Staying Hopeful with Gil Ofarim
Interview by Dr. Stefanie Barschdorf
Picture by Ina Bohnsack
Gil Ofarim, a singer-songwriter, actor and voice-over artist, has been part of the German entertainment sector since 1997. In the course of his career, he has performed and been successful all over the world. After starting as a solo artist, Gil was part of the alternative rock bands Zoo Army and Acht. His six albums sold more than five million times, gaining him over 30 platinum and gold awards worldwide.
On 28 February 2020, Gil Ofarim released his latest album “Alles auf Hoffnung” (Place Everything on Hope). It entered the German album charts at number five, keeping that position for 15 weeks. The songs are a touching retelling of Gil’s personal story and an expression of confidence into the future.
Only days after the release, Germany went into its first lockdown, leaving musicians stranded with cancelled tours and closed concert venues. Gil Ofarim was amongst the many artists who explored alternative ways of interacting with fans and making (live) music available to them.
S.B : How did the sudden changes affect you?
G.O : Life was turned upside down or rather: came to a standstill. I had written and produced the album for one and a half years prepared for it all my life. I entered into a contract with a major label, which I had never wanted to do. But it worked out. Musically, I could do everything I wanted. The label kept its word and much more. This album is the best in my life. We did a mini-tour of five shows to promote it. But shortly after that came the lockdown. Everything – the entire year had been well planned – was gone. We were to play a big festival tour, we couldn’t go on the album tour. That hurt a lot. We’ve postponed it for a year.
S.B : You explored more “corona friendly” concert versions. How would you describe the experience?
G.O : It doesn’t compare. Of course, there were fewer people but I still felt the unbelievable longing of my musicians and myself and the gratitude for being allowed to do this. But also the unbelievable longing and gratitude of the audience to have music again. That made me realize the effect music can have on people. For 90 minutes or longer, they could forget everyday life, worries, problems. You don’t get that over social media.
S.B : Your weekly live streams during the first lockdown were a lifeline for many fans. But how did playing in front of screens instead of an audience affect you? Has the pandemic changed your interaction with fans?
O.G : It has changed. It’s become even faster. 2020 was new for everyone. That means it was also new to play in front of such cameras. But the point was to make music, that’s what we all missed so much. However, applause in 2020 were emojis. It was okay. But you’re used to applause after a song and, on these streams, there’s nothing. All you see on the display from afar are emojis.
S.B : Staying with your album’s theme of hope: how can music help in times of such a global crisis?
O.G : I have experienced, seen, endured and maybe also survived a lot in my life. What’s the alternative? Giving up? I can’t, I won’t. So I take life as a wave. With all ups and downs. And the downs, when you’re right in the middle, are unbelievably dark and grey. But you can surf out of this wave, you can do it. Only hope makes sense. I believe very strongly in this. It doesn’t mean sitting down waiting for it to be over. Your life is in your hands to reinvent every day.
S.B : During the pandemic, the arts have often been referred to as not being of systemic importance. How has that made you feel about your work?
O.G : It hurts. I understand that concerts aren’t the highest priority now. But I’m not the only one for whom music has been very important his entire life. I know what music means to everyone. It’s everywhere. But at the moment it’s taken for granted. I see how much people miss it. It hurts that artists have been forgotten.
S.B : You shared a video with the hashtag #WHATABOUTART. Can you say more about this?
O.G : It’s a quiet protest by a filmmaker who is also currently not allowed to work. He didn’t want to rant, just make a film showing the problems. He’s called the campaign What About Art, What About Us.
S.B : Is there anything positive 2020 has brought that you will carry into the future?
O.G : It wasn’t all bad. Unfortunately, we tend to see the negative. I had a lot of time for my family. I could write a book. 99% of society has stuck together, took care of each other, of their surroundings. That gives hope.