Dana international on Time Out
Time Out Tel Aviv heroes: singer Dana International, choreographer Ohad Naharin, writer Etgar Keret and politician
Dana International, the most successful Israeli singer since Ofra Haza, grew up as Yaron Cohen: the musically talented son of a blue-collar family in Holon. In the early ’90s she became part of the gay and drag scene in Tel Aviv. Aged 21 she traveled to London for a sex-change operation, and her debut album was released shortly afterwards. In 1998 Dana International made history when she won the Eurovision Song Contest. Her success has set a powerful precedent for marginal communities – not only in Israel, but all over the world.
Who are your Tel Aviv heroes?
Alexander Penn, a poet who lived on the fringes of society. He was a tall and handsome boxer, who knew how to throw a mean punch and also craft a beautiful verse. One of my favorite lines of his is 'it was gloriously awful'
What was the greatest event that happened in music in the last 40 years?
The internet. It changed the rules of the music industry. The traditional model of selling songs collapsed, music became much more accessible. Now, you can sit in your living room and watch music from every era and every country, in every language. It’s a wonderful revolution for music lovers and a disaster for people who make a living through music. But in time it’ll settle down, and everyone will learn to live with the market forces – they’re unstoppable.
What was the defining event that led you to choose your profession?
I’m four years old, and I’m standing on a chair in the living room with a long towel wrapped around my head, which is meant to be the blonde hair of the most successful singer in Israel, Ilanit. I sing her song from the 1973 Eurovision contest: ‘We will find the garden, the garden of love…’ the audience is comprised of my whole family, including my elderly grandmothers, and they all clap and compliment me. At that moment my heart tells me that I want to do this forever. I sneak away to peek at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, and when I see how good I look with the long towel – I decide then and there that I want to be a female singer.
What’s your favourite place in Tel Aviv?
As a child I lived across the street from the old cemetery on Trumpeldor Street, where all the dignitaries of Tel Aviv are buried. Every time I felt depressed or wasn’t sure how I’d make it in this strange world, I’d run away to the cemetery. I had a regular spot there, near the grave of the poet Haim Nahman Bialik, and I’d lie there for hours, revelling in the peace and quiet that was missing in my life. I don’t go there any more, but I still feel that it’s my own private space.
What has been the peak of your professional life, so far?
If I must choose one moment, it would be hearing my mother cry over the phone, after I won Eurovision. I was in England and she was in her living room in Israel, in the same place where she had cried over me so many times before, but those had been unhappy tears. Her tears of joy were perhaps the best thing that my career brought about.
Dana International - Lady AIG Commercial
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