Odes to the singing paratrooper

Local stars pay musical tribute to the late Meir Ariel.

September 10, 2014 18:31
Meir Ariel

Local stars pay musical tribute to the late Meir Ariel.. (photo credit: PR)

It was a neat moniker for Meir Ariel – “the singing paratrooper.” But according to veteran radio DJ Yoav Kutner, Ariel was not entirely enamored with the epithet.

“He tried to shake off that image,” says Kutner. “He wanted to be seen as accessible to everyone.”

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Troubadour Ariel went passed away 15 years at the age of 57. Since then, almost annually there has been a show held in his honor. The Ariel salute has attracted stellar performer lineups and large crowds at various venues.

This year’s tribute concert will take place at Kibbutz Regavim in the Galilee on September 15 (doors open at 7 p.m., show starts 8:15 p.m.), with Kutner as emcee.

For the last few years the gathering took place at Ariel’s old stomping ground, Kibbutz Mishmarot, but there is some renovation work in progress there right now, so the production, called Singing Meir Ariel, will take place at Regavim. It is just a few kilometers up the road from Mishmarot’s sprawling lawns, which were immortalized in Ariel’s popular number “Agadat Desheh” (Lawn Legend), put to music by fellow former Kibbutz Mishmarot member Shalom Hanoch.

Hanoch and Ariel collaborated on many recordings, starting with Ariel’s debut release, the mini-album Jerusalem of Steel, which came out shortly after the Six Day War and caused furor across the country. Ariel was always a straight shooter, and his brutally down-to-earth musical response to the events that took place during Israel’s greatest military victory were grating in the extreme for the majority of Israelis who were swept away by the achievements on the battlefields. Jerusalem of Steel fed off the words and melody of Naomi Shemer’s iconic “Jerusalem of Gold.”

But if anyone had a right to put a damper on the post-war festivities, it was Ariel. As a paratrooper, and not just a singing paratrooper, Ariel was keen for the public to also address the terrible price of war and not just the glory of victory.

Hanoch is a perennial feature of his old pal’s tribute show, and it is a mark of the esteem in which Ariel is held that the memorial concerts attract such a glittering and extensive array of musicians. This year’s artist roster spans genres, ethnic backgrounds and generations with the likes of veterans David Broza, Danny Robas, Shlomo Bar and Dori Ben-Zeev; middle generation stars such as international singersongwriter Keren Ann and singersongwriter Erez Lev Ari; and relative youngsters Aya Korem, Raz Shmueli and Michal Geva, who will perform collectively at Regavim as the Shlosharot group that specializes in cover versions of trio hits of yesteryear. Ariel’s sons, Shachar and Ehud, are also in the lineup as is young cellist Hadas Kleinman and hip hop funk outfit Hadag Nahash.

But it is not just Ariel’s professional colleagues who want to keep the Ariel musical flame burning brightly.

It appears that the general public is just as keen to salute him and to revel in alternative takes on his oeuvre.

“We ran a Headstart campaign to get funding for this year’s show,” says Kutner. “We raised over NIS 250,000 in the first three days, and that was even before we announced any of the artists’ names.”

In fact, the fund-raising effort exceeded the initial target of NIS 450,000 by some distance, reaching close to NIS 600,000 and thereby enabling the organizers to allocate free tickets to IDF soldiers and provide better amenities and facilities for the show and the venue.

The show was originally scheduled for last month, but with Operation Protective Edge in full flow, Kutner and the other organizers thought it would be prudent to wait until things quieted down. Military events are, in fact, a natural backdrop to Ariel’s life and work. In addition to his participation in the Six Day War, there are numerous references to wars and the army in his songs. Jerusalem of Steel was followed by “Oleh Nagmash Al Kav Rakiah” (An Armored Personnel Carrier Appears on the Horizon) and “Layla Shaket Avar Al Kochoteinu” (Our Forces Had a Quiet Night), the latter inspired by Ariel’s time in the trenches by the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.

“He had a close connection with the army,” Kutner notes. “All his life, he performed for soldiers.”

Kutner witnessed, and even participated in, some of Ariel’s military gigs. The veteran radio show host is a pretty decent percussionist and was part of the Karizma band that supported Ariel on his cross- Israel Meir Ariel’s Election Campaign tour in 1987.

“I remember we went to a military base in the Jordan Valley to perform for about 300 Ethiopian soldiers,” recalls Kutner.

There were two cardinal snafus with the show.

“Meir lost his voice, so he couldn’t really perform too well, and also the soldiers hadn’t been in the country very long. They had no idea who Meir Ariel was, and their command of Hebrew was scratchy at best,” he says.

That’s a great shame because the soldiers missed out on one of the sweetest voices to have graced an Israeli stage. And they couldn’t possibly have appreciated Ariel’s fun wordplay and the way he lovingly distorted the Hebrew language to suit his unique satirical observations on life, and himself.

In addition to keeping the show running smoothly, Kutner will contribute to the musical goings on in a revival spot for the Karizma gang, albeit with a different lineup: guitarists Yehuda Eder and Mickey Shaviv, and Kutner, from the 1987 tour, joined by Ariel’s sons and multi-instrumentalist Adam Mader.

Kutner believes that the Election Campaign tour was a watershed for Ariel’s career.

“Before that, Meir appeared in all sorts of small venues in and around Tel Aviv, but he wasn’t too well known elsewhere. The tour took him all over the country, and it was his way of breaking out of the sort of kibbutz-like clique scene in Tel Aviv,” he says.

Ariel clearly achieved that and, although he didn’t exactly fill stadiums even in the latter part of his career, his legacy lives on, and his work continues to influence generations of performers to this day. The Singing Meir Ariel roster is living and singing proof of that.

The Singing Meir Ariel concert takes place Monday night at Kibbutz Regavim. For tickets: (03) 511-1789 and www.misterticket.co.il

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