Digging into the blues

Dynamic guitarist Ori Naftaly showcases his debut album at the Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv.

Ori Naftaly and Elinor Zaig (photo credit: Doron Oved)
Ori Naftaly and Elinor Zaig
(photo credit: Doron Oved)
For Ori Naftaly it’s all about energy and soul, and it’s a good thing he has music to channel his excessive personal wattage into.
“I’m hyperactive,” says the 24-yearold guitarist, “and it helps me focus on my music.”
That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but judging by his output to date, that obviously works for him.
On Monday, Naftaly will join forces with vocalist Eleanor Tsaig and percussionist Yam Regev at Tel Aviv’s Dancing Camel club to showcase material from his debut CD A True Friend (Is Hard to Find). The album is a mixture of rock, soul and blues music, primarily comprising original charts with a couple of covers thrown in.
While Naftaly tends to expend much of his energy on stage, pumping out generous doses of decibels on electric guitar, next week’s gig will be of a far gentler nature.
“We’ll do an acoustic show, with a softer folksy-bluesy angle than the electric stuff. There’ll be an intimate ambience,” he explains.
In fact, though, Naftaly hails from stormier musical climes. “I mostly feed off Chicago [electric] blues. The CD is a blend of all sorts of sources, like Chicago blues, soul and rock – all the music I grew up on and that ticked all my boxes.”
The guitarist says the multi-genre attack suits him well and that he takes a spiritual approach to the world and his artistic development. “I have a very spatial view on life, and this is the debut album I always dreamed of making. It matches my karma,” he declares.
Despite his youth, Naftaly is something of a throwback to a bygone era. “I studied at Rimon [School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon], and the more I learned about contemporary music the more I dug back into the past,” he says, “especially African music. I also like music from the 1970s,” he laughs. “I’m a great fan of King Crimson and Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin. For me, the greatest band ever is Led Zeppelin.”
Naftaly says he also favors gradual organic growth to driving in the fast lane. “The album was recorded live, and I just chose the best takes,” he explains. That going for broke mindset also comes across in his concerts. “No two gigs are ever the same. They are very dynamic, and I connect very strongly with whatever my feelings are at the time. The acoustic way also helps me to improve because I have no electric enhancements to hide behind; I have to get it right. It’s just you and the wood and the metal [of the instruments]. There is no artist I admire who doesn’t have an acoustic element to his music. That’s the real deal.”
Naftaly approaches blues with the greatest respect. “As far as I’m concerned, the blues is like classical music. It’s very organized and has its own rules. You can’t really say what indie music is; you can say what it isn’t. But the blues is the blues.”
Naftaly delves deeply into his favored genre and has checked out the roots. “I took material from the 1930s for the album and stuff from the 1960s like ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face.’ That’s a good story. I didn’t know what name to give my album until two weeks before we finished recording it, but I knew I had a friend up above who would come and help me with that,” he recounts. “I discovered that I couldn’t rely on one of the musicians whom I had taken to play on the album. There’s a line in ‘Grinnin’ in Your Face’ – written by [bluesman] Son House in the 1930s and he recorded in the 1960s – that goes ‘Don’t you mind people grinnin’ in your face; don’t you know a true friend is hard to find.’ I thought, you know people can talk to you so sweetly and smile, but in fact they have ulterior motives. When I heard that Son House line, I just knew it was the right title for the CD.”
That, says Naftaly is an important lesson to learn. “That’s the way it is in life sometimes. You want your music, the thing you love, to be pure and relaxed, but that’s not always the way things work out.”
But it seems there is some important added value to the negative vibe. Naftaly observes. “If everything ran smoothly, there wouldn’t be blues. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. I like that. I’m not at all pure in my musical tastes. I like very orderly mainstream stuff, and I like the wild side of music. I also play Spanish music, Bach and other classical music.”
Naftaly also recruited some heavyweight support for his CD. In addition to Tsaig, with whom he has worked for four years, he also benefited from the skills of rapper Segol 59 and veteran blues singer, harmonic player Dov Hammer. True to his spiritual ethos, Naftaly says he got the people he wanted. “I just transmitted my energy to every which way, and the musicians I needed came to me. The recording sessions were hard work, but I got what I was looking for. I was happy to listen to the others and take their advice. It was a learning process.”
No doubt Naftaly will share some of that newfound wisdom with his audience on Monday.
Ori Naftaly will perform at the Dancing Camel in Tel Aviv on Monday at 9:30 p.m. Free admission. For more information: (03) 624-2783