One day after the death of Gabi Shoshan, an Israeli pop star who rose to fame in the country in the 1970s, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev announced she had reached an agreement with Benjamin Netanyahu to create a new radio station dedicated to veteran artists.
“The death of Gabi Shoshan raised again the need to provide a platform for veteran artists and for the cultural wealth of Israel throughout the years,” Regev wrote on Facebook. “I see great importance in recognizing and honoring veteran creations and artists [who], to date, unfortunately do not receive this [recognition] in their lifetimes.
Since becoming culture minister last May, Regev has declared it her mission to change the face of public radio. She recently caused a stir following a public battle to have Galgalatz, the most popular radio station in the country (which is operated by IDF Radio), play more Mizrahi music and female singers. Following Shoshan’s death, Regev’s “nostalgic” radio initiative is an act many perceive as ridiculous since there already is a public radio station in Israel dedicated solely to Israeli music, called Reshet Gimmel. While some believe the state has to take responsibility for the country’s veteran artists, others think Regev and Netanyahu shouldn’t interfere with what gets played on the radio.
On February 6, Shoshan was found dead at the age of 66 in his home in Holon, south of Tel Aviv just a few months after releasing a new album which he financed using a crowdfunding website. His final album, Makom L’shinui, or “Room for Change,” deals with the singer’s depression and anxiety, but it didn’t propel the comeback he anticipated; his personal (he fought a cocaine addiction) and financial problems were too much for him to bear. Shoshan’s death was reported as a suicide.
Born in Morocco in 1950, Shoshan made aliyah with his family when he was five years old. Influenced by British and American rock and pop, Shoshan, who starred as Berger in the Israeli stage-production of the Broadway hit Hair, became a huge local star in the early 1970s. He moved to the States in the mid-70s, where he played live in front of Jewish audiences, got bit parts in movies (such as Delta Force 3: The Killing Game), and returned to Israel after about ten years.
At his Shoshan’s funeral, Yankale Mendel, chairman of IUPA (Israeli Union of Performing Artists), said that it is wrong that the country doesn’t respect its veteran artists. Many of them used to be big stars, but they struggle financially (radio play is seldom, and album and show sales are typically down) and feel humiliated by their current situation. Take for example singer-songwriter and guitarist Itzhak Klepter, who used to be in bands such as Kaveret and The Churchills but nowadays has difficulties due to health problems, or folk singer Miri Aloni, who used to be a huge star and nowadays performs in the street at Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.
“It is the moral duty of a nation to give thanks to its artists,” wrote Regev. “Public and State radio is the appropriate platform [for this], and so it will be.”
Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.