(photo credit: JOSH SHINNER)
With little fanfare, Irit Dekel took the stage at Roundhouse Studios on February 20, part of the legendary Roundhouse performance space near London’s Camden Town neighborhood and home to famed gigs by bands such as The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. Clad in a polka-dot playsuit, Dekel and her band showcased over two sets the exceptional talents of Israeli artists establishing themselves in the UK music scene.
The London leg of Dekel’s tour took place in advance of the release of her debut album Hello in early March. Her own brand of jazzy folk, which takes in influences from classical music, pop and the rhythms of Ladino is relentless, fun and frivolous. Sparkling percussion and thundering accordion riffs accompany Dekel as she goes from buzzing around the stage with energetic opener “Just Because” to wistful and filled with lament on “Seen It All,” a song about a friend from her time in the IDF who was paralyzed in a training accident.
The dramas of tales like “Seen It All” are the backbone of Irit’s extraordinary life. Born to Ukrainian immigrants who made aliya after Gorbachev loosened travel restrictions in the final years of the Soviet Union, she was raised in Haifa. After serving as a sniper during her military service, Dekel received a prestigious theatrical education, first at Jerusalem’s School of Visual Theater, then at the Beit Zvi School of Performing Art in Ramat Gan.
Following this, Dekel worked as part of the ensemble at Tel Aviv’s renowned Gesher Theater company, founded in the 1990s by Russian olim.
Alongside television appearances and a regular show on Israeli TV in the early 2010s, she eventually formed the Last of Songs duo with fellow Israeli Eldad Zitrin, touring Europe in 2015-16 before arriving in London.
Talking with Dekel in London before the show, The Jerusalem Post
asked her what had led her to choose London over any other city in the world when so many young Israelis are heading to places like Berlin.
“I love the music here – especially the music from the past,” said Dekel, specifically citing artists such as Jethro Tull, Nick Drake and Kate Bush.
“I love the cosmopolitan life, although sometimes it doesn’t feel very welcoming. Once you find your own place here, there are so many things to do here and so many options.” Not missing a beat, she added a comment on British weather, noting, “And once it’s sunny, it’s even better!” In light of the anti-Israel protests that last year’s “TLV in LDN” festival attracted, Irit also discussed whether she felt any pressure to represent Israel as an artist.
“It’s my own sound and I’m not coming to represent anybody but myself,” she said, adding “but of course there are many influences from Israeli culture in my music.”
Speaking to the audience towards the end of her performance, Dekel reflected on her time in the IDF.
“The service taught me what real friendships are and that you can achieve anything with the right attitude. Your true attitude is revealed when you’re in a very dark corner.”
Despite the relative darkness of the Roundhouse Studio, it seems likely that Dekel has a bright future ahead of her.