As the first Ethiopian to represent Israel at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Eden Alene was not only going to make history – she would also have celebrated her 20th birthday in Rotterdam.
Now, instead of performing to an audience of millions, the heartbroken singer is leaping about from home to entertain her 90,000 Instagram followers and responding to media queries about how she is feeling.
“I wanted to go and do it, to win and felt that we had when I saw the reactions that people so loved the song, its message and meaning. It’s so disappointing.”
Not that anyone was in any doubt about her sadness, as she was live on television in Israel when she heard Jon Ola Sand, executive supervisor of the Eurovision Broadcasting Authority, announce the contest had been cancelled – and Eden could not hold back the tears.
It was an understandable reaction from the IDF soldier, who won Israeli X Factor in 2018. Having had a chance to gather her thoughts, she now admits: “This is something minor compared to what’s happening.
“It shows how terrible the situation is and I saw it coming because the rehearsals kept getting cancelled.”
Born and raised in Jerusalem before recently moving to Kiryat Gat, Eden was just three when she attended a local music conservatory.
Her single mother, Varkanesh, who is religiously observant, worked as a housekeeper to support her daughter’s voice training.
“I did ballet for 11 years before I did music,” said Eden. “Then I performed in a choir of adults from all backgrounds and religions to show music’s ability to bring people together.”
Bringing people together is the message in her Eurovision song, Feker Libi, Amharic for ‘My Love’, which also includes English, Hebrew and Arabic lyrics.
The song was co-written by renowned Israeli musicians Idan Raichel and Doron Medalie, the latter contributing to Israel’s winning 2018 entry, Toy, performed by Netta Barzilai.
As a footnote, the song is also about Eden’s boyfriend, Jonathan.
“Israel was founded 70 years ago by refugees and immigrants, so our entire country is built on the mix between different people from different cultures and I feel that I represent this entirely,” says Eden, who currently appears in an advert for the Israeli snack Bamba, made to promote Eurovision.
Israel has always led the way with firsts for minorities at Eurovision, with Yemenite singer Ofra Haza performing in 1983, transgender singer Dana International in 1998 and Arab-Israeli Mira Awad duetting with Noa in 2009.
For Israel’s 125,500 Ethiopian citizens, Eden represented a musical breakthrough in the country in which they still struggle for positive discrimination.
As her mother said: “Eden represents pride for Ethiopians,” and, while her daughter has been selected to sing at next year’s competition, they have been left feeling saddened by the situation.
Eden’s debut single, Better, reached the top 10 in the Israeli music charts, while Feker Libi rose to number three.
She has also performed a cover of Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses For Me, which was the UK’s winning song in 1976 and is now available on YouTube.
While this year’s contest hasn’t turned out as planned, she will feature in a substitute show, Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light and is hopeful of “getting the chance to perform in next year’s contest when I will be 21.”
A birthday that next year, she hopes to celebrate on stage in front of a live audience of millions.
THE SHOW MUST GO ON!
While this year’s event has been cancelled, organisers will instead air a special programme on Saturday, Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light.
In addition to spotlighting the 41 songs selected for 2020, the production will also include special performances from past Eurovision contestants.
These include Israel’s 1979 Eurovision winner, Gali Atari, who will sing her huge hit Hallelujah, alongside a choir comprising participants from the Junior Eurovision Song Contest.
Israel’s 2018 winner, Netta, will also perform an acoustic version of her new song, Cuckoo.
All 41 artists will join together, from their locations across Europe, in singing the 1997 winning song, Love Shine A Light by Katrina And The Waves.
Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light airs at 8pm on Saturday, on BBC One