‘Hello you’: Israeli-UAE joint song a YouTube hit

Israeli singer Elkana Marziano, 28, speaks during an interview with AFP at his home in the central Israeli city of Giv'at Shmuel, in front of a screen showing the video clip of a song on which he worked in collaboration with Emirati artist Walid Aljasim (image on screen), on October 15, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 18 October 2020

‘Hello you’: Israeli-UAE joint song a YouTube hit

  • Marziano and Aljasim had collaborated over the Zoom video-conferencing service
  • The duet has clocked more than 1.1 million YouTube views since it was posted on September 30

JERUSALEM: The scene cuts from Dubai to Tel Aviv, the lyrics switch from Arabic to Hebrew to English and the song is a slightly kitsch electro-pop duet by artists who, for now, remain apart.
The normalization of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has produced its first musical collaboration: “Ahlan Bik,” or “Hello you” in Arabic.
“This is a historic moment,” said Israeli singer Elkana Marziano, whose duet with Emirati artist Walid Aljasim has clocked more than 1.1 million YouTube views since it was posted on September 30.
Marziano, 28, is a former winner of Israel’s version of The Voice, a singing competition TV show, and an Arabic speaker influenced by the Mizrahi culture of Jews from the Arab world.
He told AFP that he and Aljasim had collaborated over the Zoom video-conferencing service, with some parts of the song recorded in Dubai and others in Israel.
“The understanding was immediate,” Marziano said of the partnership.
One online commentator, who posted under the name Shaked Sharon, said: “With this song, you feel the new Middle East.”
In August, Israel and the UAE announced that they had reached a US-brokered deal to normalize ties, following years of discreet economic and security cooperation.
Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, approved the UAE deal on Thursday.
Bahrain ultimately joined the pact known as the Abraham Accords signed at the White House last month, making it and the UAE the third a fourth Arab states to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel.
Israel signed a peace agreement with neighboring Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has boasted that the Gulf deals highlight shifting priorities in the region.
The right-winger has insisted that more Arab states want ties with Israel even though its conflict with the Palestinians remains unresolved.
The UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan has said the pact “opens the way to a new era of cooperation.”
Palestinian leaders have condemned the deals and called on the Arab world to withhold establishing ties with Israel until it reaches a viable peace with the Palestinians.
While some YouTube commenters have celebrated “Ahlan Bik,” others have condemned the song and Israeli-Emirati normalization, while calling for the creation of a Palestinian state.

The song was written by Doron Medalie, who also wrote “Toy,” which won the 2018 Eurovision contest in Israel.
The chorus — “I hear you friend far away, far away” — is repeated in the three languages, while the music video’s action pivots from Marziano dancing with friends in Israel to Aljasim in Dubai.
Marziano said that peace was a common theme in Israeli music, which has regularly been in conflict with its neighbors since its founding in 1948.
He said it was a “personal victory” to see young Israelis and Emiratis interacting online to discuss the song on his YouTube page, adding that he is planning a live concert with Aljasim when the coronavirus pandemic ends.
“I am very moved by the idea of singing this song, and others, on the same stage (with Aljasim),” Marziano told AFP.


Tower of London ravens re-adapt to life after lockdown

Updated 19 October 2020

Tower of London ravens re-adapt to life after lockdown

  • The 1,000-year-old royal fortress was closed due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions
  • This raised fears the birds — known as the guardians of the Tower — would fly away to find another place

LONDON: Chris Skaife has one of the most important jobs in Britain. As Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, he is responsible for the country’s most famous birds.
According to legend firmly rooted in Britain’s collective imagination, if all the ravens were to leave the Tower, the kingdom would collapse and the country be plunged into chaos.
Coronavirus lockdown restrictions saw tourist attractions across the country close their doors, including the imposing 1,000-year-old royal fortress on the banks of the River Thames.
That left Skaife with an unprecedented challenge of how to entertain the celebrated avian residents, who suddenly found themselves with no one to play with — or rob food from.
It also raised fears the birds — known as the guardians of the Tower — would fly away to try to find tasty morsels elsewhere, and worse still, risk the legend coming to pass.
There are eight ravens in captivity in the Tower of London: Merlina, Poppy, Erin, Jubilee, Rocky, Harris, Gripp and George.
A royal decree, purportedly issued in the 17th century, stated there must be six on site at any one time but Skaife said he keeps two as “spares,” “just in case.”
They are free to roam the grounds but to prevent them from flying too far, their wings are trimmed back slightly.
Back in March when lockdown began, Skaife — who is in his 50s and a retired staff sergeant and former drum major in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment — was furloughed.
But he still came to work to look after his majestic feathered charges, rotating feeding and caring duties with his three assistants.
“During that period of time, the ravens didn’t actually see anybody,” he told AFP.
“There were slight changes that I noticed. For instance, I had to keep them occupied without the public being there (and) there were less things for them to do.
“So I gave them enrichment toys that would help them enjoy their day.”
With no people around, he put balloons, ladders and even mirrors in their cages to keep them entertained, and hid food around the Tower grounds for them to find.
Breakfast time involves Skaife, in the distinctive black and red uniform of the “Beefeaters,” distributing a meal of chicks and mice, which the ravens cheerfully devour.
Skaife’s favorite is Merlina, he reveals with a smile.
She has become an Internet favorite from his frequent posts and videos of her on his Instagram and Twitter accounts, which have more than 120,000 followers.
Once feeding time is over, he opens the cages on the south lawn to allow them to stretch their wings.
The Tower reopened its doors on July 10 but the pandemic has had a devastating effect on visitor numbers.
Some 60,000 people visited the Tower every week in October 2019 but it is now only 6,000, according to Historic Royal Palaces, which manages the site.
During the three-month national lockdown, Skaife said the ravens were given more freedom to explore other parts of the Tower.
But to be doubly sure they didn’t fly off completely, their wings were clipped back further.
The birds are now kept in their cages more often to make sure they eat enough, as there are slim pickings from the Tower’s rubbish bins because of the reduced footfall.
“I don’t particularly like doing it,” said Skaife.
He says the ravens may be kept in cages but the Tower is their real home.
“So, I would never want to keep a raven in an enclosure.”
Now, as life returns to a semblance of normality, the ravens are re-adapting to seeing more humans again and their old routine.
Skaife has looked after the ravens for the last 14 years, tending to their needs out of clear affection but also out of a sense of historic and patriotic duty.
“Of course, we don’t want the legend to come true,” he said.