(photo credit: DANIEL ELIOR)
'Everyone can connect to music,” said Michael Avshalom, producer of the FestiVan performance at the 2019 Israel Festival and production manager at Jerusalem’s Incubator Theater. “Israel, and especially in Jerusalem, is the place to make connections that you wouldn’t expect, with people from different worldviews, with people from all over the world.”
From June 3 to 12, Avshalom and a team of artists calling themselves “FestiVan” will try to make these connections through a series of pop-up music shows carried out on a mobile stage truck. Acts including hip-hop, spoken word and Mexican and Azerbaijani soul music will show up at different spots around Jerusalem and transform each site into a hub of spontaneous music celebration.
The shows are part of the 58th annual Israel Festival, which runs from May 30 to June 15.
Avshalom said the goal of FestiVan is to “wake up the street” and “connect to the community.”
Because the audience will be different in each location – they will play in Kiryat Yovel, Zion Square, Tzahal Square, Kiryat Menahem and the First Station – the details of each performance are not planned. Instead, he said, the artists feel out the audience and take it from there.
“They are rich and dynamic artists who can read a crowd,” Avshalom explained. “What the crowd wants, that is what will appear.”
There are three genres of performances. He described the first one as “protest music.” The second one takes authentic Mexican and Azerbaijani music and infuses it with Middle Eastern sounds. These artists were born or spent time in those countries but are today Israeli, representing the melting pot of Israel and especially Jerusalem.
The third performance leverages traditional Israeli texts and poems and puts them to music. The artists will interpret them on demand.
“The festival has been placed as a sort of beacon of freedom of artistic expression,” said festival general director, Eyal Sher. “The things we bring are very innovative, very contemporary.”
He said that by selecting shows that are not mainstream, they tend to “inspire independent thinking, be thought-provoking, challenging artistically and thematically. You immediately sort of frame the festival and all the shows within it as a statement.”
Sher said the festival is not trying to make a statement, but in Israel in recent years there has been what he described as a “narrowing of the borders” of freedom of expression in all areas, including the arts. As such, “when you do things with a free spirit, you become inadvertently rebellious.”
FestiVan, he explained is a chance to bring this festival to the members of the public, to meet them in their space.
“If you put on an event in the middle of Zion Square downtown, you don’t have a choice who the population will be,” he said. “It will be Orthodox, Arabs, Russian, students and businessmen,” he said, explaining how the shows bring these people together. “Imagine you are downtown and a band comes. It stops, parks and opens its stage and the show begins. People just gather around.”
He said he expects at least 20,000 people to be touched by FestiVan throughout the week of its performances. Some 40,000 people participate in some aspect of the Israel Festival.
“A city like Jerusalem is so colorful, so great,” Sher said, “but at the same time, there is always an undercurrent of pressures. There are religious conflicts, political conflicts, cultural conflicts that are tearing us apart all the time. It always feels like something is going to erupt.
“We believe in the power of art,” he continued. “Art brings joy to the human journey.... The shows, in some sense, celebrate diversity, as opposed to looking at this diversity as a minus.”