Hail to the king

Singer-songwriter Yael Deckelbaum teams up with a roster of renowned female rockers to pay homage to Elvis.

March 5, 2011 21:36
4 minute read.
Yael Deckelbaum

Deckelbaum 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Yael Deckelbaum is one of the more prominent performers in the long list of female artists at the forthcoming Women’s Festival at the Holon Theater (March 9-12). On March 10 (9 p.m.), the Jaffa resident will join forces with a powerful cross-generational lineup of rockers, including Riki Gal, Ruti Navon, Carolina, Tamar Eisenman and Yael Krauss, in a tribute to Elvis Presley.

One could be forgiven for wondering how a 31- year-old Jerusalem-born singer-songwriter connects with the music and energies of the king of rock ‘n’ roll who found fame more than 20 years before she was born. Then again, Deckelbaum was nurtured on a heady musical diet of rock, pop and folk from North America from the 1950s and 1960s.

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“My dad took care of my musical education,” says Dekelbaum. “Dad” is late Canadian-born banjo playing dentist David Deckelbaum, who formed the legendary Jerusalem country, blues, folk and bluegrass band The Taverners in the mid-1970s. The group worked for more than 25 years and only broke up in 2002 when Deckelbaum Sr. returned to Canada, making a triumphant one-time reunion appearance at the Jacob’s Ladder Festival in 2007.

“I had my Elvis period and my Michael Jackson period – Elvis came first,” says Deckelbaum. “I was really into 1950s rock and roll. When I was small, my dad brainwashed me with [rock and roll singer-pianist] Jerry Lee Lewis. He even took me to a show of his.”

Besides the slots that feature all the women singers, Deckelbaum will do three Elvis numbers on her own in the show, including “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Fever” and “a surprise number.” She says she is fully plugged in to the music of the man with the famously gyrating pelvis.

“It’s completely natural for me to sing Elvis songs. I go further back [in 20th-century pop music] to blues, R&B and soul – all these things went through Elvis through white rock and roll.”

Despite Elvis’s being generally perceived as a definitive alpha male heartthrob, Deckelbaum does not see a problem with having a show of his songs with a totally female lineup. She also contests the mutually exclusive male-female divide take. “What is femininity in this context? Would you call Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner soft and feminine when they sing? Do you take power and strength and push it out there, and add volume and tightness, and call that masculine? I know quite a few women who have all those characteristics. We’re not going to take Elvis and make him all soft and cuddly. Anyway, all the women in the Elvis show have got plenty of power. I think it’s a perfect fit.”

On the last day of the festival (at 11:30 a.m.), Deckelbaum will push her own boat out with a show of her own, in which she will unveil material from her new CD, Joy and Sadness, which is due out in April. She will also perform numbers from her 2009 debut album Ground Zero and the highly successful 2007 CD she put out as a member of the all-female Habanot Nechama trio.

Joy and Sadness marks something of a coming of age for Deckelbaum and, in contrast to Ground Zero, all the songs are in Hebrew. “[Record producer- bass guitarist] Yonatan [Levy] and I were much younger when we made that album. We agonized over everything and wanted every sound and nuance to be just right,” recalls Deckelbaum.

“It took eight or nine years to get that album done, and we recorded it three times. But I’ve grown a lot since that, and I’m learning how to work without overexerting myself. I wrote most of the songs for Joy and Sadness in six months. They just poured out of me. I wanted to make music of the here and now, not to put up monuments.”

Even after his death last year at the age of 71, Deckelbaum’s father continues to impact on his daughter’s music. “I remember coming home from the launch gig for Ground Zero and I was over the moon. And then I got a call from my brother telling me Dad had had a stroke, and they weren’t sure he’d survive. I sat down straight away and wrote the title song for Joy and Sadness.

I think it’s a powerful song. It came out of all the emotions I had at that moment. Then I started recording my second CD, got home from the studio and got a call telling me Dad had died.” In the event, Deckelbaum scrapped the numbers she’d already recorded for her second album and started again from scratch.

“I’ve connected with my Israeliness with the new CD. I wasn’t sure I could write songs in Hebrew. After all, I didn’t grow up with Israeli music or Israeli culture. But I thought I’d give it a go and see how it works out.”

The results will be evident on March 12. “I think it’s a really good CD,” says Deckelbaum. “I couldn’t imagine making a better one.”

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