Some of history’s most widely celebrated bands grew in the sanctuary of their own garages, taking the first few steps toward fame only after years of ignominious obscurity; but with their overdue recognition firmly in their grip, they soon became the gems and legends of the cities that had been the setting of their musical upbringing. Jerusalem, it turns out, may have a few of its own still forming somewhere in its basements.
When the homegrown Jerusalem acoustic ensemble known as Tandu began performing two years ago, its subtle style and artistic identity had already come to maturity as a result of many months of playing together as a tight-knit group. Sisters Shani and Yahala Lachmish had met their future musical companions, Jeff Petroff and Ofri Tube, years before at the Ein Prat Midrasha, where the seeds of a lifelong friendship were sown amid a shared study of Jewish thought over the summer. Inevitably, this intensive intellectual encounter soon uncovered yet another shared passion: a common love of singing.
A few lively musical endeavors at Ein Prat and a firestorm of new ideas gave birth to the Fountainheads, from whose waters sprang a series of music videos centering mostly on the Jewish holidays. Conceived as elaborate spin-offs of American pop culture songs, and choreographed with the help of dozens of enthusiastic Ein Prat graduates, these hilarious and surprisingly catchy carols quickly became viral hits on social media, outrageously popular in Jewish communities around the world. The band soon found itself touring around North and South America to perform in dozens of synagogues, where its widespread reputation certainly preceded it.
Yet musical bands tend to resemble living organisms, morphing and often even splitting in the course of their life cycles. So it was that the Fountainheads broke apart to make way for its reincarnation in the form of Tandu, led by the four seasoned original members who stuck together by a bond of friendship and a common artistic vision to refocus on local Hebrew-speaking audiences.
Tandu’s current works are inspired by a peculiar mix of Israeli classics refurbished with a touch of sundry different styles – folk, soul and jazz, to name a few.
Its most recent public appearance at the Tmol Shilshom restaurant left a huddled audience mesmerized for nearly two hours, as its booming voices engulfed the main chamber, accompanied by guitar, keyboard and an array of drums and shakers. While the quartet performed a unique rendition of “True Colors” intermixed with the Israeli classic “Yahad, Lev el Lev,” the two distinct melodies intertwined harmoniously like grapevines across the room in electrifying synergy.
Soprano and baritone voices, eerily in sync, melded together and echoed off the stony walls and ceiling.
The true peak of the evening, however, arrived when their version of “Makom B’Lev” was accompanied by Yahala’s display of the lyrics in sign language as they sang. Having served as an instructor to deaf soldiers in the IDF, the subtle challenge of translating songs from spoken to manual communication while staying true to the poetry has long been Yahala’s great pleasure; and a genuine wish to make their art accessible to all, including those unblessed with the gift of hearing, inspired Tandu to gradually incorporate sign language into the songs it performs.
For a few brief moments, as the chorus reached its climax, the four ceased singing vocally and resumed in perfect unison to do so in sign language alone, jolting the crowd with emotion in an abrupt yet powerful silence dotted with a choreography of arms, hands and fingers.
The young, passionate musicians have created some original material as well, striving to blend together different styles into a sum still greater than its component parts.
Indeed, the very name “Tandu” – Aramaic for “together” – alludes to their penchant to combine ostensibly incompatible melodies and genres into entirely new concepts.
“We are trying to conceive of music that is unbounded by any single form. Superimposing separate styles that may seem to be at odds can actually come out as something totally unexpected and moving,” Petroff explains. His own original meshing of the Jewish Wayfarer’s Prayer into a beautiful soft-rock segment perhaps best demonstrates this notion.
“We still struggle with our identity as a band,” Shani elaborates. “We are often asked to define our brand of music, but find it very difficult to do so without doing it an injustice. We just tell them: Come to our shows and see for yourself.”
Still, it would be safe to say that Tandu draws much from classic Hebrew songs and Jewish traditional roots, seasoning them with a mélange of different styles and melodies but always with a single aim in mind: to touch the souls of the listeners.
As the group further explores its own distinct niche, it routinely performs throughout the country at cultural events and holidays, with the capital as its undisputed hub. The up-and-coming “Ten Days of Thanks,” a stillfresh tradition launched in Jerusalem in recent years, will see Tandu appear publicly on several occasions; meanwhile, the Tmol Shilshom restaurant will continue to host its monthly “Full Moon” performance.
Their gaze always forward, the four artists hope to invest themselves in the creation of more authentic content of their own, each of them bringing his personal experience and heart into the mix. Increasingly wider tours, a first original album and music videos for online circulation are all on the table.
But as they continue to practice weekly in their own garages, their most important aspiration remains to grow together as individuals and as intimate friends through their shared experience of music; and perhaps to shed a little light on their audiences’ lives, while they are at it.
“We have big dreams, and so long as we have fun doing it, we keep on going,” says Tube.