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'For me, it's almost obsessive - creating music, arranging music, making it mine. It's an immense pleasure," says singer/songwriter Tami Machnai, as she sips orange juice in a Tel Aviv street caf . The Israeli performer based out of New York has found some success abroad with her crossover style, influenced by Sephardic and Middle Eastern, British Folk and orchestral progressive rock.
In the past year alone two songs written by Machnai were awarded prestigious prizes. Her "Summertime Debka" won first place in 2006 Billboard Song Contest in the World Music category and her "Come Into My Life" was the grand prize winner in the 2007 Singer/Songwriter Awards presented in London. Now Machnai is back in Israel for two concerts in Tel Aviv on June 16 and 24. This will be her first concert appearance here since she left the country 13 years ago.
As a child, Machnai was exposed to "quality music of all sorts" in her parents' home. She started out as a classical musician, but began to spread her wings while studying piano and musicology at Haifa Conservatory, though she quit before her exams. "I already knew that I was not going to become a concert pianist," she recollects, "so I did not see any reason to graduate from the Conservatory. I was very much attracted to singing and I started taking lessons in vocals."
Her IDF experience only reinforced her decision to do her own thing and sing professionally.
"Instead of opting for the military ensemble, I chose a regular military service. I was a soldier. I did not want to be told what to sing - I wanted the real thing."
Machnai's performing career started in Japan, where she arrived after being released from military service. "I stayed there for a half a year, singing at a bar, earning both money and experience."
On her return to Israel, she studied jazz at Rimon Music School in Tel Aviv and inaugurated an ensemble of her own, appearing at local festivals and on radio and TV. Yet she was not in a hurry to launch a real career. "I did not feel mature enough for it. I am a studious type."
Indeed, Machani went on to receive her Bachelor's degree in a Vocal Performance from Berklee College of Music, followed by Master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. "I was lucky to meet Hancus Netsky, a musicologist and performer, a leading specialist in Jewish music."
Since then, Machnai has performed in New York's Lincoln Center, sang for an audience of 15,000 at the Fleet Center in Boston and at the International Maccabi Games.
Now Machnai is more than happy to finally perform in Israel. "It probably sounds natural for an Israeli to perform at his or her homeland, but it is not that obvious. You cannot do it on remote control. Luckily, Yifat Frenkel, an Israeli who heard me in New York, dedicated herself to making this happen. She belongs to disappearing breed of managers. She took a financial risk just because she believes in me and wants to promote somebody unknown in Israel."
When asked about her future, Machnai replies that she sees herself developing mostly as a composer, "writing something of quality...intellectual, but also emotional. People hear the layers in music, and whether they can say it or not, it does something to them."
Tami Machnai appears at Einav Center in Tel Aviv June 16 and at Zappa Club June 24. The concerts start at 21:00