habiluim 88 224.
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Yami Weissler is nothing if not a straight shooter. Quite simply, he wants to make a difference. He wants to make people sit up and take notice. And, truth be told, he'd really like to shake us up a bit.
Weissler is guitarist with the Habiluim rock group which has just released its second album, Shekhol VeKishalon (Bereavement and Failure). You can tell by the title that we're not talking about an MTV brand, happy-go-lucky musical package.
"I don't think art exists to console people, and make them feel comfortable," Weissler observes uncomplicatedly. "If the situation is terrible, shouldn't we say that's the way it is? If your whole function is to placate people and soothe them, then you're not adding anything, you're not doing your job as an artist."
On Shekhol VeKishalon Weissler and the rest of the band employ a tried and tested oxymoronic approach of heavy lyrics accompanied by insouciant sounding tunes. "I know that gets to some people," he says, "but it puts things in sharp contrast, and arouses public debate. I'm not sure small children should listen to our records, but we have people of all ages in our audiences - from the expected teenager and twenty-something crowd looking for something rough and ready, to the over forties, fifties and even over sixties. We seem to appeal to all kinds of people."
Habiluim evidently draw on a wide range of musical influences. Pop, classical, rock and roll, and jazz are all in there, and there's a generous helping of folksy balladic intent, which seems like an unintentional - or indeed intentional - throwback to "the good old days" when people in the then very young state of Israel would spend much of their leisure time sitting around bonfires together singing songs to the tunes of the ubiquitous accordion.
But if you think Weissler is over-critical of others, he is just as hard on himself, as are his cohorts in Habiluim. This, in part, explains the band's less than prolific output. Shekhol VeKishalon's predecessor, Habiluim, was recorded over four years ago. "We write slowly and erase quickly," notes Weissler. "We are very discriminating."
He adds that the band has a sort of daredevil approach to the business of making music. "We don't really have an agenda. We don't decide on what to write or when we sit down to write. We never know where it will lead. Rationality puts you in a rut, in a niche, and you can't get away from it."
The band members - Weissler, singer-bassist Noam Inbar and drummer Shlomi "Croovi" Lavi - bring numerous musical influences to their work, and they get plenty of improvisational support from jazz-oriented artists like saxophonist-clarinetist Yoni Silver, pianist Maya Dunitz and saxophonist Eyal Talmudi. Add to that a wide spectrum of musical influences, stretching from Israeli songbook icon Sasha Argov, bluesman John Lee Hooker and German-Jewish composer Kurt Weil, with plenty of rock and pop thrown in to the mix.
Not surprisingly, some of the less reverent artistic acts find their way into the Habiluim psyche. Largely fictitious rock band Spinal Tap is an influence, as well as the legendary British anti-establishment comic Monty Python team. What Weissler aspires to more than anything is to always produce something new and challenging.
"We don't want to say everything old is bad. [Veteran iconic singers] Yaffa Yarkoni and Arik Einstein attempt to communicate with the good side of our local culture. Then you have guys like [outspoken rocker] Aviv Geffen - he's a real provocateur. We need people like him. You've got to challenge people, and disturb them - challenge the status quo. We don't want to sing stuff like 'I love you, you love me'. We don't want people to fall asleep in the middle of our songs. [Radical rocker-composer] Frank Zappa always moved forward. The [nihilistic 20th century art movement] Dadaists were also always looking for something new. You've got to steer clear of the safe territory."
The band's name is also designed to raise an eyebrow or two. "We've been together since our high school days. That's when we thought up the name," Weissler explains. "Habiluim were pioneers who came to the country and sacrificed everything for their ideals. Then there is the other meaning of the word, which means something along the lines of 'pleasure seekers' or 'having fun'. Life is not so simple and neither is love."
Despite observations like "death is part of life" and talking about life as "a macabre farce," Weissler describes himself as an optimist. "I am 29 years old now and I am more comfortable with my life now that I was, say, 10 years ago. Life is less thorny now. I really appreciate every moment of life now."
The guitarist, who also earns his bread as a film studies professor at Tel Aviv University, tries not to take himself too seriously. "I'm not really a musician," he declares. "I'm a charlatan. We're all charlatans. It's just that some are better than others at disguising it."