An evolving 'soul' musician

Transitioning from DJ to rap star, Ayal 'Quami' Friedman hasn't let his job description limit his lyrical aspirations.

Ayal friedman 88 224 (photo credit: )
Ayal friedman 88 224
(photo credit: )
With a limited pop music market in Israel, its not surprising when a DJ decides to venture into other musical realms. Dori Ben-Ze'ev has gone back and forth between radio presenting and jazz recording since the '70s. Shock jock Didi Harari has released at least three discs of cheeky Mizrahi hip hop. Proto-new wave act T-Slam, which mixed '70s guitar rock with avant-garde synth pop, grew out of collaborations between Army Radio personalities Dani Bassan, Izhar Ashdot and Yair Nitzani. Now 33-year-old Ayal "Quami" Friedman is joining the fray with his new band, Halvot. Part rocker and part rock presenter, Quami manages to straddle both worlds extremely well. "I don't think I could live without both," he tells The Jerusalem Post. After entertaining the idea of becoming a singer-songwriter in his teens, Quami landed what he calls his "childhood dream," a three-and-a-half-year stint working in radio behind the scenes for his mandatory army service. Toward the end of his service, he and friend Liron Teeni used their time in the studio to record several pilot episodes for a hip hop-themed radio program. One of them was picked up by the station in 1996. Esek Shahor (Black Business), Israeli radio's first strictly rap-oriented show, quickly became the hub for a blossoming cultural movement. Quami started rapping himself, and his industry clout - combined with the flow he displayed on the demo tapes he circulated - landed him a gig as part of the Booyaka trio, one of the formative Israeli rap ensembles. Alongside MC Kottage and Shabak Samekh alum Nimrod Reshef, Quami and Booyaka released their influential eponymous album in 2002 and toured extensively behind the tongue-in-cheek product. Once Booyaka ran its course, Quami was ready to regroup. He ditched Esek Shahor and began hosting a program called Hakatzeh (The Edge), his main gig to this day. Airing twice a week on Galgalatz, Hakatzeh is the only program on the pop-friendly station that isn't bound to a playlist. "When I started doing the show seven years ago, I signed a contract with the man who was in charge guaranteeing me full creative control," says Quami. "That's the reason I do the show. I'm not a control freak, but I have to be in full control of the music I play. It doesn't pay much, so I do this solely for the sake of my soul - it couldn't be any other way really." Hakatzeh covers the gamut of all things fringe. "It has punk rock, it has drum and bass, punk-funk, post-funk, groovy beats, dark ballads - all kinds of stuff," he says of his selections. "I love many different styles and genres, so I try to combine them all in the show." Quami returned to rap performance for 2005's satirical Everybody's Got the Answer, his solo debut, but Hakatzeh remained his focus until recent months when he formed the Halvot. "It's natural as an artist to look back and say, 'Okay, this thing was great for its time, but I'm in a different place right now,'" he reflects. Compared to his debut, Quami claims that his newly released disc with Halvot "is much more of a band album - it has rock and roll, jazz, R&B, punk and funk - so it's kind of like my show, the only difference being that I rap on it." The album's first single, the hit "Pop War," has resonated well with listeners and industry professionals alike. It is appears in heavy rotation on Channel 24 TV and is played often in clubs and on many radio playlists. In addition to some potential hits, the Halvot album also sports some less marketable deep cuts, including a love song about lesbians and an epic, seven-minute, Second Lebanon War-themed jam with Rami Fortis. "I've definitely evolved," says Quami. "The main difference is that when I did the first album, I was alone. But with the new album, I came into it with five more people who were all on the same page with the same goal. So it's much more powerful musically and lyrically, as I see it. Also, we created it with much more confidence. It's much more, in a sense, what I want to be."