Comfort far from home

Israeli trio Habanot Nechama bring their reggae-soul-folk brand to the US - and hold their own against more famous heavyweights.

Habanot Nechama 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Habanot Nechama 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's Saturday night May 10 at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. The cavernous, ornate building is best known as home to the Academy Awards ceremony. But tonight it's filled to the rafters with local Angelenos and a large contingent of expat Israelis who have turned out to celebrate Israel's 60th birthday. Both Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan and luminary Kirk Douglas are greeted warmly by the crowd, but the real reason everyone came is to see some of Israel's greatest performers on one stage. Rami Kleinstein, Ahinoam Nini and Idan Raichel are legendary and already have massive followings. But tonight, there is another band in the limelight: Habanot Nechama - the phenomenally successful trio of women who burst onto the Israeli scene in 2007. They draw as many cheers and "I-love-you" shouts from the audience as Kleinstein does. Following the show, their self-titled album sells like hotcakes in the lobby. The August 2007 release of Habanot Nechama's debut album went gold after three weeks and the music of MC Karolina (Keren Avratz), Dana Adini and Yael Deckelbaum was suddenly emanating nonstop from Israeli radios. Nominated for Best New Act at the Israeli Music Channel Awards, and winning the Act of the Year award in DJ Ha'ir magazine, the women went on to sell out Israeli tours followed by gigs in Europe, culminating in their performances with Israeli musical icons at 60th anniversary Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations at both the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles and at Radio City Music Hall in New York this year. DESCRIBED AS reggae-soul-folk musicians who sing in both English and Hebrew, the three say they don't really like to be pigeonholed. Deckelbaum spoke with The Jerusalem Post several days before the trio's Los Angeles concert. "We don't fall into any main category," says Deckelbaum, who makes a point of eschewing monikers. "We don't like to define our music, but if we have to, I'd say we [perform] new-age folk. But," she quickly adds, "our music is affected by so many different styles from so many regions of the world, and I grew up on folk music, Irish music and country music." Deckelbaum's folk heritage comes from her father's side. David Deckelbaum originally hails from Canada and was a banjo player in a band called The Taverners. But each of the three women brings something unique to Habanot Nechama. The three are fast friends, as they have been working together for close to four years. Deckelbaum first met Adini when they were both auditioning for the military band during their army service. Adini already knew Karolina, and, as Deckelbaum puts it, "we somehow just came together and became great friends." Their name - which means Daughters of Comfort - took root, says Deckelbaum, "when we were sitting in my apartment preparing to sing solo at a Jaffa nightclub that had recently started [showcasing] female acoustic singer/songwriters. "Even though we were supposed to sing individually, we just decided on the spur of the moment to also sing some songs together. The crowd's response was amazing and we decided we had to start singing together." The trio's rehearsals gradually became more than just about playing and singing music. "It was a bit of a support group, we were all at a low time in our lives," Deckelbaum reveals. "And Karolina suddenly said, 'I just feel such comfort [when the three of us are together].'" And so, Habanot Nechama was born. As to the choice to sing in both English and Hebrew, Deckelbaum is emphatic that it definitely wasn't a decision. "It's just natural for us to sing in both languages," she states. "There is no strategy, everything is intuitive and comes from the heart. We are inspired by life, love, people, places, nature. Anything." FACING THEIR New York and Los Angeles debuts, Deckelbaum said the band was "incredibly excited to be onstage with all these great Israeli artists. And to perform at the Kodak Theatre and Radio City Music Hall? To say you've been on [Radio City's] stage - that's amazing!" she gushed. When asked if they were concerned about missing out on being in Israel for Yom Ha'atzmaut, Deckelbaum took it in stride. "I'm 28 years old," she says simply. "It's the first time I've ever been out of Israel on Yom Ha'atzmaut. I just think it's so exciting to bring Israel to the States to celebrate and not just celebrate at home. "Still," she adds, "we want to send our love to everyone back home and wish them love from Habanot Nechama and we'll see you back in Israel!" Trying to pinpoint the band's meteoric rise and the elements that have made them so successful, Deckelbaum pauses before saying, "It's a combination of things: Our three voices are a type of sound you don't come across often. We also write our own songs, and they're simple songs from the heart. They're natural and organic. There's nothing forced about them." Deckelbaum also says the group brings something old-fashioned with a nostalgic tinge to their performances. "I think that's what people feel. It's a really strong feeling, something magical." Indeed, as the trio perform their set at the Kodak Theatre, the crowd is feeling the love, feeling the magic, and yes… feeling comforted. Habanot Nechama will be performing their first solo concert in the United States on Tuesday, May 13, at the Highland Ballroom in New York. From there, they'll go on to Germany and then return home to write more songs, work on a new album and perform more gigs in Israel.