‘What I learned is that Israeli music is awesome’

Canadian filmmaker Igal Hecht's ‘Muzika’ is a new 52-part TV series exploring some of the most unique and powerful voices in Israeli music today.

Igal and Noa 311 (photo credit: Ziv Kenet)
Igal and Noa 311
(photo credit: Ziv Kenet)
Imagine sitting one-on-one with David Broza in his living room as he plays a tune, or joining Ivri Lider in the studio for a recording session. Canadian filmmaker Igal Hecht managed to get up close and personal those two top Israeli entertainers, along with 50 other leading local musicians during the hundreds of hours he spent filming the new 52-part television series Muzika.
Each episode of the English-language series, which is currently being screened on the American cable network Shalom TV and debuts on the Canadian CTS Crossroads network later this month, focuses in on a specific Israeli artist, ranging from singer/songwriting rockers like Asaf Avidan and Geva Alon to songstresses like Ahinoam Nini and Karolina to hip hoppers Hadag Nahash and Subliminal to the Jewish spiritual rock of Yehuda Katz.
“The original plan was to make 13 episodes,” said the 32-year-old Hecht last week in a phone conversation from his home in Toronto. But the project quickly snowballed beyond his goal.
Along with this production partner Lior Cohen, the Israeli-born Hecht has made over 40 documentaries – many of them about Israel – through his Chutzpah Productions.
Most of them, like Disengaging Democracy, My Flag, and last year’s Hilltops about the settlement “hilltop youth” movement have delved deep into Israel’s politics and social fabric.
It was only when a film project in Israel fell through at the last minute last year that Hecht proposed implementing his longtime dream of making a film about Israeli music. He contacted Shalom TV, a Jewish cable network in the US, which agreed to fund the 13 episodes.
“I started contacting managers, PR people and the artists themselves through e-mails, Facebook pages, and everyone was very forthcoming and welcome,” said Hecht.
“My goal was to get Ivri Lider on board, as I think he’s one of the best contemporary singers in Israel today. I got in touch with one of his representatives, Ofir Kindler, and from then on, all the doors opened up. He loved the project and the fact that it was going to be in English and aimed at the whole world. He connected us to the right people and before I noticed it, we had 20 artists, and by the time I landed in Israel to start shooting, we had 28.”
According to Hecht, Muzika is the first attempt to offer an English version of the movers and shakers of the local music world, after many documentaries and films about Israeli music in Hebrew. Due to each episode focusing entirely on one artist, there’s ample time for the performer to open up and talk about their music and their lives in a manner that goes far beyond the celebrity sound bites that are ubiquitous on the entertainment gossip TV circuit.
“You hear them telling their story over the course of the episode, and it’s interspersed with video clips or live performances,” said Hecht, adding that his criteria for choosing which artists to include had less to do with their mass popularity and more to do with their uniqueness and diversity.
“We wanted popular artists, but not just that. Our goal was to show the diversity of music in Israel, not just what you hear on Galgalatz [Army Radio on Wheels, the local pop music station],” said Hecht.
“Artists like Idan Raichel and Ivri Lider are popular, but still unique and not creating generic sounds. And as we moved forward, the issue of whether someone was popular or not wasn’t as important as whether they had something that people haven’t heard – that’s how we arrived at Yasmine Levy, who sings in Ladino, and at Daniel Zamir. We found that to be the best way to show the world the diversity and amazing music that’s being made in Israel.”
ALONG THE way, Hecht experienced many memorable moments, like Broza serenading him with a personal concert in his living room, Izhar Ashdot giving him a tour of his studio, and Ahinoam Nini’s mother preparing and serving him coffee.
“You would never get access to stars like that in North America,” he said. “Sure, people might say, ‘this is Israel,’ but even so, some of them are internationally known. Still they welcome you into their living room and their studio and it’s like sitting around and having a conversation with your friends. I think that’s something unique to Israel and it should be showcased and celebrated.”
With that thought in mind earlier this year as he was back in Toronto editing the 28 episodes, he decided to contact the CTS network.
“I felt that it was important to get a platform for the series that wasn’t just Jewish based,” he said.
“Shalom TV is great and it’s broadcast in 40 million households in North America, but it’s still a Jewish network, and I wanted this to reach the non-Jews as well.
“CTS, who have screened my films in the past, decided to pick up the series and they asked how many episodes we had. I answered ‘52’ – I just threw that number out there, one for every week of the year.
They said they’d take them all. So I contacted Lior and told him we had a few more weeks of filming to do back in Israel,” he said with a chuckle.
After countless hours in the editing room, Hecht delivered the series and it began airing on Shalom TV a few weeks ago, and its Canadian debut will take place on November 20. For someone whose films about Israel have exclusively focused on the conflict side of things, the chance to leave the politics aside was not only refreshing for Hecht, but eye-opening as well.
“I never knew how diverse the music was in Israel. I had always listened to Shlomo Artzi and people like that, but what I learned is that Israeli music is awesome,” said Hecht.
“And one of the key reasons for making the series for me as a filmmaker was the fact that people like me come to Israel and always focus on the country as a battleground and hotbed of politics – which fortunately or not, it is. But in doing so, we always disregard the amazing culture and arts scene that exists there.”
“I really wanted this series to showcase to everyone – Jews and non-Jews alike in North America – that there’s this amazingly vibrant musical scene happening in Israel and that you shouldn’t discount it or think of it as a war zone, because it’s not.”
Especially when David Broza is performing for you in his living room.