The story of love

Gil Ron Shama and Café Jallal to perform in Confederation House, Jerusalem

July 10, 2019 20:48
The story of love

GIL RON SHAMA. (photo credit: ITAY ELIASI)

For my money, listening to a musical work without catching the storyline – be it subliminal or up front – is akin to getting into a Ferrari only discover you’re out of gas. When it comes to spinning a yarn, there are few more adept at that particular skill than Gil Ron Shama. In fact, you could say he does that for a living. Shama will display some of his seasoned raconteur expertise at Confederation House in Jerusalem, under the auspices of director Effi Benaya, on Wednesday (8:30 p.m.) when he fronts his Café Jallal group.

Anyone who got into the New Age scene here in the 1990s and early 2000s will probably know of Shama through his membership of the then-celebrated Sheva band. Back then, Sheva, whose – naturally – seven members included Mosh Ben-Ari, was a big draw at all the festivals and major venues, both here and around the globe.

Sheva eventually shuffled off its musical mortal coil, and the individual members set off in different directions. Shama served as a sort of front man, storytelling and sometime percussionist.

Over the years, he has maintained his ability to paint colorful pictures in words – spoken and sung alike. And he doesn’t get his raw material from the Internet either. He has been pounding the multicultural spread beat for many moons which, besides equipping him with a multitude of tales with which to regale us, also provided the band with a nifty moniker. “I got the name Jallal from Bedouin in Sinai,” Shama explains. “I have been roaming around Sinai for 30 years. I feel a strong bond with the Bedouin culture. Jallal means ‘strength.’” Fifty-year-old Shama feels truly blessed. “At the end of the day, you don’t have much more than your name. It’s a bit like getting a pension, a grant,” he laughs.

For Shama, it all starts and ends with conveying a tale, as graphically and colorfully as possible. “That’s where I come from. The music came to me on the road, but it is the story, how to tell the story, that is my core.” Mind you, that is not to say that the music isn’t important, or anything less than stirring and high quality. Besides Shama on vocals and percussion, Wednesday’s show features vocalist Kamal Suleiman and guitarist Idan Armoni, with Mumin Sessler on qanoun and Yair Tzabari on percussion.

SHEVA MIGHT be just a warm glow from the past, but the spirit of the groundbreaking world music troupe still burns brightly in Shama’s heart, and informs his current artistic vehicle. “The music came to me through the company I kept, the people I met en route and Sheva. My main tool of trade is telling stories. That includes my own personal story, but I also connect with a spirit that takes in anthropological chronicles, and the history of different people. And my own story contains the secrets the music brings with it – our DNA as human beings, and our DNA as Jews and Hebrews, and also as Arabs. Jallal Café reflects today’s Israeli street.” That comes across from the band’s lineup. “When we get on the stage there are Israeli-born musicians, and immigrants from, all over,” Shama notes.

The Jallal Café roster has ebbed and flowed over the years, and frequently includes Iranian flute and percussion master Amir Shahsar. “And there’s Mumin Sessler, who is an immigrant from Turkey, and Kamal Suleiman, who was born in this country and is a Muslim Arab,” Shama continues. “The band is a sort of cross-section of the culture here, with the real Israeli sound which, in fact, is a melting pot. That means something dynamic, unstable. You see that in the recent violence [over the killing of an Ethiopian youth] and the search for boundaries. We are country without clear borders. We are a people of nomads.”

Shama has personal familial experience of cultural shifts. His father made aliyah from Egypt and, like many of his contemporaries, Shama initially spurned his Middle Eastern baggage in favor of “more acceptable” Western culture. He rediscovered his paternal roots in his 20s and has never looked back.

The forthcoming show will feature songs from the Sheva back catalogue, as well as cuts off the latest Café Jallal album. And, while Shama is always happy to play at Confederation House, even if the place is packed to the rafters, in quantitative terms the audience will be just a drop in the ocean compared with the crowd the group played to in India a few months ago. “We all – Jews and Arabs, secular and religious – went on an amazing odyssey to the gargantuan Kumbha Mela gathering in India.” Kumbha Mela is Hindu pilgrimage that takes place every three years at various spots along the banks of the Ganges River, with each spot having one every 12 years. “We were told there were 100 million people there! Yes, 100 million!” Shama exclaims. “They set up 27,000 speakers to make sure everyone could hear us. It took us 11 hours just to get to the stage. We heard the media saying that [2018 Israeli Eurovision Song Contest winner] Neta Barzilai appeared on the biggest stage in the world. We laughed. How many people knew about our appearance at Kumbha Mela?”

Naturally, the event in India was about far more than just the music. Shama goes with the universal expansive cultural and spiritual flow. “In the midst of the chaos in India, there were moments when I felt the essence of what the musician’s role in this life,” he says. “With all the struggles musicians have to deal with, the logistics, making a living and all the rest, at the show in India I suddenly understood, with the utmost clarity, what I do in my life. The penny dropped. It is about accepting each other, and living and loving each other.”

The Confederation House audience will be on a somewhat smaller scale, but the sentiment will still be there.

For tickets and more information: (02) 623-7000, *6226 and, (02) 624-5206 ext. 4 and

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