(photo credit: David Jakoubovbitch)
French-born Jerusalemite guitarist Yoel Taieb has just released his fourth CD
Did You Look at the Sky Today?, together with his Techelet Ensemble, which, he
says, encapsulates his outlook on everyday life.
“There is a story about
Rabbi Nachman of Breslav when he went with a disciple to visit an impoverished
relative,” the 48-year-old Taieb explains.
“As they were leaving, the
relative asked Rabbi Nachman for a blessing but he refused. In the end the
disciple blessed the poor man that he should become rich. Sometime later Rabbi
Nachman and the disciple came across the relative again, who had started making
a good living, and Rabbi Nachman asked him if he’d looked up at the sky that
day, but the relative said he didn’t have time for that. ‘You see what you did?’
said Rabbi Nachman to the disciple, ‘now he doesn’t have time for a breather, to
look up at the sky.’ I liked that story. I never did not have the time to look
up at the sky,” notes Taieb somewhat cryptically.
The new CD is certainly
full of good breathing as it wends its way through eight melodies written and
arranged by Taieb. There is a strong hassidic feel to the whole package, with
some lively jazzy and bluesy seasoning en route. The album features a rich slew
of leading members of the Israeli ethnic, classical and jazz music communities,
including pianist Avi Adrian, percussionist Oren Fried, bass player Eyal Ganor
and celebrated wind instrument player Michael Meltzer.
Taieb, who is of
Tunisian origin, says he was drawn to jazz as a teenager living in Paris. He
began playing guitar at the age of 12, after initially trying his hand at
recorder. He was enchanted by the work of gypsy jazz icons Belgian-born
guitarist Django Reinhardt and French master violinist Stephane
His artistic vision expanded incrementally in the late
Seventies when he came across the ethnic-oriented explorations of British-born
French resident guitarist John McLaughlin.
“As a kid I listened to the
Beatles, Rolling Stones and some Frank Zappa and I used to borrow records from a
local library, including classical works by composers like Stravinsky. But when
I heard [1975 record with the Mahavishnu Orchestra Vision of the Emerald
Beyond], that really moved me, and opened up a new world for me,” Taieb
“I was blown away by one of the tunes and that sensation has
remained with me all my life.”
INSPIRED BY McLaughlin, Taieb set about
exploring musical domains outside the occidental arena.
actually before world music happened,” reflects Taieb, adding that he recruited
additional budding talent for the job in hand.
“I was in the same class
at high school as [stellar double bass player] Renaud Garcia-Fons. Back then
Renaud was a guitarist and we sort of competed with each other. We got together
and added a table player called Jean Francois Roger. It was an interesting
As befitting their age, the teenaged Taieb and Garcia- Fons were
also on a voyage of spiritual and self-discovery and Taieb began practicing
yoga, a discipline he maintains to this day.
“I was also getting more
into Judaism and Jewish philosophy,” Taieb adds.
“Some evenings I’d read
something by an Indian philosopher and I’d follow that with reading the weekly
In the years that followed he began to trawl the wonders
of Jewish music even though, at the time, it was hard to get hold of sheet music
in France. Later he discovered the teachings of Rabbi Nachman and his unique
approach to music, particularly feeding off the mindset of singing and
eventually writing melodies, or niggunim.
“Every day after morning
prayers a niggun comes to me, every single day,” says Taieb.
“I get home
from the synagogue and write the melody down in rough form. Sometimes it will
develop into something more substantial, and other times the melody stays in
skeletal form. I’ve got thousands of niggunim written down or in my head. I sing
some of them on Shabbat, and teach them to my kids. And some I
That ability to latch onto some ephemeral tune is not always a
“Actually, sometimes it gets to be too much and I have shut the
melody out of my head,” Taieb continues.
“Sometimes I just want to have
For now, the niggunim continue to find their way to Taieb
so, presumably, we can expect to a lot more where Did You Look at the Sky Today?
For more information about Yoel Taieb: