SA artists give BDS the beat
In spite of a possible backlash from the anti-Israel lobby, two South African artists have decided to share their genius with Israeli audiences in 2023.
Former radio personality DJ Themba (also known as Euphonik, whose real name is Themba Mbongeni Nkosi) played at the Matta Club in Tel Aviv on 26 January. And, comedian Kevin Fraser, previously known as Spindoctor, announced on 26 January that he would be touring Israel, Dubai, and Doha from 1 to 12 March. Nkosi has 61 000 followers on Facebook and 103 000 followers on Instagram, and Fraser has 315 000 followers on Facebook and 130 000 followers on Instagram.
“2023 LETS GO! #MiddleEast2023” Fraser wrote excitedly on social media. The poster for the tour proudly includes an Israeli flag. The news of the tour was warmly received on social media. Though one fan wrote, “Maybe don’t put Doha and Tel Aviv on the same flyer,” it’s clear that Fraser didn’t see that as an issue. This is significant in light of the fact that Israelis and their supporters were subjected to continual persecution during the recent FIFA World Cup in Qatar. But to Fraser, Israel deserves a show as much as Qatar. The exact date of his gig in Israel is yet to be announced.
“Excited to return to a handful of my favourite cities over the next two months,” Nkosi wrote in a post ahead of his visit to Tel Aviv, which was listed along with gigs in Doha, Dubai, London, Barcelona, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bali, Mexico, and Miami. Israeli fans can be seen rocking to his beats, and shaking his hand in social media footage of the gig.
His Israel gig followed a show in Tulum, where he shared the stage with DJ Black Coffee, who is known for playing packed-out performances in Israel even after he was harshly criticised by the anti-Israel lobby and South African media. The two South African DJs have performed and recorded albums together.
This isn’t the first time that Nkosi has played in Israel. He performed there as recently as October 2022, even though the South African Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) coalition pressured him not to take part. And in December 2022, his gig in Italy was opened by Israeli artist Roy Komashov, who is based in Tel Aviv.
Fraser also has a DJ background, and has entertained at more than 100 venues and festivals across South Africa, Miami, Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Indonesia. His comedy has gone viral, and brings a unique fusion of music and comedy to the stage.
“Unfortunately, we continue to see artists pressured, bullied, and scapegoated when they perform in Israel,” says Ari Ingel, the director of Creative Community for Peace (CCFP), which works to promote the arts as a way to encourage peace, to counter antisemitism in the entertainment industry, and to oppose the cultural boycott of Israel.
“In spite of this, we’re constantly inspired by artists from around the world who understand that they have the ability to effect positive change by coming to Israel and performing for audiences of all backgrounds. This is especially true for DJs and dance music, which is a particularly unifying genre. The Israeli scene has DJs that are Arabs, Jews, Christians, Muslims, black, white, you name it. And the international DJs who come to spin in Israel are just as diverse, from Iranians and Arabs throughout the Middle East, to South Africans and Chileans.
“As an organisation dedicated to building bridges through the arts, CCFP will continue to support artists around the world who want to come and play in Israel,” he says.
Lana Melman, the author of Artists Under Fire: The BDS War against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel, says, “The BDS campaign wants artists to believe that if they perform for their Israeli fans their reputations will be soiled and their careers ended. It tosses around emotionally manipulative sound bites and demands allegiance. Artists drowning in the tidal wave of the onslaught can feel isolated and overwhelmed – a pawn in someone else’s political agenda.”
That’s why it’s so admirable that South African artists continue to perform in Israel, which many have described as “ground zero” of the BDS campaign.
“In spite of claims to the contrary, very few artists cave to BDS pressure,” says Melman. “As Alan Parsons of the Alan Parsons Project succinctly stated when I interviewed him in 2017, BDS is ‘a campaign for a boycott, not a boycott’. Every year, some of the most in-demand artists in the world such as Jennifer Lopez, Lionel Richie, and Lady Gaga perform in or visit Israel and speak glowingly of the experience. American singer Mariah Carey describes her relationship with Israel as a ‘love affair’.”
In addition, “Israeli audiences are some of the most appreciative of culture in the world,” says Melman. “The Jewish population in pre-state Israel nurtured the arts. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, partly created as a refuge for Jewish musicians facing boycott and imminent death during the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, is a national treasure. Pandemics and major conflicts aside, well over 100 acts perform each year in Tel Aviv, often selling tens of thousands of tickets in a single concert.
“Artists perform in Israel for the same reason that they perform everywhere else: to provide for their families, connect with their fans, and build cultural bridges,” Melman says. “We all know that people are much more likely to like one another when they feel they have something in common, and art and music can provide that commonality.
“Proponents of the cultural boycott against Israel want to bar films from festivals, silence instruments, and take canvases off walls,” says Melman. “One by one, each artist under attack by BDS has an opportunity to prevent that. Whether they are filmmakers or music makers, artists can help to provide the bedrock for peace.”
“The South African Zionist Federation [SAZF] sends its best wishes to local comedian Kevin Fraser for his upcoming trip to Israel to perform in Tel Aviv,” says SAZF National Chairperson Rowan Polovin. “He will be welcomed by adoring fans, many of whom are South African who have made aliya to Israel.”
South African olah Lili Kovler is one such immigrant. “I’m excited to go because I find him hilarious – and he’s South African,” Kovler says.
Polovin notes that “Fraser will also tour to the United Arab Emirates, which form part of the Abraham Accords alongside Israel. This wonderful occasion highlights the importance of increasing cultural engagements across the region, which contributes meaningfully to open dialogue and peace talks across our borders.
“DJ Themba also concluded a recent tour in Israel, where his music was received with great fanfare,” he says. “The SAZF encourages all South African performers, entertainers, sportsmen, musicians, and academics to visit Israel. They’ll find that it’s home to a multicultural society where the rights of all religions, minorities, ethnicities, and beliefs are protected and where cultural and intellectual pursuits are promoted inclusively.”