Moshe Nachumovich
Static & Ben ElMoshe Nachumovich
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The Summer of Static & Ben El

The flashy, globally inspired pop duo is ready to bring the Tel Aviv party worldwide

by
Dana Kessler
July 09, 2021
Moshe Nachumovich
Static & Ben ElMoshe Nachumovich

I distinctly remember the first time I heard Static & Ben El. It was the summer of 2016 and I was browsing through cheap, colorful plastic stuff in a dollar store in Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv. The song, which I later learned was “Silsulim” by the newcomer group Static & Ben El, was blasting out of the store’s sound system. It was sort of like a Mizrahi song, but it had rap on it. It was unbelievably catchy and dancey, pumping and funny; half patriotic fluff, half self-aware humor. It fit perfectly with the cheap shiny squishy stress balls I was eyeing in the shop: They had the Israeli flag printed on them, even though they were obviously made in China. All the while I was bopping along to the song, its optimistic lyrics penetrating my consciousness. Namechecking Tel Aviv, Eilat, and the Kinneret, Static & Ben El’s message was clear: Come and party, because there’s nothing like the Israeli summer.

It was the most convincing summer anthem I’ve heard since DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released “Summertime.” Later that day, when I checked out the video for Silsulim” on YouTube, I was even more convinced. Much like Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith in their time, Static & Ben El were two youngsters, sporting shorts and a modern version of the original hi-top fade hairstyle, enjoying the summer, surrounded by girls, drinks, and good times. I have no idea if the early ’90s hip-hop anthem was any kind of reference point for Static & Ben El, or if they were even familiar with it—after all, they had literally just been born when “Summertime” came out. But even if not, it’s clear that the laid-back urban summertime groove, born from that song and its accompanying video, is a theme that the entire post-MTV generation—including these two—was shaped by.

In “Silsulim’s” lyrics, Static & Ben El explain that “what appeals to Israelis is bass and silsulim.” By bass, they mean Western pop sounds that make you move, especially hip-hop and dance. And “silsulim” are the trill ornamentations in Middle Eastern music: a buzzword for Mizrahi music. Bass is for the body, silsulim are for the soul. In this short sentence, Static & Ben El summed up what they are all about. Indeed, this is the essence of the duo. Static’s background is hip-hop and Ben El’s background is Middle Eastern music. When Jordi, their producer, put those two genres together, there was nothing artificial about it. It was exactly what these two singers, as well as the majority of Israel’s young generation, know and love.

While the lyrics of “Silsulim” painted Israel as the perfect melting pot (“Alcohol from Russia, Moroccan food, Ashkenazi violin,” Static quips), the music is also a blend of hip-hop, Mizrahi music, and Reggaeton—which itself mixes hip-hop, Latin American, and Caribbean music. In their hands, these influences all sounded like they belonged together. Until this duo emerged on the scene, most attempts at creating real Western chart-pop in Israel were somewhat contrived. There have been many great Israeli pop songs in the past mixing local music with contemporary American or British influences. But more often than not, there was a genius producer bringing in foreign influences and synthetically orchestrating a sonic makeover to songs that were probably written with other intentions in mind. That was even the case of Ofra Haza’s Yemenite song “Im Nin’alu,” which producer Izhar Ashdot recreated as a dance floor smash hit in the late ’80s.

What is so refreshing about Static & Ben El is that they sound and look like they’re doing it naturally. It seems like the musical and stylistic mishmash they offer is in their blood. Since they were born after MTV entered Israeli homes and globalization brought endless big international chain stores to Israel, and since they grew up with the internet, this shouldn’t be a surprise. In other words: It’s about time.

So, who are Static & Ben El? Static, aka Statboy, born Liron Russo, was adopted as a baby and grew up in Haifa. Ben El Tavori, on the other hand, is Israeli pop royalty—the son of singer Shimi Tavori, who was a superstar in the early ’80s, and his second wife, whom he married when she was only 17. In 2010, Ben El starred along his father and three of his brothers in the musical reality TV show The Tavoris. At the same time, Static was freestyle rapping in his northern hometown.

