As Israel continues to lead in content creation for the screen, companies are starting to pay closer attention to musical talent the country can offer.

In July 2021, Universal Music Group opened a Tel Aviv outpost housing recorded music and publishing units, run by managing director Yoram Mokady and general manager Itamar Shafrir, respectively. A year later, Warner Music announced its Israel arrival by hiring a local GM, Mariah Mochiach, but holding off on office space. And now Sony Music is jumping in via a joint venture with brothers Josh (pictured above at right) and Sam Fluxgold (at left) under the banner Oneway Records.

The Toronto natives, who’ll remain based out of Canada, have some experience with Israeli artists. The two worked with Dennis Lloyd (real name: Nir Tibor) for five years, including in 2017 and 2018 when his song “Nevermind” exploded internationally, reaching the top five in several European countries and even making the Billboard Hot 100.

That experience, says Josh, “opened our eyes — that there was just so much untapped potential in the creative community of Israel.”

Sony Music’s Daniel Lieberberg agreed. The Berlin-based president of Continental Europe and Africa oversees multiple territories, including the Middle East. Like the Fluxgolds, who spent time in Israel as kids, he too had a personal connection to the country and had traveled to Tel Aviv regularly, surveying the region with an A&R ear. The three began exploring the idea of a partnership during COVID.

“What’s fascinating about Israel is its unique blend of cultures,” Lieberberg tells Variety. “We’ll be looking at artists from every cultural background in the country to find the new international success story.”

“Sony’s strength is breaking international stars and that’s been our experience as well,” says Josh, whose background is in music publishing in addition to management. “So we’re specifically focused on signing artists with international appeal — essentially artists that sing in English.”

From left: Sam Fluxgold, Daniel Lieberberg and Josh Fluxgold

“Josh and Sam really understand the global nature of our business,” adds Lieberberg. “The pool of talent that they are drawing from might be Israel but the market that we are looking at together is the world.”

“Having Daniel in your corner saying, ‘You should sit down with with Josh and Sam from Oneway Records’ definitely gets doors to open quite quickly,” says Sam. “The team he put together, it feels quite boutique but at the same time they have such a strong reach around Europe.” 

Israel has long been a home for televised singing competitions — “Rising Star” came and went on ABC but continues to churn out local pop stars with surprising efficiency — where songs in English are de rigeur. Pop singers like Noa Kirel, Mergui, Anna Zak and Tamir Grinberg, who gained exposure through TV appearances and social media, are household names, but in a small pond.

Warner Music label Atlantic signed Kirel and the more indie-leaning Noga Erez but both have seen only modest success abroad, though that could change for Kirel who’ll represent Israel at the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest. Universal, meanwhile, has a stake in Israel’s first English-language boy band made up of Jewish and Arab citizens — a project called As1One helmed by industry vets James Diener and Ken Levitan and slated to launch in summer 2023.

Witnessing Toronto’s own pop come-up — with Drake, the Weeknd and Justin Bieber putting the city’s sound on the map — the Fluxgold brothers hope to replicate the formula. “How Toronto is super multicultural and a melting pot of so many people, we feel like that about Israel,” says Josh. “Teenagers there have a very rich music background. They could be talking about Amy Winehouse or the Beatles; obviously contemporary music does incredibly well there; the music they listen to is very diverse and so are the acts that we’re looking at.”

Shirley Halperin

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