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A few minutes before their intimate breakout show at Jerusalem's Cana'an Bar earlier this month, the five members of Majuda, a new fusion band that brings together African beats and Hasidic Zionism, stepped into a back room to throw African-print tunics over their clothing.
"The root of our sound is African, but the leaves and flowers are definitely Jewish in origin," said lead vocalist/guitarist Chanan Rosin in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "The lyrics include a lot of lines from the Tanakhâ€¦ a lot of the concepts are drawn from Hasidic Zionism, and are infused with an African likeness. It gives it color, and a simple happiness that I think both Hasidic Jews and Africans have in common."
Everything about this fledgling group seems to shout "only in Israel." With tzitzit sticking out under the tribal-patterned shirts, lyrics in English, Hebrew, French, Zulu, and Xhosa, and a fresh sound that borrows from Israeli, African, French, folk and rap traditions, it's hard to imagine an act like theirs anywhere else.
"I'm not fluent in Zulu, but I can get around," said Rosin with a smile.
Though Rosin admits that most white South Africans like himself are cut off from the black African culture he claims to be drawing from, he said, "I was fortunate enough to be open to it growing up there. I learned music on the streets. It's on the minibuses, in the taxis-it's everywhere. Something rang true over there, and I'm trying to bring it back to my Israeli brethren."
After meeting percussionist Elad Ne'eman during the Israeli-born musician's trip to South Africa, Rosin and Ne'eman realized their collaboration yielded beautiful results. Before starting Majuda, both traveled with the South African jazz/funk group Adama Kadmon, a two-year project that Rosin now views as preparation for Majuda.
Once Rosin and Ne'eman moved to Israel, the group grew to include Bar Katz, born in France, who plays with Aharit Hayamim, and Israelis Ilan Kenan and Meir Assor.
Rosin writes most of the music but the group arranges everything as a band, with Ne'eman contributing Hebrew lyrics and Bar Katz taking care of the French side.
Musically, the band members tout an impressive range of vocal and instrumental abilities, artfully blending a standard guitar, bass, and drum kit with a saxophone, mouth organ, and several African percussion instruments. Their Cana'an set mixed original songs with new renditions of traditional Jewish folk music such as "Shalom Aleichem," "Kol Ha'olam Kulo," and "Etz Chayim," and even sprinkled in some good old-fashioned Jewish shtick and African call-and-response motifs.
"At this point we're sharing our music with people we know," said Rosin. "The egg is still cracking. We're coming out of our shell."
Majuda expects to release its first album, New World Order within the next month.