Jewish jazz with a twist of Gospel

Iris and Ofer Portugaly hope to realize a dream of popularizing their music by getting funding for a live recording of their latest musical endeavor, Adon HaSlichot.

July 16, 2013 16:35
4 minute read.
Musicians Iris and Ofer Portugaly

Musicians Iris and Ofer Portugaly . (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

The Israeli jazz scene is dulling; there are limited audiences, limited prospects, and limited funds. But the passion of musicians Iris and Ofer Portugaly is only growing stronger as they try to make their dream of popularizing their music a reality. To do this, the duo seeks the public's help in an online crowd-funding project for the making of their newest CD.

The hopeful CD will be a live recording of the couple’s latest musical endeavor, Adon HaSlichot. The show features Jewish music rearranged in a gospel style with jazzy elements. The songs include Jewish liturgical poems (piyutim) with familiar melodies from different ethnic backgrounds. These songs are reinterpreted by the duo for a unique twist to the traditional prayers of the Jewish faith.

“Jazz is more the persona than the composition,” said Ofer during an interview with The Jerusalem Post. Meaning, it is all about personal interpretation and that is exactly what the Portugalys feature in their show: their personal interpretations to the traditional songs they grew up with.

A couple on and off stage, the two musicians met 25 years ago at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. At school, they developed similar musical tastes and have been working together ever since.

In 1991, despite the extremely limited Israeli jazz scene, Iris and Ofer decided to return to Israel and bring their jazz influences with them. The two grew as musicians and now continue to contribute to the jazz scene as teachers at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon and as directors of various music departments and musical groups in high schools across the country.

In 1999, the Portugalys were invited by Israel’s ambassador in Lagos, Nigeria to perform their music. While on tour, the couple encountered a local gospel choir. The music struck home for them and they were inspired by the richness and harmonies of the music. Ever since then, the two dedicated themselves to bringing the influences of Christian Gospel music to Israel.

“Over the years, we started to dream about creating a genuine parallel to the Christian Gospel of the Afro-American church,” said Ofer on a video promoting the CD project.

“We had an idea to combine the energies, harmony and richness of gospel music with some of the music we grew up with,” Iris continued.

A dozen years ago, the couple was finally able to achieve their dream by starting a gospel choir at the Rimon School. A few years later the pedagogical project turned professional and two years ago Adon HaSlichot was created. 

Now, with the show’s success, Iris and Ofer hope to raise enough money to record a CD of their show through their crowd-funding project on Headstart, Israel’s mass funding platform.

Crowd-funding, the collection of money through the Internet, became popular in Israel over the last year. However, the idea has been successful in places like the United States for many years beforehand. The idea of crowd-funding creates a solution for people who find obstacles in funding their projects the traditional way. It allows them to ask their audiences to fund their projects for special rewards in return.

Iris and Ofer heard about the idea of crowd-funding a few months ago and decided to try it out and see their audience’s reaction. Overall, the couple thinks that the audience’s reaction has been a very positive one and believes that they just need to spread more awareness about the project.

“We got really nice comments from people who really appreciate what we do,” said Ofer. “They get to support something they really want to support.”

Iris and Ofer’s Headstart project asks their audience to give anything between NIS 30 and NIS 17,550 towards their CD project. In return, donators can receive different rewards (like an autographed CD or private concert) based on how much money they contributed.

Headstart operates as an all or nothing effort in that the artists must set a goal in advance and if they do not reach the set goal by a given date, the artists do not receive any of the money donated. Iris and Ofer’s set date is August 10 which means they need to complete their set goal of NIS 52,550 by that date or else they will not receive any of the donated money.

The two chose such an early date because they want to have the CD ready in time for the High Holidays. The CD will have songs like “Yedid Nefesh”, “Adon Olam”, and “Adon HaSlichot”, making it the perfect High Holidays gift according to Iris and Ofer.
“We respect the tradition,” said Ofer. “It is something very big in each one of us.”

The show Adon HaSlichot reflects that belief and its upcoming CD will hopefully do the same as long as the goal is reached and Iris and Ofer Portugaly are able to produce and distribute the CD to their show’s worldwide audience.

To learn more about the project, check out Iris and Ofer Portugaly’s Headstart page at

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