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'One heck of a ride:' Berlin-based duo on writing Russia's Eurovision songs

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'One heck of a ride:' Berlin-based duo on writing Russia's Eurovision songs
Photo: Netta Nimrodi/Arie Burshtein/Amber Revival
12:32 CEST+02:00
They set out to write for Eurovision and soon found themselves at the centre of a spat between two warring nations. German-based songwriting duo Netta Nimrodi and Arie Burshtein, aka Amber Revival, on their whirlwind year writing songs for Russia.

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It may seem kitschy to some, but for pop songwriters Arie Burshtein and Netta Nimrodi, getting one of their songs performed at the Eurovision song contest was the holy grail.

“Eurovision is one of the greatest things you can do as a songwriter,” said Nimorodi, 35, speaking to The Local on the phone from her songwriting base in Berlin. “It's just a great way to showcase your craft.”

“It's the peak of a songwriting career,” chimes in Burshtein, her husband and collaborator.

The songwriting duo met a decade ago in their native Israel, where they played in funk bands and performed with a number of classical orchestras. 

Then, in 2015, hearing tales of artistic freedom and a diverse international creative scene, they moved to Berlin. The German capital didn't disappoint.

“Berlin gave us a real opportunity to work in the way we wanted,” says Burshtein, 31.

The couple had written hit pop songs for artists before, but it was once they landed in Germany that they decided to try for the motherload: Eurovision.

Trying a scattershot approach, the pair submitted ten of their songs to different national TV stations, hoping one of them would be chosen for the annual Eurovision glam fest.

"It's a lottery,” says Nimrodi. “For us it didn't matter which country we wrote for.”

Then came a stroke of luck. Through their label they were introduced to Russian songwriter Leonid Gutkin, who was looking for collaborators to help write Russia's 2017 Eurovision entry.

The trio spoke on Skype and immediately clicked. They began collaborating on chords, melodies and lyrics right away. The work was all done remotely, sending ideas back and forth online.

“There was chemistry straight away,” says Burshtein. “We were given completely free reign and told to write about anything.”

Then, in March 2017, the trio hit the right note. Russian TV channel Channel One chose one of their collaborations, “Flame is Burning,” as the 2017 Russian entry.

Channel One announced they had given the song to performer Julia Samoilova, a former finalist on Russian X Factor. Confined to a wheelchair since childhood, Samoilova also performed at the opening ceremony of the Winter Paralympics in Sochi in 2014.

Burshtein and Nimrodi were overjoyed. Finally, their Eurovision dream was to come true. But nothing had prepared them for what would happen next.

“It was one heck of a ride,” says Burshtein.

A week later, Burshstein and Nimorodi saw the first rumours appearing online. Before long, it had been confirmed in the newspapers: Eurovision host Ukraine had banned Samoilova from performing their song in Kiev.

It seemed Ukrainian authorities saw Russia's choice of the singer as a provocation. It turned out Samoilova had toured Crimea in 2015, a year after the peninsula was annexed by Russia at the beginning of a conflict that went on to claim thousands of lives.

Ukraine said Samoilova had broken the law by entering Crimea and banned her from the country for three years. Burshtein and Nimorodi were devastated.

“We were totally disappointed," admits Nimrodi. "We stopped writing music for over a month. We no longer felt connected to the writing process.”

Then, earlier this year, the pair were given a second chance. Gutkin called and said Samoilova was due to sing again for Russia in this year's contest to be held in Portugal in May. And he had a proposition - would they like to help write the song? 

“We were flattered,” says Burshtein. “We're just so grateful to be able to participate. After all those emotions we had been given an opportunity to write.”

This time, knowing who would sing their song, the composers were able to tailor their song to Samoilova's story. 

“We wanted to focus on her as an artist," says Nimrodi. "She's a tough woman and a fighter, we have lots of respect for her.”

The final result of their collaborations with Gutkin is Russian entry “I Won't Break.” The duo are set to accompany Samoilova to Lisbon in May and perform on stage with her as backing musicians. 

With tensions high between the West and Russia, the artist duo aren't worried about politics being read into the lyrics.

“It's a song about stepping out of the darkness,” says Burshstein. “Everyone has an opinion and probably someone will take it there. But we can just stick with what we wrote."

"It's a song for Eurovision," adds Nimrodi. "For a happy place, a celebration.” 

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