Domestic harmony

Jerusalem husband and wife team Michael and Shimrit Greilsammer find musical bliss in the release of their debut album

By DAFNA LASKIN, RACHEL MARDER
December 13, 2011 21:39
Michael and Shimrit Greilsammer

Michael and Shimrit Greilsammer 311. (photo credit: Courtesy of Tal Glick)

 
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It isn’t odd to meet married couples that share each other’s passions. For Michael and Shimrit Greilsammer, this passion is music. Michael, a violin prodigy since the age of five and self-styled “reggae violinist,” and Shimrit, a guitarist and singer-songwriter, have supported each other through years of advancement in their musical careers – playing in bands, headlining concerts, opening shows for international stars and now, together, they have produced an album.

The release of B’Paris (In Paris), signals a fundamental shift in Michael and Shimrit’s relationship – the two now share billing as lead singers, a departure from the backup role Shimrit has played until now, and from Michael’s first album, Mitorer (Waking Up).

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“Some songs are hers, some songs are mine,” says 30- year-old Michael, who was born to French and Dutch parents, in Jerusalem. “It’s always about finding the equilibrium and about keeping individual creations.”

This balance shines through on their album: Either Shimrit or Michael sings two thirds of the songs, and a third are sung together. Even when singing solo, neither of them seems to really be alone. Michael’s violin always joins in Shimrit’s songs, an extension of his voice.

Sometimes when he is abroad for business, Shimrit sends Michael songs and letters, which he then puts to music, and her words are easily heard in some of Michael’s solo songs.

Singing in Hebrew, French and English, Michael and Shimrit sample a vast array of musical influences – from rock to reggae, folk to Irish. This last style owes mostly to their work in Black Velvet, an Israeli-Irish band of which they were each members, although not at the same time. Michael heard her sing a song in Gaelic for the group, and several years later, while working on an Irish project featuring Israeli songs, the two finally met.

“We met on a musical ground, and that’s why people always ask me how is it to work with my wife,” Michael says.

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“It was always that way. We always talked about music and we always communicated through music.”

Living, raising a family and working together may seem like a tall order for even the most loving partners, but for the Greilsammers it’s just natural.

“We can’t separate – we just don’t know how, we wouldn’t know how,” Michael says.

This was evident throughout their November 26 show at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem to celebrate the album’s release – whether in more predictable moments, such as when Michael serenaded Shimrit throughout “Ishti Hayekara” (My Dear Wife), or at more surprising times – when Shimrit stopped the band completely for some more intimate time with her husband.

“I want this next one just with Michael,” she says, strumming the first few bars of “Im Yesh Cazeh Davar (If There is Such a Thing),” a beautiful track off the new album.

Watching the two onstage, it feels at times as if you’re looking into their living room, witnessing their life together set to a song. This collaborative effort also includes the band (Uriel Sverdin on drums, Ohad Eilam on bass, Tamir Gross on keyboard and Amit Sagai on electric guitar), which has played a more prominent role in the production of the new album and in touring.

According to Michael, this has opened up new musical avenues based on the members’ own styles. The permanent and more-involved addition of the band also helps keep the energy sky-high at performances.

“That’s the big change,” says Michael. “Many times I did a lot of work myself with the audience but now the effort is inside the group.”

THE ENERGY of both musicians and audience at their Yellow Submarine performance was, the Greilsammers would agree, also linked to their personas as Jerusalem artists. They and their three-year-old son make their home in this city.

And while they love living in the capital, they are happy to see it growing culturally.

“Culture is rising in Jerusalem,” Michael says. “Things are evolving.”

The couple was very active in Jerusalem at the height of this past summer’s social justice movement, playing free shows for protesters not only in Jerusalem, but for the tent cities and marches all across the country. They were also part of a group of Jerusalem musicians featured in mash-up artist Kutiman’s “Thru Jerusalem,” a music video featuring the sounds and music of the city, commissioned by the Jerusalem Season of Culture.

The Greilsammers see themselves living in Jerusalem for a long time to come.

“We are here also to change [the city] and not only to absorb,” Michael says.

In the coming months the Greilsammers hope to spread this high energy through two important shows – first, on December 21 at the Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv, and several days later at the Limmud Festival in Warwick, England. The weeklong Jewish culture festival is the largest of its kind in England, and the couple will perform together on the night of December 25. Once back in Israel, they plan to tour in Haifa and through the South.

These upcoming shows, as well as past performances all over the country and in France, where Michael released his last album entirely in French, will also serve to garner more attention for the duo.

After throwing a song off their new album, “Tou Du Du,” into the ring for last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, the Greilsammers have enjoyed wider exposure in Israel and more radio airtime. They even discovered a fan base in the Caribbean, when a radio DJ found Michael and Shimrit on MySpace.com, a social networking website.

“They saw someone who plays reggae who is white, with glasses and with dreadlocks, so they said okay, let’s bring him,” Michael says. The band performed two concerts in Barbados.

“They were really happy to see someone from Israel, and in Bob Marley songs you have a lot of talk of Zion.

I’m someone who likes their culture, talking about tolerance and peace.” (One of Michael’s signature concert songs is a fierce, violin-peppered cover of Marley’s “Iron, Lion, Zion.”) For the Greilsammers, making their latest album was a musical journey – starting with rehearsals, then picking the songs, and finally recording with the band.

“I see our life and our career together for a long time, maybe forever,” Michael says of he and Shimrit. With the release of B’Paris, the couple has taken a big step down the path to musical bliss.

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