Netta, Dana International and Madonna would have been enough to impress 200 million viewers across the world, but there was another reason everyone was talking about Israel after the 64th Eurovision Song Contest – and their name is Shalva Band.
Comprising eight musicians with special needs, including two lead singers who are blind, and percussionists with Down’s syndrome, the band had previously stormed to victory in The Rising Star – Israel’s equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent – to represent their country at Eurovision.
As the finals approached, they decided to pull out owing to rehearsals taking place on Shabbat, but were invited back as guest artists at the semi-finals, with their rendition of Pink’s A Million Dreams sending the crowd wild.
Their performance soon went viral and the band was hailed on social media as the “real winner” of Eurovision.
Shalva Band is now set to perform this month for a UK audience, taking to the stage at the newly-renovated South Hampstead United Synagogue.
Since performing at Eurovision, the band has flown across the world to share their music and message of inspiration, with performances planned in Miami, New York and Toronto.
The band has also performed at Israel’s main Independence Day production on Har Herzl, as well as at the United States’ Fourth of July Independence Day event held at the US embassy in Jerusalem.
“I’m amazed and thankful our music is being heard,” says Dina Samte, a vocalist and ukulele player for the band.
Dina was born in Manipur, north-eastern India, and began losing her sight at the age of six. While in India, she was banned from school, as some parents worried her condition might be contagious.
In Israel aged 10, she was able to go to school, learn Braille and study Hebrew.
“For me, this band is the realisation of a dream I didn’t even know I had,” Dina adds.
Set up in 1990, the non-profit organisation helps thousands of people with disabilities and their families with everything from therapies, employment training and independent living, offering support for all ages, from infants to adults.
The band began its journey at the Shalva National Centre in Jerusalem, where not only are members supported, but they each study, work and volunteer within the wider community.
Many of the band members have gone through Shalva’s rehabilitative programmes, and developed their musical talents through its music therapy programme.
Yair Pomburg, who plays percussion and raps for the group, says he loves the fame resulting from Eurovision.
Yair grew up participating in Shalva’s programmes, and also works at its coffee shop. “I love the fact I’m recognised in the street by fans who know me as the drummer from the Shalva Band,” he says.
Yosef Ovadia, who has Williams Syndrome, a developmental disorder, plays drums for the band and has attended Shalva’s programmes since the age of seven.
“My hope is always to be a role model for children with and without disabilities and
I got a chance to do it from the greatest stage of all,” he says
• The Shalva Band performs on Tuesday, 19 November, 7pm at South Hampstead United Synagogue. Tickets: 020 3866 5741. or www.eventbrite.co.uk
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