About a month ago, I received an email inviting me to head to Israel to explore the country’s music scene. I personally couldn’t wait to get out there, but when I tried to explain to people exactly what I’d be doing there, I was generally hit with the same few questions: “What? Israel has a music scene? Will it just be a bunch of old guys singing in Hebrew?”; “Aren’t you scared to go there? You might get killed.”; “Can you take a picture with a camel?”
Here are some answers to those questions: yes – Israel has a surprisingly vibrant, tight-knit community of talented musicians who produce music in both English and Hebrew; no – the entire country is not a living war zone; and unfortunately, I only saw one camel in the Negev Desert – they don’t roam the streets of the city. (I was a bit disappointed about that one).
There are so many stigmas attached to Israel at the moment. Without making this blog sound at all like a propaganda-fuelled promo piece for the nation, I was delighted to find out that Tel Aviv is nothing like most foreigners expect it to be.
Kinetis, a grassroots organisation that aims to promote Israel as a creative, innovative nation, brought five internationally-based music writers along to see just that, and we were met with a week of pseudo-celebrity treatment, non-stop music showcases and a stack of new CDs bigger than my suitcase itself.
What struck me the most about my week in Israel was the attention our trip there attracted from local media. For the first time ever, I was the one shoved in front of a camera to be interviewed for TV, because Israelis were so excited by the fact that foreign media were, for once, traveling to Israel not to comment on the political situation, but simply to absorb its cultural side and bring some of it back to their respective homes.
I’m pleased to share that there are quite a few unbelievably talented acts nestled away in Tel Aviv that most certainly deserve some overseas attention.
Credit: Noa Magger
This seven-piece act, a self-described mix of “boogied-folk, electronic-jazz and a Middle Eastern-bluesy twang” are probably one of the best musical exports from Tel Aviv at the moment. It might come as a surprise to some foreigners that not every band in Israel sings in Hebrew – in fact, it can sometimes hold a band back in Israel if they choose to sing in English. But co-vocalist Idan Rabinovici tells NME.com that it was never a conscious decision to do so. “We never really aimed to be a band that tried to succeed commercially, we just wrote songs for the fun of it,” he shares.
They’ll be playing a few slots at SXSW Festival, followed by their first ever US tour, so if you’re lucky enough be around for any of the shows, you’ll catch a high energy set full of cabaret, jangly keys, a bit of harmonica and horns and a lot of mental dance moves.
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When we first arrived at this performance, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We stopped by a small flat in Tel Aviv and sat in a living room, facing a collage backdrop that looked slightly familiar. Turns out Oren’s actually a huge fan of NME and tore out bits and pieces from old magazines to use for his performance artwork.
Oren chooses to stick to home shows, setting up in small intimate settings, with just a guitar and his laptop, to play a much more stripped down gig. After suffering from a rare disease (Guillain-Barré Syndrome) that left him temporarily paralyzed, he wrote an album based on his personal experiences, as told through an imaginary character, ‘The Saddest Man Alive’ – stream the title track from the album ‘Sorrow Demons, Joy Blizzards’ below:
These guys were made for the Lovebox stage. Having just inked a deal with Polydor France, this electro-duo are bound to be the next Hot Chip/Daft Punk/etc. Plus, they’ve recruited a drag-wearing Freddie Mercury look-alike to be their official dancer (and how often do you see that?). Watch him in action in their ‘D.I.S.C.O’ video.
After having dinner (and plenty of drinks) with the gang, we convinced Uriel Yekutiel (aka Freddie look-alike) to teach us all, along with the band (who’d never actually done the ‘D.I.S.C.O’ dance before), the dance. Yea, we couldn’t pull it off like he can…
Video credit: Noa Magger
Credit: Noa Magger
We also had the opportunity to swing by Karolina’s rehearsal studio to watch her perform a few songs with her band. Having worked with several other bands previously (and achieving quite a few chart-toppers in Israel), Karolina’s now working on a solo project that’s already found international success (having supported/collaborated with the likes of Erykah Badu, The Black Eyed Peas and Lauryn Hill). Here’s a Hebrew tune, titled (in translation) ‘Facing The Sea’.
Us bloggers pose for a picture with Kutiman (second from left)
Credit: Noa Magger
As I’ve previously mentioned, it seems like everyone in the Tel Aviv music scene knows each other. For instance, Kutiman co-produced Karolina’s latest solo album, along with creating the music video for her song ‘Smile 2 Me’ (for which he filmed her playing the song in front of Tel Aviv street graffiti).
But he’s also stormed the music scene with his own material, most notably his video for ‘Thru You’. This mash-up master prowls YouTube for clips of amateur musicians and melds them together into a collaborative song. This one’s already seen more than one million hits.
Last but certainly not least, here’s this year’s Eurovision entry from Israel, Izabo. They’re flamboyant, funky, and over-the-top ridiculous (which is pretty much what you want from Eurovision, right?). The only thing that could make this song more absurd is if you threw in a bunch of dancing clowns. Oh wait, they did that already… But hey, this is a proper tune.
Now this is just a small cross section of the bands I had the chance to see while I was in Israel, but I can’t wait to discover what other new acts are popping up. If nothing else, this trip has certainly placed Israel on my musical radar.