By Mara Vigevani
As he walks in downtown Tel Aviv near the trendy Sarona market, Stephane Legar is stopped time after time by adoring teens asking him to pose for a selfie. A model, singer and dancer, Legar is Israel’s latest social media sensation: His first video, “The Step Fun Challenge,” released two years ago, received 22 million hits and his YouTube channel has 71 thousand subscribers.
Born in Israel to Togolese parents, the 19-year-old’s calendar is fully booked for the next year, and he is sought after for advertising campaigns.
Currently serving in the IDF in a unit that explains the recruitment process to high schoolers, Legar is a veritable mixture of worlds: His parents arrived on a diplomatic mission in Israel 25 years ago and decided to stay because of their deep connection to Christianity.
His mother tongue is French — “I dream and count in French,” he says — but he speaks perfect Hebrew and studied at an Israeli school in Rishon Lezion, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
He is Christian, but secular, and loves to celebrate Jewish holidays with friends, as well as Christmas.
As a child, Legar spent most of his vacations in Togo visiting relatives. “Africa is a completely different world from Israel,” he recounts.
“I loved going to Togo because there was so much sand to play with; now I realize that there was so much sand because the roads are not paved.
“In Africa, technology is not as developed as here, but people smile more. I love going around the streets of Lomé [Togo’s capital] and seeing everyone smiling, instead of looking at their smartphones like they do here,” he said.
Although he grew up listening to international music, Legar is enchanted by the sounds of Israeli Mediterranean music, and his purpose as an artist, he says, is to unite the two worlds
“My latest clips are collaborations with Giulietta and Itay Levi, who I think are among the best Israeli performers of oriental music,” he says.
When he posted “The Step Fun Challenge,” a short hip hop choreography, Legar had no idea it would be such a huge hit.
“At first I just thought I would put up a song just to see how it goes. I had no great expectations. But then people looked forward to something else, so I began to work on another song and so on,” Legar told TPS at an interview held in a coffee shop near the IDF’s Kirya base in downtown Tel Aviv.
Legar says his success is a source of motivation for many young people, especially young people of African origin.
“I realize that I represent a real revolution. It is not easy for a young black man to become a famous singer. I am happy to have succeeded, and I hope that my example shows that if you want to you can reach anything,” Legar says.
He adds that he has been a victim of racism. “Sometimes I heard people used racist words against me,” he says. “It happened a few years ago. Now, sometimes I read racist phrases on the internet, not about me, but when it happens I react immediately. It is very important for me to use my success to educate young people.”
While he still has over a year left of his military service — he still manages to perform almost every night — Legar says his dream is to create a music school in Togo. “I love Israel, and I would like to bring some of Israel’s music technologies and skills to my parents’ home country. I hope one day I will succeed.”