How Koolulam Uplifts the World – One Viral Song at a Time
Interview with Michal Shahaf Shneiderman
When Or Taicher encountered a Facebook video of a mass prayer at the wailing wall, he was inspired to act. Joining with musical conductor Ben Yaffet and entrepreneur Michal Shahaf Shneiderman, the three set out to establish Koolulam, a social musical initiative that creates mass-singing events, for everybody and anybody. The result—including covers of Imagine Dragons’ “Believer”, Sia’s “Titanium”, and Matisyahu’s “One Day” that became viral videos—is truly remarkable.
Parvati Magazine: How would you describe Koolulam to our readers? Who are the core members? How did it get started?
Michal Shahaf Shneiderman: Koolulam is a social-musical initiative that was established out of a communal sense of a mission to connect people in a positive, hopeful and empowering manner. It all started somewhere in 2016, when we felt that Israel was experiencing growing social ruptures. For a long period of time, there had been a feeling of a certain parting of ways within the Israeli society.
PMAG: Do you bring the same musicians to each event or does it constantly change?
MSS: While we have our own steady, and beloved, musical producer and keyboard player Yaron Eigenstein, other musicians vary from event to event. We always look to come up with an original and unique rendition for every song we choose to perform. Therefore, the instruments we will use may change from one song to the other, and with them the musicians. In addition, as part of its agenda, Koolulam aims to give a stage (in this case, very literally) to as many people as possible.
PMAG: People have such a strong visceral and emotional reaction to the videos of your events. Why do you think that is?
MSS: Part of the “magic” that happens at Koolulam is well understood by us. Yet part of it, we admit, remains quite elusive… as magic goes. On one hand, we can see how, when thousands of people sing one song, in three-part harmony, led by a conductor, one may feel elated. The sense of belonging is the first and foremost feeling that people report. When you sing at Koolulam, you are a part of something, even if it’s for an evening. The sheer magnitude of the event (usually in the thousands), is in itself a very powerful experience. There is something humbling in being part of a group of that size, not to mention the intense feeling of the reverberations of thousands of voices on your body.
In addition, we feel that in a world of technology where each person is mostly in their own individual world, the possibility of coming together with strangers [in] a Koolulam event gives participants the hope and the feeling of togetherness.
PMAG: What do you hope will happen by bringing people together like this?
MSS: We believe that musical harmony has a chance to create human harmony. We see it in every event we have, time and time again—people come in, perhaps a bit timid and doubtful, and go out beaming and energetic, laughing with their fellow neighboring singers. We, as well as every person who participates in a Koolulam event, are amazed by the fact that absolute strangers are willing to create something together, just for the sake of creativity and joy. A Koolulam participant cannot help but feel more trusting of their fellow human after such an experience. This not only leads to people being kinder to one another, but to people being more hopeful, which leads to people being courageous. And our world needs kinder, hopeful and courageous people.
PMAG: You have a slogan “singing is believing”… what does that mean for you?
MSS: It takes courage to sing. When someone sings, it means they are passionate about something. Too few people nowadays allow themselves to be passionate about something. At Koolulam, we want to rekindle that passion in everyone. We want everyone to stand tall and make their voices heard, with belief in themselves, and even better—do so together.
Koolulam is a social-musical initiative aimed at bringing together people from all corners of the diverse, multicultural Israeli society. Our idea is to stop everything for a few hours and just sing together, enabling its participants to enjoy the feeling of togetherness through a deep communal experience.