Shai Gabso, who burst onto the public’s consciousness in 2003 as second runner
up behind Shiri Maimon and Ninete Tayeb during Kochav Nolad’s maiden season, has
not taken the cookie-cutter celebrity route in the ensuing years.
many pop stars choose to hide their teen idol faces behind beards, get married
minus the paparazzi in the West Bank (as Gabso did last week in the Samarian
settlement of Ofra), publicly volunteer their talents to help increased a sense
of Jewish heritage among the nation’s youth, and write songs that have evolved
into patriotic anthems like “Arim Roshi” (I Will Lift My Head; from the first of
Gabso’s three albums to date)? “I became religious when I was 12, but it’s
gotten stronger in recent years,” said Gabso last week before the wedding,
explaining his decision to not perform on Friday nights – traditionally a big
money maker in the local concert market.
Gabso’s identification with
Jewish tradition is also what has led him to launch a collaboration with Nefesh
Yehudi, an organization founded by Rabbi Eliahu Ilani, which attempts to expose
secular Jewish college-age students in Israel and Europe to Judaism.
organization, with over 30 centers throughout the country and in Europe and
boasting over 30,000 participants, provides scholarships to students on the
stipulation that they commit to taking Nefesh Yehudi’s classes in Judaism, not
necessarily that they commit to a religious life.
Last month, Gabso
performed for 120 Israeli students studying in Lita, and this month he’s playing
to Nefesh Yehudi students in Tel Aviv and Haifa, with more performances planned
throughout the year.
“Nefesh Yehudi approached me about doing a show for
them in Lita – they thought it was a good shidduch,” said Gabso.
was, it was amazing to find a common language with the students through music
and Judaism. Nefesh Yehudi’s goal is to expose them to tradition and the Jewish
story, but to widen it beyond learning and bring some culture into it
Gabso said he held some trepidation before the shows as to what was
being expected from him – by Nefesh Yehudi, which he knew was hoping for a
particular message, and from the students who may have been expecting a
no-strings attached rock concert.
“It was a real challenge. I didn’t know
how my show – which on the face of it doesn’t really jibe with a Jewish message
– would go together with what they were expecting,” said Gabso.
the Lita show, I discussed it with my manager and told him I knew I had to reach
the students from the deepest and most sensitive of places in my soul and speak
to them like a friend. And it worked really well.”
spokesman Natanel Izik explained that the organization decided to approach Gabso
because he possessed the values they were trying to pass on to the
“We try to strengthen Jewish identity and to fight
assimilation. And Shai is a great representation of someone with a strong Jewish
identity – not necessarily in a religious aspect. And his music appeals to all
kind, religious as well as secular,” said Izik.
“As opposed to what you
might think about someone who was on a TV show and appears on stage, Shai is a
simple person – a pleasure to be with. I’ve produced a lot of shows and worked
with a lot of performers, and I’ve never met someone as down to
GABSO’S MATURATION from the teen sensation of A Star is Born to
the adult artist of his latest album Caravan didn’t take too long, and according
to the singer, the journey is all laid out in his music.
“Caravan is very
different from any of my music that came before it. There was a need to go
backwards and look at myself, because I myself have changed so much during this
very critical stage of my 20s,” he said.
“And I think I succeeded, I know
it’s really touched people.”
Not that his earlier music didn’t also have
a huge impact. Gabso is still taken aback when his song of patriotism “Arim
Roshi” is played at national ceremonies “It’s amazing – it came out eight years
ago, and it’s taken on a life of its own. It’s bigger than the artist, it has
its own independence – it’s really supported a lot of people,” he
Gabso hopes that another song of his will also provide support for
people in need. Along with other Israeli artists like David Broza, Nurit Galron,
Avi Toledano and Dudu Fischer, he recently contributed a song to a project
initiated by Pioneers for a Cure.
The American-Israeli campaign to raise
funds for cancer research asked artists to record a song from the public domain
(whose royalty rights have expired) and the songs are available for the public
to download at http://pioneersforacure.org/. Among the American artists
participating include Suzanne Vega, Ben E. King and Randy Brecker.
recorded a poem by Chaim Bialik written in 1891 called “To the Bird” and the
proceeds from the download will go to the children’s department of Rambam
Hospital,” said Gabso, who added that he identified with the lyrics, Bialik’s
first poem, in which he pours out his soul to the bird that flies back and forth
between the Holy Land and the Diaspora.
Not your typical pop music fare,
and indeed, it’s symbolic of Gabso’s inclination to take the potentially
career-damaging path of taking on bigger issues in his music – of statehood,
faith and tradition and not from the viewpoint of the standard Left-leaning
North Tel Aviv entertainer bandwagon.
It’s that individualistic streak
that may have touched the viewers and judges of Kochav Nolad eight years ago,
and it’s that trait Gabso advises future musical artists and would-be
contestants to develop.
“My advice is to find the strength to be
yourself,” he said. “Everyone has their inner voice that God gave them. Rather
than copy someone else, it’s better to find your own voice.”
that Gabso clearly took to heart himself.