Israeli singer and guitarist Lea Shabat, 62, has been making music for more than 30 years. A veteran of the Israeli music scene and sister to renowned singer Shlomi Shabat, you could say that a love for music runs in her family.
How did music first come into your life?
Shabat will take a break from finishing her as-yet-untitled 10th studio album to play at the multi-day Tamar Festival at Kibbutz Ein Gedi (6:30 p.m.) on October 8. Shabat sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss teaching herself to play guitar, how much she has grown as a musician since her first album, and the new direction she is currently taking with covers and songs in Portuguese.
It came very naturally. My brother, Shlomi, started playing before me, so I listened to him. It was something from the inside and from the sky. It’s like I was born with it. My father put music on all the time, but it was Turkish and Greek music, which I didn’t connect to when I was younger.
Did you father’s family come from those areas?
Yeah, my parents came from Turkey, they were born there. They came to Israel when they were 16.
So there was music being played at home and my brother was playing, but these are reasons from the outside. On the inside, it was just there.What was the first instrument you learned how to play?
Guitar was my first instrument.
It’s my instrument. I know how to play a little bit of this and that, but most of all, it’s guitar. I didn’t want a teacher; I taught myself.
When I saw someone playing on the television, I would look at their hands playing the chords, and then I would run straight to my guitar to start trying to play it. I was copying everything that I saw when people played. Also with how I wrote the chords, it was not the normal way to write them. I would use strange names. I succeeded with it because I knew what I was talking about, but someone else who didn’t know wouldn’t know what to do with it.
It was like a code.What was the reason you didn’t want a teacher?
First of all, my parent didn’t have money for it. Second, there weren’t so many music teachers. But my parents never thought about it.
They were concerned about food and the simple things of life.At what point did you realize that playing guitar was more than a hobby?
I feel that I knew it from the beginning, in my insides. I knew that this is me and this is what I’m going to do. There wasn’t much thinking about it, but I felt it all the time. I was living in the music.
When did you put out your first album?
I was 30 years old. I recorded a song and it went to the radio and was a very big success. Then I signed a contract at that point and recorded my first record.
What was that experience like for you? Wow! I was afraid, with no confidence because I had no experience.
I didn’t know what I should do. The person who did the musical arrangements was my boyfriend, but the musicians were studio players. I didn’t know them. I thought maybe this is not for me. It was hard to speak up for myself, it was difficult from one side. But on the other side, it was a dream come true. I gained experience from record to record. I did some records where I was responsible for the musical arrangements. I was a little girl at first in the studio.How many records have you released in total?
Nine and now I’m finishing the 10th. I love to write and record, but I like to do it fairly quickly. Writing songs for me now is not like it was before. I write very fast now because it’s in the way. Things changed for me in terms of my writing method.
Now I feel like I want to sing other people’s songs because I want to sing other things and try other things, to record covers of songs that I love; to do something else.
It sounds to me like you write songs quickly now because otherwise you would feel clogged up.
Yes, but not because my inside wants to speak. It’s because this is what I do; it’s my way of life. Writing is a kind of loneliness. If I’m looking back and I see the hours upon hours that I spent in my room, singing, playing and sometimes crying, it was lonely. Now because of that experience, I feel that I don’t need to spend hours to write songs. I can do it quickly. This is why I want to experience other people’s songs also.Are there any songs that you would really like to cover?
There are a lot! Today I started something where I’ll be covering songs from Brazil, Spain and Portugal.
This is in my heart and in my blood. I was so happy today to start this project. I was thinking about how I’m always writing songs about how I think, feel, what I’m praying for, and how I see things. But the real influence is actually coming from these countries for me. It’s the music I have in my heart. Because I’ve been writing songs from the point of view of the person I am and the things I want to say, I didn’t do this yet. Now I want to do it.
This is what I’m made of inside. I also would love to try singing music from musicals. They are so beautiful, full of life and full of sound.
When you say that songs from Brazil, Spain and Portugal are in your blood. Do you also have family roots from those countries?
No, but I’m connected. I discovered it when I was 15 years old and I looked for everything I could find.
I learned a lot of songs. It is in my blood. Also the flamenco I love. I understand some of the Portuguese words because my parents spoke Ladino in the house. It’s familiar for me. If I had to sing something in Spanish or Portuguese, it’s very easy for me to do.You’re performing during the Tamar Festival. Will you playing any of the songs from your new album, or any Portuguese and Spanish songs?
Maybe one or two. I don’t have a release date yet for the new album; I’m drifting with it. A journalist once asked Ehud Banai when his album would be released and he said, “at the right time.” It’s a good answer. I have two more songs to record, so I can guess that it will be about half a year.
For more information on Lea Shabat, please visit: www.facebook.com/ LeahShabatOfficial. For more information on the Tamar Festival or to order tickets: http://tamarfestival.com.