One of the most distinctive sounds among performers of good old Israeli songs is that of the long-standing Parvarim duo of Yossi Houri and Uri Harpaz. The twosome will be on stage at this year’s edition of the Rishon Lezion Music Festival, which will run from October 9 to 14.
Houri and Harpaz are on the roster of the Four O’clock P.M.
show, which is a salute to the long- running eponymous radio program that has been a staple of the Army Radio lineup for the past 35 years.
Among the duo’s fellow performers are a veritable who’s who of popular Israeli music from the last four- plus decades, such as Hava Alberstein, Ilanit, Matti Caspi, Beri Sacharoff and Etti Ankri.
Harpaz says the radio program’s importance cannot be overstated.
“We have been featured on the show quite a lot over the years,” says the 62-year-old guitarist-vocalist. “I think the two people who produce and present the show, Dalit Ofer and Yoram Rotem, should get the Israel Prize at some stage,” he adds with a laugh.
“They have kept this slot running so well and for so long. They are providing an invaluable service for Israeli music.”
Mind you, it is not as if the Israeli Songbook is gathering dust in some long-forgotten basement of the national consciousness. Over the last decade or so, the Israeli community singing arena has spread its wings, and people of all ages from across the socioeconomic spectrum are only too happy to get together to do some cheerful yesteryear musical chirping on a regular basis.
Harpaz is, of course, cognizant of the sing-along scene but says there is no substitute for media exposure.
“Unfortunately, it is too easy to remember all the radio shows that play this kind of music and when they are broadcast because there are so few – especially in prime time. I am not talking about days of national mourning or around the religious holidays, when you get more of this kind of music on the radio.
There’s something on Shabbat morning on 103 FM and all kinds of dull programs, but not enough on the radio when lots of people are listening,” says Harpaz.
Harpaz and Houri are certainly an apt choice for the tribute show in Rishon Lezion. The Parvarim was founded in 1960 by Houri and Nissim Menachem. The duo originally went by the name The Parvarim Singers, the first part of the title – which means “suburbs” in Hebrew – referring to the fact that Houri and Menachem hailed from Kerem Hateimanim, one of the first areas to be built outside Jaffa in the early 1900s, prior to the founding of Tel Aviv.
The pair did well for themselves, appearing regularly in clubs around the country, releasing their debut LP in 1964. With the surge in popularity of trios, guitarist- singer Jimmy Siman Tov joined the group in 1965. The threesome format lasted only six months, as Siman Tovfell in love with a woman in the audience at one of the trio’s shows while on tour in South Africa.
But Houri and Menachem went on to achieve even greater success, putting out seven albums by the mid-1970s. The pair’s discography included a Hebrew-language tribute to one of their main sources of inspiration, Simon and Garfunkel.
The third and, to date, final lineup change occurred in 1977 when Menachem became religious and decided to stop appearing on weekends and performing material of a romantic nature and was replaced by Harpaz, Houri’s junior by 13 years. It was quite a break for Harpaz when Houri asked him to join The Parvarim.
“Up to the age of 26, I listened to and loved the songs of The Parvarim,” he recalls. “I never dreamed I’d become a part of it.”
The 26-year-old Harpaz not only offered youthful zest but also brought some sizable cultural background with him.
“My parents were on shlichut in Brazil twice when I was a kid, and I grew up with the music there,” he explains.
Harpaz had also imbibed plenty of 1960s American and British pop, rock and folk music, and meshed neatly with Houri’s own non- Middle Eastern musical influences.
“Yossi was into Elvis and the Everly Brothers and rock and roll, and he did quite a lot of that too before I joined. But I think it’s safe to say that The Parvarim wouldn’t have had the Latin American repertoire without me,” says Harpaz.
Brazilian music made it over here big time in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, and with their distinctive tight guitar melodies and vocals, The Parvarim were at the forefront of the movement.
They joined forces with singer-composer Matti Caspi, who produced the duo’s Parvarim Tropical album of Hebrew- languages versions of Brazilian numbers.
In 1978 The Parvarim released the highly successful album Cholmim Achar Shemesh (Dreaming of the Sun), with the title track based on a score written by preeminent songsmith Sasha Argov. It was thanks to Harpaz that the duo got Argov’s blessing and contribution to the album. “Yossi was wary of approaching Sasha because he revered him so much. But I knew [celebrated writer] Ya’acov Shabtai from Kibbutz Merhavia when I’d grown up, and I got to Sasha through him. It worked out very nicely,” says Harpaz.
He and Houri will perform “Cholmim Achar Shemesh” at the festival, together with an ensemble, based on an arrangement by Ilan Mochiach, as well as “Re’ach Tapuach Ve’odem Shani” with lyrics by Yoram Tahar-Lev.
Elsewhere on the star-studded Rishon Lezion Music Festival program, pop, rock and folk music fans can enjoy offerings by the likes of Gidi Gov and Danny Sanderson, with guest performances by fellow former Kaveret band member Alon Olearchik and rock singer Mazi Cohen. And there are gigs by diva Rita, marking the 20th anniversary of the release of her blockbuster Ahava Gedola (Great Love) album; Nurit Galron; Shlomi Shaban; Mosh Ben-Ari; and Shiri Maimon.
October 9 to 14 in Rishon Lezion.For tickets and more information: (03) 966-6141 and www.hakartis.co.il