If you're a fan of Israeli music, you have likely heard of Hanan Ben Ari. A pop star with a host of hit singles under his belt, who is also a devout, religious Jew.
The juxtaposition between these two factors has helped the singer create his unique identity on the Israeli music scene.
He has sung about the hardships of every day life in the Jewish state in a sarcastic single "Tutim," translated as "Strawberries," and was even was behind the song that has since become Israel's "We Are the Champions" called "Aluf HaOlam," translated as "Champion of the World". That song was blasting out of every screen and sports bar over last year's summer when Israeli athletes won a number of surprising gold medals at 2022 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Now, Ben Ari has embarked on a new challenge - a tour of the United States. Over the months. Right after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the singer will take the stage in three American cities - Los Angeles on October 24, New York on October 26 and Miami on October 30.
In an exclusive interview with Ynetnews, Ben Ari talks of his plans for the tour and the expectations he has from it as a singer who performs primarily in Hebrew, unlike many other Israeli artists who have a catalogue of songs written in English.
Why did you decide to embark on such a tour?
"First of all, we wanted to do this for a very long time, even before coronavirus. A lot of people from [the U.S.] have reached out on social media, asking me on Instagram and Facebook, 'When are you coming?'
"I get a lot of feedback from them on my songs. By examining data from views on YouTube, we see that we have audience in New York and in Miami. So, I've been wanting for a long time to come there with my band. I visited the U.S. before, but only as a guest. Now, we are doing it properly. We are coming to feel the scene, and I believe there will be other tours in the future."
What type of audience do you expect to see at the U.S. shows? Israelis? American Jews who may not know you but wish to show support?
"I have learned not to expect anything because audiences always surprise me ... in a good way. I see it in Israel, where I have a variety of audiences - of unexpected age, from unexpected places across the country, belonging to unexpected religions - those are the most pleasant surprises you can get as an artist.
"The same in the U.S., I expect to see Israelis, American Jews - who speak Hebrew, religious, secular - all the varieties."
Do you already have a setlist for the concerts? Will it be your greatest hits or will there be surprises? Maybe songs in English?
"Let's make it a surprise for those who'll come to the shows. I always try to also surprise myself before each show."
So, no prepared setlist?
"No," he laughs.
As you know, movements working to promote a boycott of Israel are very active both in Los Angeles and in New York. Are you worried there will be some sort of anti-Israel demonstration, perhaps outside concert halls or even during a show?
"They can come, they'll have fun."
Have you had experiences with something like that as an artist?
"No. Like I said, this is the first time I am doing a proper tour abroad. So, I haven't experienced something of this nature, and I hope I never will. But if they do come, we'll talk to them, and allow them to enjoy the music. I am not afraid."
If this tour goes well, do you think of expanding it to, for example, Canada?
"We really want to. This tour is a test for us - to feel the audience and have the audience feel us. But we definitely want to come to Canada and other countries as well."
What are the plans for after the tour?
"We'll have a little break, and then we are scheduled for a winter tour in Israel."
Final question. What do you think about the fact that you basically wrote Israel's version of "We Are the Champions" that is now being played anytime someone wins ... well, anything?
"It is very exciting. I wrote this song about my personal challenges and how I deal with them. You never know how a song will be received by audiences. Where people will play it, where people will hear it, and how it will make them feel. To see the song about a champion of the world in falling down and getting up accompany athletes in various events - excites me as an artist.
"We get a lot of feedback on this song from outside of Israel too, from people who play it during their own personal wins and happy moments."