Noa Drezner’s red string

Accomplished Israeli flamenco guitarist explains how life led to her debut album.

By SHIRLEY FINKELSTEIN
March 5, 2019 11:26
Noa Drezner

Noa Drezner. (photo credit: GABRIEL BAHARLIA)

 
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Becoming the face of Israeli modern Flamenco music was not in the plan for Noa Drezner.  Even though she has been playing guitar since she was 12 years old, it was only after she packed up at age 20, moved to India, spent time as a gypsy jewelry-maker while living out of a van and moving to Spain that she realized she was born to make music.

“I didn’t have any vision. I was really in the now of ‘Let’s just be happy now and make jewelry and make people happy with the jewelry.’ I was playing music always for myself.”

The guitarist was on the road for three years between India, Spain and Portugal when she started listening to Flamenco and realized it was a style of music she wasn’t familiar with.

“For me, it was just a dance. Back in Israel there was no Flamenco,” the artist recalled. “Nowadays, go anywhere – in any small village you can find Flamenco dance lessons. They dance, they go to Flamenco class just like they go to pilates or yoga.”

Drezner ended up in Jerez, Spain, where she began taking dancing, singing and guitar classes. “Anything I could, and as much as I could. It was my university. I spent all my energy and time there,” she said.

But it wasn’t until a full three years later that someone offered Drezner a paid gig as a guitarist.

“There was a concert somewhere in Jerez. After the concert the band came out with a guitar. In Jerez you always play more with the people outside after a show. And someone told the lead musician, ‘Do you know this girl can play guitar?’ So they gave me the guitar and I started playing for him while he sang,” Drezner explained. “And they said, ‘Wow, a girl who can play. That’s incredible.’ In Jerez, women don’t play guitar. At least not outside.”

Following the late-night rendezvous, Drezner accepted a gig every week, accompanying singers at that same venue. She recalled the summer of 2011 as being ‘a beautiful one.’

“I started playing, and for me it was hard because I didn’t play anything of my own. I just played other people’s songs. I felt a little uncomfortable. I was really lucky and had great feedback from people. They could have easily not liked what I do. Or they could say Flamenco culture is ours... sometimes people feel that others from all over the world are taking it away from them.”

Today, back in Israel, Drezner routinely entertains at various venues and jazz festivals around the country, especially in Tel Aviv, collaborating with established stars like Etti Ankri and Boaz Sharabi.

“When I play a concert, there’s more people and more people every time. We made Flamenco here in Israel. It’s something amazing.”

And after years as a performer, she is finally releasing her first album. When asked what took so long, Drezner revealed her feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, explaining that as an artist, you can produce music for a long time without ever quite feeling ready. In addition, she said she was anxious about the potential criticism from what she referred to as the “Flamenco authority,” the Flamenco community.

“I never felt that I could take something from somebody. Music is something you can teach somebody how to play, but you can’t teach somebody music,” explained Drezner. “Music is something you have inside yourself. They can teach you to take it out with guitar or any instrument. Gypsy people in Spain could have less spirit than someone in Japan who came there and started learning 40 years ago. You have to have the spirit.”

FLAMENCO ORIGINATED during the Golden Age of Spain, a time when Jews were very much a part of the Spanish world and a major influence on Flamenco music. Many of the lyrics refer to Jewish hardship, recording bits of history from when Jews were expelled from the country during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492. It is thought the Petenera genre of Flamenco music has the heaviest influence of lyrics about the Jewish experience.

“Flamenco has been created by many people. As Jews, we have a lot to do with Flamenco because actually it was created when we were living there 500 years ago, and many of the chants that we hear in flamenco have Jewish roots,” said Drezner.


 The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), two years ago added the Spanish Flamenco to its list of intangible elements of cultural heritage, in order to protect and encourage cultural diversity.

“That means that we all own it and we can all enjoy it, even if we don’t understand all the Spanish,” said Drezner.

Drezner points to a song she learned from a genre of Blamenco known as Bulerias that refers to her people:

“Tú eres como los Judíos, 
Aunque la ropa te quemen,
No reniegas de lo que has sido.

You are like the Jews,
Though they burn your clothes,
You don’t reject who you’ve been.”

“It makes me want to cry. Seriously. It is hard to be Jewish,” Drezner said.

When asking how she views herself as an outsider taking on such a deep-rooted Spanish culture, she responded:

“I spent 10 years there. I became one of them. I lived there. I did everything they do. I made friends who are like my family. I tried with a lot of respect, always, just to play my guitar. I’ll tell you the truth, when you play in small places like in Jerez, you don’t make money. You do it for your soul. I wasn’t making any money. For me, it was amazing to be able to play Flamenco in Jerez, which is known to be one of the hardest places.”

Drezner’s forthcoming album is called El Hilo Rojo, (The Red String.) The self-produced collection was made using NIS 38,000 she raised in a crowdfunding effort from 240 of her fans and supporters.

The album is not a commercial one. It has seven songs that time out to 40 minutes. Drezner wrote all of the lyrics herself. The collection includes singers from Spain, Israel, Venezuela and New York. And while there is a lot of singing on the album, Drezner is not any of those voices. She strictly keeps to strumming.

Drezner explains the idea for the album title refers to a concept found among a variety of cultures.

“Here in Israel when you walk in the street, out from the Kotel [Western Wall], there is a Jewish person who might try to give you a blessing and wrap a red string around your hand.

“In Asian cultures, there is a legend that when everybody is born, the gods go down to Earth and tie an invisible string – it is a red string – to his finger, and that string is then attached to everything that person has to find, his love, his destiny. It’s the red string of destiny. So I felt like my whole life and the way I found Flamenco, and my creation was just like that. 

“The recording of this album happened the same way. The people I talked with, they were all connected from the past through red strings. I could see that red string, from the people who arrived to help me make the record.

“One day, I won’t be here, but I will leave something behind. I hope if anyone out there is a woman who wants to play Flamenco and they say you can’t because you’re a woman – she can show him my album.”

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