All you need is love

Making inroads into the local music scene, Australian singer/songwriter Carlie Fairburn feels inextricably drawn to Israel, its rhythm and its people

carlie fairburn 311 (photo credit: Dagan Zemach)
carlie fairburn 311
(photo credit: Dagan Zemach)
From the pristine coastline of Australia’s Byron Bay to the exotic villages of Goa to the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv’s Nahalat Binyamin, Carlie Fairburn’s constant companions on her non-stop journey have been her guitar and her little blue book containing the songs she writes along the way.
The one-time primary school teacher from Sydney began her wandering more than eight years ago, searching for her voice that she was sure was waiting to be unleashed.
And she found it – a delightful, sandpapery voice peppered with frequent hoarse bouts of laughter.
It’s a voice that sounds even more evocative and alive when wrapped around Fairburn’s striking original songs that don’t seem to realize that folk and funk can’t coexist within the same tune.
That musical brazenness, combined with a clearly evident star quality, has enabled the 35-year-old neophyte to jump start a music career despite the fact that she knows very little Hebrew, has never lived in Israel before, and isn’t Jewish.
A year that began with Fairburn busking with her distinctive voice and songs on Tel Aviv pedestrian malls and building a word-of-mouth reputation as “the girl who sings at Nahalat Binyamin” has resulted in a management deal with Asaf Avidan’s manager and brother Roie Avidan and an EP produced by Uri Winokur, bassist of local funk favorites Coolooloosh.
How did a 35-year-old school teacher from Australiaturned singer with a delicious voice end up in Israel? Thank the song “Ve’ech Shelo” by Ariel Zilber, later popularized by Mosh Ben-Ari.
“I was in this little café in Goa, where I was performing a couple years ago, and this group of Israelis was singing,” said Fairburn, speaking in an irresistible Australian accent from her home in Tel Aviv. “It totally captivated me, how they were all singing together so intensely and spiritually. It doesn’t really happen in Australia. I was captivated by the language, how the song sounded and how these beautiful people were singing it. I asked one of them If he would teach it to me so I could perform it. They wrote it out phonetically, and I could just not stop practicing it,” she recalled.
“A little later, I did a concert in the north of India with some Israeli and Indian musicians. We performed that song, and someone recorded it, and it started getting passed around through all the Israelis in India and started getting popular. So my initial connection to Israel really started with ‘Ve’ech Shelo,’” she said.
But it wasn’t her last connection. Fairburn had already been bouncing back and forth between her day job as a teacher in Byron Bay and her regular busking excursions around the world, with regular stops in India. It was in Goa eight years ago that she experienced a revelation that enabled her to begin writing songs.
“I had a really strong moment in a little café on top of a mountain. Something came through me – it was maybe the first time I totally lost myself. I was crying, and I knew I had to sing. It was around then that I wrote my first song. From that moment on, I didn’t stop,” she recounted.
Fairburn returned to India determined to follow her muse, but she ended up going back to teaching, a pattern that repeated itself over the next few years.
“I’d go away for a year sometimes and travel and come back filled with my music, having been singing wherever I was for the whole time. And I’d come back and fall into teaching again – because I love it and because it’s much easier to survive as a teacher than an artist,” she said, followed by her husky laugh.
AFTER HER encounter with the Israelis in Goa two years ago, however, Fairburn returned to Australia, feeling the initial tugs that would bring her to the Middle East.
“Something was telling me I needed to come Israel. I wanted to see some of the beautiful people I had met, but it was something more than that, something pulling me,” she said.
When she pulled up stakes the last time from Australia, Fairburn included Israel on her journey and stayed here for two months before heading back to India for six months. There, she recorded an EP entitled “Feathers and Strings” with an Israeli musician/producer Shani Ben- Canar. Instead of returning to Australia as planned, however, she beelined it back to Tel Aviv, where she’s been living for more than a year.
“I’ve never lived in a city before,” she said. “I’ve traveled in lots but never lived in one. What’s Tel Aviv like? It’s full on,” said Fairburn. “This is one of the only cities that I’ve been in that’s truly 24/7 alive.
There’s so much energy here, so many different people.
I still sing on the street, and the magic that happens to me still happens. The craziest stuff happens. I meet new people, amazing musicians.”
Fairburn started playing on Nahalat Binyamin and Sderot Rothschild and began making connections, gathering crowds and collaborating with musicians eager to perform with her. Among them were bassist Matan Dormbos and drummer Rani Birnbaum, who joined forces with Fairburn in The Carlie Fairburn Band. That led to connecting with Coolooloosh’s Winokur and with Avidan.
“Things just started growing and growing. I’ve never worked with so many people on my music. I’ve never even had a manager or a band before,” she said, adding that the process included building trust and learning how to share her music with others.
“Rani and Matan are amazing. I come with my songs and my guitar, and these two just transform it. The three of us together become something else, something bigger and more beautiful, and the essence of what my songs are really comes out more than what I could do with my guitar,” she said.
“I think a little bit in the beginning, it was learning how to trust. But Rani and Matan are extremely gentle in their approach and very aware of my sensitivities.
They would never push me in a direction I wouldn’t want my songs to go in.”
Fairburn also found a kindred spirit in Winokur, who added some funky flourishes to the EP without distorting her natural charms.
“Working with Ori was an amazing experience. He would listen to a song, and he could hear the parts for the horn or for the cello. I just get the essence and the feeling that they would be good for a song when I write, but I would never know what I want the strings to play,” she said.
But Fairburn clearly knows what strings to pluck on her guitar and heartstrings to touch with her songs. With the EP due out soon and a slew of live shows on tap, including a showcase on October 4 at Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theater with special guest Asaf Avidan’s cellist Hadas Kleinman, her career is going into overdrive.
Still, she proudly admitted that she still busks on Nahalat Binyamin because she loves it and enjoys meeting the people walking by. Even though she studied in an ulpan for five months, her Hebrew skills are reserved for close friends only. Her current mode of advancing her understanding is to learn songs in Hebrew.
“It’s an amazing way to learn the language. I fall in love with a song, I get the translation and learn many new words from it,” she said.
The fact that she’s not Jewish hasn’t deterred Fairburn from immersing herself in Israeli culture and feeling a sense of belonging that she can’t quite explain.
“I have this strong connection – and I don’t know why – that connects me to the people and the land. I don’t know, I really feel that I’m supposed to be here,” she said.
On her artist Web site, Fairburn attempted to put her feelings about Israel into words: “Those gypsy feet have planted, found roots in a county and a culture I have fallen madly in love with. And she has become the fuel and the fire of my writing. It is here I write from a different space... a mad city, a non-stop pulsating city... Tel Aviv. Of arid desert adventures, Sinai bliss, wild horses, wild forces and untamed hearts. I write of life as it finds me here... and am inspired to discover greater depths within myself than I have ever had the courage to search for. Yes, it seems that Israel and I are in love.”
The more people see and hear Carlie Fairburn, the stronger that romance is likely to become