(JTA) — The world’s first Israeli-Palestinian boy band landed in Los Angeles to start recording songs on Oct. 6, the day before Hamas attacked Israel and kicked off a war in Gaza, a new feature from Billboard magazine reveals.
As1one — pronounced “as one” — is a group of four Jewish Israelis and two Palestinians, one Muslim and one Christian. The project was first envisioned by music executives James Diener and Ken Levitan as an Israeli version of BTS — the seven-piece Korean pop group that has reached superstardom around the world — and has been in development for a couple of years.
Diener, who worked in top positions at RCA and Columbia Records, and Levitan, who has managed groups ranging from the Kings of Leon to The B-52s, held auditions across Israel starting in late 2021. They didn’t set out to cast an equal number of Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, instead looking for the most talented singers out of hundreds who auditioned in a country they describe as ripe for a global music explosion.
The project was always bound to attract attention, but the singers and their team have been extra focused on their mission since Oct. 7. In total, the group’s six members have lost at least eight friends and family members in the war. (The Palestinians in the band are Israeli citizens, as recruiting from the West Bank and Gaza proved unworkable.)
Diener and Levitan told Billboard that they feel the band could win a Nobel Peace Prize.
“You may say it’s a pie-in-the-sky kind of goal,” said Levitan. “But what this has become is that important.”
The band has not released any music yet or signed to a record label, but it has recorded seven songs and has cultivated an online following for singing covers and mashups of pop songs. On TikTok, they have over 330,000 followers.
The story of their formation and their lives since will also be documented in a five-part docuseries that will air on Paramount+.
Israeli pop stars have had a tough time breaking into the U.S. market, but signs suggest that could change: A few Israeli acts have begun to sign with big labels, and singer Noa Kirel is set to headline Madison Square Garden next year. The religious crossover hit Ishay Ribo sold out MSG this year, though the audience was virtually all Jewish.
Instead of sowing divisions within the group, the Israel-Hamas war has seemed to strengthen the bonds in as1one.
“How crazy is it to get hugs from Palestinian friends when my Israeli friends died?” band member Niv Lin told Billboard. “That’s our story.”