Rocking in a strange land
Shachar Gilad carving out a place as an Israeli on Poland’s music scene, and as an American in Israel.
Shahar Gilad, Yonatan Ydov and Yoni Kory Photo: Liat Shahar
All his life, pop rocker Shachar Gilad says he has felt like an
The son of two Israelis, Gilad was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico,
moved between Israel and the US, and then spent his junior high and high-school
years in Brookline, Massachusetts. Gilad spoke that quintessential “Heblish” at
home common among Israeli families in the US. The outsider status has continued
with singer/songwriter Gilad today, since he made the big move to Tel Aviv five
years ago and finds himself pursuing his music career in Israel – and in Central
Last summer, when he and his band first played gigs in Germany
and then Poland, a country seeing a growing interest in Jewish and Israeli
culture, Gilad, 35, says he found himself gaining fans, and later Facebook
friends, among the local population.
“It was Western enough that we could
connect with the culture and the local people. But Eastern enough that it
felt like a bit of an adventure for us,” he says.
A fan at a club in
Warsaw was so impressed that she got the guys, Gilad (guitar, vocals), Yonatan
Ydov (bass) and Yoni Kory (drums), to perform on a local Polish television show,
a sort of “Good Morning Poland,” six months after the summer tour.
to the connections he made with fans and the Israeli Embassy’s cultural
department in Warsaw, the band has returned to Poland for some more
Over the past weekend, Gilad played at the Life Festival in
Oswiecim, Poland, with headliner Peter Gabriel, a couple of days before at the
ESNalia Festival in Krakow, as well as at Israeli Independence Day events in
Poznan. The guys will also play a show in Minsk, Belarus.
kind of cool to be Jewish or Israeli in Poland right now, counter to what a lot
of people think,” says Gilad in an interview with The Jerusalem Post just before
he left. “That helps create a fertile ground for an Israeli band like us to come
and play there.”
Audiences, which tend to be largely non- Jewish, he
says, often ask Gilad to sing in Hebrew more than in English. He sings
comfortably in both.
“It’s fascinating. We met girls who aren’t Jewish at
all, far from it, from religious Christian families, who have a fascination with
Israeli folk dancing... We’ve seen people really hope that they have Jewish
But nothing could have been more odd than playing at the Life
Festival near the town of Auschwitz. While initially Gilad felt reluctant to
perform by the infamous site of mass murder, he says the festival promotes
tolerance, understanding, and healing from the past, while looking to the
future, positive concepts he was happy to support. Having the opportunity to
play at the same festival where Matisyahu played last year and this year boasts
Peter Gabriel also swayed him.
“It’s definitely not just another show,”
he says. “I was torn for a minute. They’re sort of looking at us as a band that
represents Israel, so that’s a big honor.”
Gilad has been turning pain
and setback into music since he first picked up the guitar at age 15, after
being kicked out of his band at 14 for not being able to play the guitar as lead
singer. While his peers grew interested in drugs and going out to clubs, he says
all he wanted to do was play his guitar, an instrument he fell in love
“I started late, but I really went deep, so I managed to catch up,”
As an undergrad at Brandeis University in Waltham,
Massachusetts, where he studied philosophy, Gilad started playing local shows –
“just me and an acoustic guitar” – at Boston’s Irish pubs, honing his pop-rock
AFTER COLLEGE and a stint at a hi-tech firm in Boston, Gilad
decided to make music his priority, and moved to New York to pursue his career.
He found himself writing songs, doing sound engineering and producing for other
artists, while pursuing a master’s degree in international relations and
business administration at New York University.
“During the day I was in
all these intellectual seminars and at night I was in the studio with all these
rappers who sometimes had guns and in songwriting sessions with pop stars,” he
As an engineer, songwriter and producer for other artists, Gilad
says he learned the finer points of creating music, perfecting the sound and
marketing, tools he uses on his own music today in his home studio and for the
occasional Israeli artist he works with, like Shiri Maimon and Nurit
“I think it’s better to see those different sides of things and
it improves your chops not just as a musician, but as a marketing person and as
a technical person that I think are important to have in 2012.”
release of his first album About Time in 2002, a solid collection of
ultra-personal, beautiful songs, Gilad says he finally plans to follow it up
this summer, after having received airplay and positive reviews in Israel,
including with singles “Fall,” “On Your Own” and “Noadnu.”
did not come here to be making music, “ he says. “I just came from a personal
standpoint, it was something that I wanted to do and it felt
Still, he’s glad to pursue his musical revival and what he calls
the “chase” for the best music he can create in Israel.
“I always want to
write a better song. That’s always been my passion,” he
“It’s gotta be more interesting, while at the same time more
accessible, while being more sonically interesting, simpler,
Sometimes he sings in Hebrew, other times in English, a remnant
of his familial Heblish.
“I always just let it come out the way it comes
out,” he says of songwriting. “It’s kind of like when I speak it depends what
I’m speaking about,” he says, explaining that certain topics lend themselves to
Hebrew and others to English.
Though since living in Israel he has
written much more in Hebrew than he did in the US, he feels comfortable singing
in English here and accepted by Israeli audiences.
“I think I’m lucky
that nowadays... it’s really become very okay for an artist that’s perceived as
an Israeli to sing in English,” not what he found five years ago when he arrived
and was told the radio would not play an artist singing in English. That has
changed, he says, pointing to Asaf Avidan, Karolina and other popular Israeli
artists who also sing in English and are played on the Galgalatz radio station
“In the world of Tel Aviv it’s very acceptable. Outside
of Tel Aviv it’s getting there.”
As he finds his place on the music
scenes of Israel and Europe, Gilad, happily, remains the curious observer.
“There’s a price but there’s also some nice perks that come with being an