Like any duo, each one of them brings something specific and special to the table. Ben El inherited his dad’s beautiful voice and ability to seduce through silsulim. He has a Colgate smile that could melt an iceberg and perfect six-pack abs, which he frequently flaunts in photos (they even have a song called “Kubiyot,” which means “cubes” and is the slang word for a six-pack in Hebrew). Ben El is the good-looking one with the beautiful Middle Eastern voice, but he is also somewhat provincial and naïve. Static is quite the opposite. Having been rapping since the age of 15, Static is more sophisticated than his friend. He is a man of the world, and a man of words. He is a little bit naughty—but ultimately a good boy—stylish, witty, cheeky, and charismatic, too.

Their dynamic proved to be a winning combination. “Silsulim” was Static & Ben El’s third single—and many more hits followed. In the years since I heard that song in the dollar store, Static & Ben El became the biggest and most popular pop act in Israel. And after a few years of immense success in their home country, they reached the point where world domination was next on their agenda. Luckily Israeli American media mogul Haim Saban (the 232nd richest person in America according to Forbes) came to their aid.

In 2018, Israeli news outlets reported that Static & Ben El had signed a seven-album, 10-year recording contract with Capitol Records reportedly worth $5 million, which Saban facilitated. Then in 2019, Saban announced that he had formed the Saban Music Group backed by $500 million of his own capital, with Static & Ben El at the top of his roster. They were surrounded mostly by American and Latin artists, as well as one other Israeli pop star called Mergui, who you definitely haven’t heard of if you’re not an Israeli teenager.

Last year Gustavo Lopez, the CEO of Saban Music Group, explained in an interview to the Music Business Worldwide website how the Israeli duo came to be among Saban’s company’s first signings. “Static & Ben El are established superstars in Israel, with international reach. Their YouTube videos are approaching 600m combined views,” he explained. “Haim Saban quickly recognized their worldwide potential.” According to Lopez, Static & Ben El were getting ready to tour the U.S. when the pandemic happened. “Static & Ben El are making music that appeals globally,” he added. “We are building an international touring act, and we can’t wait until we’re back out there again.”

Backed by Saban’s money, Static & Ben El embarked on their attempt to conquer the U.S. market. They recorded English language versions of some of their Hebrew hits and began collaborating with increasingly larger and larger international names, with their English language singles released by the Saban Music Group.

In 2019 they rereleased their Baile-funk hit “Tudo Bom” (meaning “It’s all good” in Portuguese), which was heavily influenced by vintage sounds from Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. This time it had a new video (without Tel Aviv’s mayor, Ron Huldai, like in the original version), lyrics in English, and a guest spot by Colombia’s “Prince of Reggaeton,” J. Balvin. Then they dropped “Further Up (Na, Na, Na, Na, Na)” featuring American rapper Pitbull and a Trap single called “Milli” with Brooklyn rapper Flipp Dinero. Their biggest collaboration so far has been “Shake Ya Boom Boom” featuring the Black Eyed Peas, released in late 2020 and produced by Black Eyed Peas leader will.i.am alongside with Israeli producer Johnny Goldstein—who also co-produced the Black Eyed Peas’ last album, Translation.

So far, the biggest splash the Israeli duo made outside of their country was appearing on CBS’s The Late Late Show with James Corden, back in April. They had the pleasure of being musical guests on the talk show alongside the Black Eyed Peas. Corden conducted the interview on a split screen: the Israeli pair appearing from Tel Aviv and the Black Eyed Peas from what seemed to be a spaceship. Corden called out Ben El’s two wristwatches—a bling fashion statement if ever there was one, especially paired with his faux-fur collar. It’s worth mentioning that Static & Ben El’s style on stage and in videos became much more elaborate and outlandish since their days of shorts and sneakers.

When Corden asked how this collaboration came about, will.i.am explained that his close friend Haim Saban (whom he referred to as L’Chaim, although it seems Corden didn’t get the joke) introduced them. After the interview, Corden played “Shake Ya Boom Boom”—a dance floor smash for the TikTok generation with an all-over-the-place exotic international vibe, that has will.i.am rapping sentences like “Hola, shalom/Aye, baby, where’d you get that ass from?”

If their theme in the days of “Silsulim” was local-patriotic, now Static & Ben El are looking outward. But as always, the message is a cheeky, positive one: When you’re good looking, language is not a barrier.

Whether or not the group eventually succeeds in breaking through in America, their significance for Israeli pop, from a local point of view, is priceless. Static & Ben-El captured the zeitgeist perfectly: Their music and style is a time capsule of Israel in recent years: connecting to the Middle East while also looking outward and adopting global styles and cliches. With “Tudo Bom” they visited Brazil, with “Namaste” they flew to India, “Yassou” took them to Greece, and “Kawaii”—with a painted Mount Fuji backdrop, cherry blossom decor, manga-style fonts, Samurai Purim costumes, and a sexed-up Harajuku girl—was supposed to show that they get what Japan is all about. All the while, they retained the classic Israeli chutzpah and humor, and the self-assured, almost arrogant, behavior of traveling Israelis who think they know every corner of the globe and can easily emulate (not to mention parody) any foreign vibe. Static & Ben El are the Israelis that have the world in the palm of their hand. And based on this belief, they feel they can conquer it.

And just like Israelis love to travel abroad, they love to attract tourists and show off. Their music is a snapshot of the fun cosmopolitan atmosphere Israel projected right before COVID struck. Static & Ben El always sounded and looked like a tourism ad for Israel, but not the old-school kind that tempts foreigners to come visit the Holy Land and its biblical attractions, but rather the kind intended to attract young tourists looking to hit the beach, hit on girls, dance all night, and have a good time in trendy Tel Aviv.

With these local-and-global sensibilities, the two easily catapulted Israeli pop into a whole new era. In the past few years, Static & Ben El proudly stood on the forefront of contemporary Israeli chart-pop, cementing a style that blends hip-hop, dance, and exotica, whether it comes from within or from the outside. This genre includes local stars like 20-year-old Noa Kirel; her boyfriend, the aforementioned Mergui (both of whom also stand a decent chance at broader popularity); and Togolese-Israeli singer, dancer, rapper, and model Stéphane Legar, among others. These artists all mix hip-hop and contemporary beats with Israeli sounds, particularly Mizrahi, and they all boast swag, style, and production value (more or less) on par with international pop stars.

Truth be told, so far, Static & Ben El’s international career hasn’t yet seen any real success—Corden may have exaggerated when he referred to them as “chart-topping and platinum-selling” (depends where). Their credits in the U.S. so far include being featured on NBC’s World of Dance, NBC Universal’s streaming service (Peacock), Netflix’s original film Work It, and TV programs such as Good Morning America, Live with Kelly & Ryan, and The View. Their single Further Up (Na, Na, Na, Na, Na), featuring Pitbull, garnered 41 million views on YouTube and the song’s Latin version went No. 1 on Billboard’s Latin Radio Airplay Chart. But with regard to international chart dominance, that’s about it.

That said, they’re still early in their careers, and they certainly seem headed in the right direction. They only just now released their debut Israeli full-length album, Seven Moons. So with some luck and perseverance, Static & Ben El’s fun, blended style might yet prove a winning combination. Nonetheless, even if they don’t add any other big accomplishments in the U.S. to their CV, they can forever pride themselves in being the two Israeli dudes that got will.i.am to rap in Yiddish: “Damn baby you a good looker (ah)/First sight, I knew you a mishpucha.”

Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.

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