A sense of adventure

From funk and soul to blues and rock, the Groove Festival at Hangar 11 celebrates the release of "Mediterranean Grooves and Raw Sounds."

CORE GROUP (photo credit: Elad Barnega)
(photo credit: Elad Barnega)
Looking at Yoram Arbel, you wouldn’t think he had a funky bone in his body.
That is, unless you were aware that as a young man in 1971 – before he launched his career as one of Israel’s preeminent sportscasters and TV personalities – the clean-cut, erudite Arbel recorded an album Well You’re Here that included the hit song ”I Paint the Leaves Green.”
“To this day, that’s the funkiest song that Israel has ever produced,” said Erez Toders, DJ for The Apples, who are no slouches themselves when it comes to rhythmic, horn-driven groove music. The song’s bouncy beat and brassy embellishments fit right into the bell-bottomed bohemia unleashed by the youth counter-culture that seeped into the country in the early 1970s from the West. And it’s remained a musical benchmark of a more innocent time, with admirers like Hadag Nahash even adapting the tune to its hip-hop habitat.
But despite the song’s success in its original incarnation by Arbel, he never performed it live, deciding instead at the height of its popularity to set his musical aspirations on the side and focus on sports and broadcasting.
It’s only taken nearly 40 years, but Arbel is finally readying to make his live debut, playing “I Paint the Leaves Green” and others accompanied by The Apples at the first Groove Festival, which takes place Thursday night at Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv.
“It’s very exciting,” Arbel told The Jerusalem Post last week, after rehearsing with The Apples three times. “I’m enjoying the rehearsals very much. Before I said yes, I told them my condition was that we meet for one rehearsal, we record it, and if I find that I’m in tune and my vocal chords are still functioning, then I’ll continue.”
The pipes were in order, and the rehearsals also provided Arbel reassurance that Israel’s funkiest band would do justice to his vintage material.
“We’ve been trying to get him to perform with us for a few years,” said The Apples’ Toders. “But it never worked out, either because of his schedule or he wasn’t interested. So I’m very glad he agreed to do this.”
Arbel’s decision to perform his fourdecade- old material for the first time derived, in part, from a sense of closing a circle that had been left open due to his media career’s taking over his musical one.
“Even though I had released two singles and then the album, it was clear to me that music wasn’t going to be my career. I love music, I played the violin and guitar for many years before my records, but it was always kind of a side thing for me. It was never my agenda as far as a career,” he said.
“When I started covering sports in radio and TV in 1972, I couldn’t find the time to pursue both. I believe that you have to dedicate yourself to something.
If you want to be a singer, you have to work at it full time and you have to write your own songs. I don’t believe in artists singing other people’s songs, unless you’re Pavarotti; I don’t mind him singing Verdi,” he added with a laugh.
Despite the fun he said he’s experiencing exercising his music side once again, Arbel called his upcoming performance a “one-time thing.” But even without his future contributions, a quick look at the lineup for the Groove Festival reveals that there’s no shortage of funky, soulful groovemeisters on the local circuit.
Among the performers scheduled to mix up every combination of funk, soul, Afro-beat, jazz, blues and rock are Eyal Talmudi (Balkan Beat Box), Boom Pam, Digital Me, The Ramirez Brothers, Markey Funk, Soulico, Kuti, Karolina, Uzi Navon, Tree, Radio Trip, LEFT and MC Goga.
The show will celebrate the release of Mediterranean Grooves and Raw Sounds, a compilation of 20 songs featuring the artists who will be performing. The brainchild of Audio Montage, a boutique Tel Aviv record label that has released albums by The Apples, Radio Trip and Boom Pam, the collection will feature numerous tidbits, including a never-before released version of Karolina’s “Shuv Im Atzmi” (With Myself Again), an Apples session recorded in Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio, and Arbel’s own “Tni Li Hizdamnut” (Give Me a Chance).
According to Toders, the only common denominator among the musicians is a sense of adventure.
“The word ‘groove’ can take you in any direction you want, but it’s mainly about rhythm, bass and drums. But you can hear that in variations ranging from Boom Pam, who take it more in Balkan Beat direction, the Ramires Brothers, who take it to rock, or The Apples, who take it to the funk extreme,” he said. “The album gives a good representation of the underground movement here and lets everybody know what’s going on.”
What’s going on has been a virtual funk explosion in recent years, spurred in part by The Apples’ potent blend of groove, hip hop, big band jazz and DJ turntable effects.
“Until The Apples started playing in 2003, there was only [rap/hip hop group] Shabak Samech, who nobody really knew how to define, and then Hadag Nahash, which did some rap with funk but all other kinds of stuff mixed in. And then we came in with a heavy groove section and two DJs and brought in a new way of thinking,” said Toders. “It took some years, but music goes through natural evolution, and the Israel groove time was right. People seem to like it, so who am I to say no?” Maybe it’s that sweeping musical carnival of sound that convinced Arbel to take his songs out of mothballs and dust them off. But getting behind the microphone to sing instead of to call a soccer match hasn’t changed his mind that he made the right choice way back when.
“Looking back at my career as a sportscaster, I don’t think I could have done better,” said Arbel. “And this won’t prompt me to go back into singing again.”
“There would be one exception though,” he added. “There’s an Argentinean singer named Carlos Gardel who died in 1935 – he was the world’s greatest tango singer. If I ever had the chance to sing his songs in Hebrew, I’d do it in a second.”
While that eventuality seems unlikely, the probability that Arbel and the next generation of funk mavens will let loose their inner groove on Thursday night seems very high.