Testing the musical waters

For former ‘Voice’ contestant Maya Johana Menachem, it is welcome opportunity to perform English folk with Israeli edge as she debuts her new single.

June 11, 2013 21:21
4 minute read.
Maya Johanna Menachem.

Maya Johanna Menachem the voice contestant370. (photo credit: Courtesy PR)

“Haunting” is the first word that comes to mind when listening to “Shallow Waters,” the new single by former The Voice contestant Maya Johanna Menachem.

In the music video, the raven-haired beauty takes hold of the camera with hypnotizing brown eyes, in a forest scene seemingly inspired by Ophelia’s tragic end in Hamlet, and weaves a story of the desire to express honest emotion with the outside world and the inability to articulate an inner world. It builds to an uplifting conclusion, with the lyrics embracing the beauty of an uncertain future.

“There is something very subtle about folk,” she said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post last week. “I think I took a lot of that and I also added a little edge to it.”

The 28-year-old, originally from Kibbutz Givat Oz and who now lives in Tel Aviv, will perform at Tel Aviv’s music club Levontin 7 on June 15. She will debut her first single with her new band, performing original songs in English that she has been working on the past few years.

Born to an American mother and an Israeli father, Menachem grew up bilingual but felt a greater connection with English for writing and singing her songs. Because English is a more universal language, she says, it affords her greater opportunities to share her music with a wider audience. Her greatest influences have been from the folk scene of the 1960s and ‘70s – Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen – and the lyrics of that era of music.

Many may recognize Menachem from her appearance on the immensely popular music competition The Voice, but the singer/songwriter admitted she rarely got to see herself on the show. “I don’t have a TV, I watched my episodes online or at friends’ houses. I wasn’t really part of all the hype that was going on.”

But she said the show helped solidify her resolve to pursue her own musical path as a singer/songwriter and she took what could make her stronger from the experience.

“It made me realize a little bit better who I am and who I am as a performer,” she said. “I’m gad I did it and it opened up some more doors.”

An unexpected byproduct of the show was the lesson on friendship it provided when Menachem was pitted against contestant Yael Shoshana-Cohen, a good friend and former classmate. The two had attended the Rimon school of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat HaSharon together. On the show, they were put in a mock boxing ring for a “sing-off” competition and despite the choreographed tension, the two looked positive and supportive of each other.

Menachem said the two “became even better friends despite that.”

While the show afforded Menachem some publicity, it was her connection to Israeli artist Sun Tailor – The stage name of Tel Aviv-based Arnon Naor – that helped bring her musical vision to fruition.

“About a year ago... I wanted to work on my own music and didn’t have any idea how to do it. I happened to see a video clip of [Tailor] and was really impressed and loved what he was doing.”

Menachem sent a message to the musician on Facebook asking if he would help her work on her own music. They met that same week and haven’t stopped working since.

“He’s not only playing guitar on the single, in the show and the CD, but he is also producing this whole thing – it’s been a great collaboration, so I’m really happy with that,” she said.

Tailor is known for his alternative rock sound. He blends folk, indie, country, blues and psychedelic rock and has performed in England, Germany and in the Israeli music festival “In-D-Negev.” He was also featured on an episode of the viral international music show Balcony TV in November 2012, performing on a rooftop during the week rockets were fired at Tel Aviv.

When the two decided to form a full band, they started looking for the right people – and found them in a very Tel Aviv way.

“The drummer, Issar [Tenenbaum], I met through a mutual friend and he introduced me to our bass player, Nitzan [Eisenberg]. The guitar player [Maor Wiezel] I met on the street. A bunch of random meetings that made it all possible.”

Menachem said the sound of the album is more alternative, rock and roll added onto the folk she grew up playing.

She added that Tailor’s musical production helped push it in an edgier direction than she had previously explored with her other musical ventures.

At the show on Saturday, Menachem will play original music from her upcoming album, due out later this year, and a surprise cover. She is excited to play to the crowd with the band she has been working so hard with.

“I’m definitely happy with all these musicians that are absolutely incredible and are a part of this thing and a very inseparable part of it,” she said.

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