Musical soul twins

Singer Shlomit Levi together with RebbeSoul, a guitar player from America, combine ancient Yemenite melodies and rhythms from around the world.

Musical soul twins (photo credit: DIANA BOVA)
Musical soul twins
(photo credit: DIANA BOVA)
Shlomit & RebbeSoul is the story of two artists, two countries and one soul. Filling several theaters in Israel and New York City, it is also a serendipitous celebration of contemporary electronica and rock fused with the sounds of Yemen.
One could say that Shlomit Levi and RebbeSoul (Bruce Burger) – who will be performing at Zichron Ya’akov’s Baronita on Wednesday, April 8 – is a fusion of Jewish roots and World Music. Israeli-born Levi is best known for her folk-Yemenite devotion, which, with her vivid and classical nuance, is a complete and polished reflection on a sacred history.
Ruminative, unburdening, sometimes startlingly unguarded, her vocal inflections navigate five languages and numerous contemporary genres in a way that harmonizes the traditional folk format with a delicate yet distorted cacophony of a hybridized, modern-day story of World Music.
How do you put this particular kind of music across in a venue? Burger – RebbeSoul – gives a persuasive answer. The duo’s different cultures are precisely what makes them so compelling, and as Levi observes, every audience finds its own resonance in their music. Burger’s walking basslines of electrified guitar rock, a Clapton-meets-Knopfler life force, is the brush to the musical landscape of Levi’s vocals colorations. Digging from the inside, there’s plenty spirit oozing out of this duo.

For many years you have both performed for Israeli and American audiences, so what’s the biggest difference between the two
? Levi: We love them both, but I do feel some differences. In a show we had in Rochester, New York, I couldn’t quite tell what they were thinking.
They just listened very quietly, but after the show many approached us complimenting us enthusiastically.
Israeli audiences are more involved, ask questions between the songs, move to the rhythms, and many times get up and dance! RebbeSoul: Israelis are also used to listening to music in many languages, while Americans are not. Except for World Music, I find people are always curious about something “exotic.” I often get the impression that I, being an American guitar player, am exotic to Israelis. Americans would consider Shlomit exotic. I guess we have that “exotic” card in our favor at all times, whether we perform here or there.
Shlomit, you sing in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Yemenite and Aramaic. Are you not as creatively free when choosing just one? Levi: It’s all about the music and emotion, and less about the language of the song. Many ideas are better conveyed in their source language.
Singing a song like “Abdah Bil’agual” about a Yemenite woman leaving her family when she gets married, is way more authentic in the Yemenite language than in English translation.
Emotions somehow get through to the listener even when they don’t understand the lyrics. That’s what music is all about, isn’t it?

RebbeSoul, what is it about her voice that lends itself to the musical landscape you create?
Truly, the best thing I can do as a musician is get out of the way. If I follow my immediate instincts of being a Westerner playing this “eastern” music, it automatically creates a unique combination and musical fusion. I do my homework to learn about the traditions and understand the musical personality of it all, but avoid getting too cerebral so the music is still full of life and has a spirit.
How important are Jewish Roots and World Music as genres in popular culture today? Levi: Very important. Getting to know all kinds of World Music allows one to get familiar with another culture and even learn a different perspective about the world. I believe that by expanding your mind you expand your world. There are many elements separating our times. Music is a powerful instrument that has almost no limits or borders and can unify people.
RebbeSoul: When people listen to Shlomit & RebbeSoul, they get taste of “hawaij” [Yemenite spice mixture] and a peek into that Yemenite world.
What’s the most thrilling thing about the live experience of Shlomit & RebbeSoul? Levi: The live musical dynamic when RebbeSoul and I play together.
We recorded a few songs live in our album The Seal of Solomon, like “Avinu Malkeinu,” because the magic couldn’t be produced by overdubbing different parts at different times. We tend to change versions of songs and improvise too. So many nice, interesting things can happen.
RebbeSoul: I get a kick out of watching Shlomit light up the place when she enters. That’s top of the list for me. It makes me smile every time.