efrat gosh at museum 248.88.
(photo credit: Daniella Cheslow)
Although summer days in Beersheba are stiflingly hot, on the last Monday in June, singer Rona Keinan took advantage of the cool evening to give an intimate performance and interview to almost 1,000 people sprawled on the lawn in front the Negev Museum, an elegant renovated mosque in the Old City.
Without her band, Keinan's haunting and deep lyrics held the focus of the evening. She played a song she performed at her first concert, a reworking of "Cassius" by the poetess Yona Vollach. Dressed in a simple black blazer and jeans, Keinan, 30, said that although she went on stage in high school with the Israeli rock figure Eran Tzur, she waited seven years to release her first album because she wanted to gain experience.
"Your first album is like a business card," she said.
Now in its third year, Beersheba's Monday at the Museum concert series brings musicians once a week for a ten-shekel performance that includes an onstage chat with Ben-Gurion University Literature Professor Nissim Calderon.
Calderon said he thought of the concert program as a way to bring together students and the wider Beersheba community. He said that, like Keinan, many Israeli performers are also the brains behind their music.
"This adds a lot more seriousness to the concept of the singer in Israel," said Calderon, who has researched Israeli rock. "And therefore it is not just entertainment, it also has cultural depth."
Keinan just released a new album devoted to her father, called Songs for Yoel. She used her father's life to tell the story of changing Israeli music styles. Songs about his childhood take a bouncy, folksy beat. She narrated his service in the army with more menacing and rock-ish tones. The song "Grey House," about his grandparents' Israeli home that was haunted by memories of Eastern Europe, includes a Klezmer flourish.
This coming Monday features the gravel-voiced producer and musician Assaf Amdursky and piano master Shlomi Shaban arrives in three weeks. Local musicians provide the warm-up acts.
The casual, personal format of the concerts gives a distinctly Southern feel to the artists who, for the most part, drop into Beersheba from Tel Aviv.
Other performers this summer have included Yirmi Kaplan, who stepped down to the grass to play for the audience, and Efrat Gosh, who danced flamenco and did Billie Holiday impersonations. Last month, Shem Tov Levi asked the crowd to clap a rhythm while he played a jazz flute solo.
Although they occasionally stretch on too long, for the most part, the conversation is a welcome insight into the inner workings of the artists' minds.
The series is sponsored by Ben-Gurion University, the Beersheba municipality, the Kivunim company which promotes culture in the city, the Or Movement for settlement and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.
Concert organizers say the series also aims to revitalize the Ottoman-built Old City that lost its commerce over the past decades to disgusting shopping centers and horrible strip malls.
"Because of the unique character of the Old City, the special buildings, the beauty that is already there, you can compare it to Tel Aviv's Neve Tzedek," said Sharon Buenos, the director of productions at Or. "The Old City offers a cultural solution to Beersheba residents, as well as the surrounding towns of Meitar, Lahavim and Ramat Hanegev. And it can also provide a cultural life to the whole Negev. People in Sderot and Kiryat will be able to come to Beersheba and won't have to go up north."
Concerts begin at 8.30 p.m. each Monday night at 60 Rehov Ha'atzmaut, a 20-minute walk from the Central Bus Station. For more information, call (08) 644-3211.