DJ Winnie Pootz, aka Inbar Russo
Photo: Tzur Cohen
Izabo, the band that will represent Israel at the Eurovision singing competition in Azerbaijan next month, can rest easy; despite the tension reported in the country recently, an Israeli DJ has tested the ground in the capital, Baku, during a surprise visit.
DJ Winnie Pootz, 32, also know as Inbar Russo, is perhaps the hottest name on Israel's DJ scene, and can often be found performing at Tel Aviv clubs. But last week she got to spin her tracks at Club Hezz, one of the only three large clubs that operate in Baku.
The party organizers, who contacted her on Facebook, said they wanted to generate a buzz around the capital ahead of the Eurovision. So they invited her to play.
Russo with bartender in Israel T-shirt (Photo: Ella Nehmadov)
Russo admitted she had concerns about traveling to the Eurasian country.
"I didn't know anything about the place," she recalled. "I imagined sheep walking down the streets. Also, Azerbaijan is often in the news. It's a Muslim country that is located near Iran, so I was definitely worried. But what we discovered there was insane. They are trying really hard. They hid the sheep.
"Baku is very impressive," she added. "To me, it looked like a cross between Jerusalem and Europe. I also saw a country that is getting ready for an important event, and is constantly under construction. But still, my manager Gilad Goldstein and I were sure we'll find ourselves in an episode of 'Homeland.'"
But any misgivings Russo may have had dissipated once she arrived at the party. The event celebrated Israel – even the bartenders wore T-shirts adorned with the Jewish state's flag.
DJ Winnie Pootz in action
"I couldn't believe my eyes. (…) We were received with so much warmth and love. But nothing prepared me to see someone smiling at me from the crowd and yelling 'Shema Yisrael,'" she said, referring to the opening of one of Judaism's most iconic prayers.
It turns out, a small group of Israelis residing in Baku were in the audience.
"The warm welcome was touching," Russo said. "As Israelis, we often feel that were are under scrutiny. When people wear our flag and support us, especially in a Muslim country that shares a border with Iran, it shows that art and music is above all else, and that's what's important."