artzi, spent the war in the Zionist underground of Romania and later became a member of the Knesset, while his Hungarian-born mother survived Auschwitz. Showing a talent for music from a young age, Artzi began composing songs as a teenager and rose to prominence in the 1980s with the release of his albums, Dance (Tirkod) and Restless Night (Layla Lo Shaket). The talented 64-year-old is now heading to London for the first time in 10 years with a concert in aid of Variety Israel on 8 June.
JN: You are one of Israel’s most successful male singers, but were you always musical? Did anyone else in your family have the same talents?
SA: I remember that I was very connected to music. I received a guitar when I was nine and remember writing and singing songs since then. I don’t come from a musical family. My father was a member of parliament, but my three children are definitely continuing the tradition. My older son, Ben, who is coming to London with me, and my youngest son, Yonatan, love singing and are very musically talented.
JN: Your parents were both Holocaust survivors – how have their experiences influenced you?
SA: The truth is that it is very difficult for me to talk about it, as these are their personal stories. My sister [playwright Nava Semel] and I carry in our blood the tragedy that the Diaspora caused for our parents and families. These mixed feelings, which will accompany us all throughout our lives, are difficult to put into words.
JN: During your military service, you joined Lehakat Kheil Hayam (the Naval Corps Entertainment Group). How did this help launch your career?
SA: I was performing as a soloist in the troop. My first hits came out and grew there. Also the song Ahavtiha (I Loved Her) became a hit even back when I was a soldier. There is no doubt that my army career was a huge jump forward and very important to the future of my career.
JN: Based on album sales and gross income from your shows, you are Israel’s most successful singer. How do you feel about this? Did you always feel you would become successful?
SA: I never imagined in my wildest dreams what could happen with my career. I feel very lucky and especially happy.
JN: Some critics call you “the Israeli Springsteen” – how do you feel about that comparison?
SA: I really love Bruce Springsteen, so the fact that you compare me to him is very flattering – but I admit that I prefer to be me!
JN: What message do you hope to spread with your music?
SA: I want to believe and hope my music encourages listening, openness, humanity, acceptance and, most importantly, love. As I wrote in one of my songs: “the need to love never ends”.
JN: Your son Ben has also become a singer and songwriter. Do you enjoy performing with him? Does his musical style differ much from yours?
SA: We really enjoy performing together and working on my new album in the studio. For me, it is very exciting to stand next to my talented son on stage. Our musical styles are sometimes similar and sometimes different, but we have a strong connection and, of course, I have plenty of love for him as a son and as a musician.
JN: Do you have plans to retire any time soon or are you still enjoying performing and touring?
SA: For me to perform is a way of life and I will continue to perform as long as I am able to.
JN: This is your first performance in London in 10 years. So why have you not performed here sooner?
SA: Ten years? To tell you the truth, I really don’t remember how much time has passed. I remember performing at the Dominion and it was really amazing. We mainly perform in Israel at the Caesarea amphitheatre, this is our home. Every performance requires months of preparation. Our last performance was in Berlin and we were very moved. From time to time we like to perform abroad, not too much and not too little.
JN: Have you worked with Variety Israel before?
SA: Of course. I have a very special affiliation with Variety and children’s charities. I am a close friend of Udi Angel, president of Variety Israel, who is a very special person. Thanks to his help, we did a tour of deprived areas around the country and we opened a park in Yerucham [in the Negev], thanks to his contacts and financial support. So whenever Variety Israel asks, we come – running or flying!
- Additional reporting by Fiona Leckerman
- Shlomo Artzi performs at Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London, on Sunday, 8 June, at 7.30pm, in aid of Variety Israel.
- Details: Tzemach Productions UK on 020 8201 7441/2 or www.tzemach.com