(photo credit: )
Dafna Kenan never did get the sights and sounds of Paris out of her mind. Especially the sounds.
19 years after her father Rafi was appointed cultural attachÃ© at the Israel Embassy in Paris, Kenan still dips from the Parisian well for part of her musical identity as founder and 'Dafna' of Tel Aviv indie pop cabaret band Dafna and the Cookies.
"I was eight when we went to France, and it was there that I started paying attention to music," said the 27-year-old Kenan, who spent four formative years in Paris. "My father's a musician himself, and he's translated a lot of French songs and books into English. I always heard music at home; he used to sing to me and play me jazz and classical music."
At the same time, Kenan's older sister was exposing her sibling's tender ears to a harder-edged sound.
"She was in her rebellious years, and from her I'd hear David Bowie, The Velvet Underground," recalled Kenan. "I think what I ended up with was a blend of all of that different music."
That pretty well describes Dafna and the Cookies, whose new second album Ma Ratzinu (What We Wanted) contains the oo la la jauntiness of "Ain Lenatzauch" (No Way to Win), the effervescent punk pop of "Toda Raba" (Thanks Very Much) and pretty much everything in between.
Kenan and the Cookies - guitarist Danya Schwartz, bassist Inbal Zubalsky, drummer Tomer Lahav and guitarist Tal Zubalsky - like to keep the mix varied and the balls up in the air, refusing to be stereotyped into one genre.
"In the back of my mind, I must be drawn toward a more cabaret, nightclub kind of sound. But I never stopped and said, I want to be a cabaret singer. There's a little of that sound and influence, but it's not cabaret music," said Kenan, citing the influence of renegade American punk cabaret act Dresden Dolls led by Amanda Palmer. "She's an amazing songwriter. They take the past and create modern art."
Such lofty goals were not in Kenan's sights when she first picked up an instrument, but almost through osmosis, music became part of her life force, naturally leading her toward a career in it.
"I don't remember deciding to be a musician or to make a career of music. I started playing keyboards when I was seven, but was very bad at it," she said. "Later I picked up my sister's guitar and found that more to my liking. I took lessons over the years, but I don't remember a moment when I said I'm going to be a musician."
STUDYING IN the music department of her Tel Aviv high school Ironi Aleph further cemented Kenan's musical ambitions, and after her army service, she began playing bass in bands along with future Cookie Schwartz.
"Danya urged me to find musicians and try to start our own thing, but I had not big ambitions, I was very naÃ¯ve," she said.
"In fact, when I started the band was the first time I tried to write a song. Basically I did the whole thing for fun, but I ended up discovering myself with the band's help and support. We've done everything together," said Kenan. "I write the songs, but the sound we have today is very much due to their touch and input."
While What We Wanted has been well-received on the airwaves, and the band is having a gala album launch show on November 3rd at the Barby club in Tel Aviv, Kenan laughed when asked if she was able to concentrate full time on her music career.
"Of course, we all have to do other things to survive. That's the reality - I won't say unfortunately, but it's part of the life we've chosen," she said.
"All the members of the band have professions, that all touch on art in some other way. Tal's an animator and designer, Inbal has a degree in architecture but works as a graphic designer, Danya is working with an Internet startup doing something that's beyond me. Tomer and Tal also play with Yoni Bloch's band. Tomer is studying computer science, he's practically a genius. And I'm working as a video editor."
"The thing is we enjoy the life of duality. While we all have day jobs, we're doing things we love doing."
One thing Kenan isn't doing is running to write and record songs in English, which has established itself as a trend among young Israeli musicians - and it's not only because her English isn't so good.
"I'm very connected to Hebrew and Israeli culture - it's a big part of my music. I think in Hebrew," she said. "I think what Asaf Avidan is doing is great. As long as I believe an artist, it doesn't matter whether he's singing in English or Hebrew. I have no problem with Israelis singing in English, but I've made my own decision.
"I do have a dream of going to Paris for a period of time, to explore French music and to perform there. But that's in the future. We're a very Israeli band."
For Kenan, the musical journey comes part and parcel with a sense of self exploration that she finds to be an integral part of the process.
"I've been searching for a long time to find out who I am. I think I'm doing pretty good so far."