Falling in love with Jerusalem

‘Kutiman’ is at it again, releasing a music video titled ‘Thru Jerusalem’ that brings together local musicians to epitomize the sounds of their city.

Kutiman 311 (photo credit: Ben Plahov)
Kutiman 311
(photo credit: Ben Plahov)
Having lived in Jerusalem’s Ramat Eshkol neighborhood only until the age of two, when his family moved up north, Ophir “Kutiman” Kutiel grew up largely unfamiliar with Israel’s capital.
That was before the celebrity YouTube mash-up video artist was commissioned by the Jerusalem Season of Culture as its first artist of the season to create a video revealing the capital’s musical tapestry.
The result was the riveting “Thru Jerusalem,” released online in June and garnering thousands of views.
After a few weeks touring Jerusalem to film its sights and sounds, the Jerusalem-native turned Tel Avivian found that the city is more than just its heavy stereotypes.
“Everyone knows about Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” 29-year-old Kutiman told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview last month.
“Most of the groups passing through Jerusalem think of the army, all the conflict. That’s what Jerusalem usually stands for.”
What he discovered from the musicians, artists and people on the street he filmed was a myriad of color and creativity, a city that he fell in love with.
“Now I see a different side,” Kutiman said.
In the five-minute “Thru Jerusalem,” Kutiman asked local musicians – mostly unknown and some popular like hassidic blues rocker Lazer Lloyd and violinist Michael Greilsammer – to play whatever they wanted in settings around the city. Later, he took the raw melodies and rifts and put them together to create a joint sound.
The project represents a departure from the usual approach of Kutiman, who’s best known for his innovative ‘ThruYou’ music project on YouTube, which takes musical performance videos posted by unknown artists on the site and edits their images and sounds together into beautiful, funky video compilations.
The ‘ThruYou’ videos have made quite an impression, garnering attention from Time magazine, which named it one of the 50 best inventions of 2009. His work has been exhibited all over the world including in the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Kutiman, who began his career as a musician, has collaborated with Maroon 5, Hadag Nahash, quirky surf-rockers Boom Pam, Habanot Nechama’s Karolina and others on musical and video projects.
“I’m totally in love with him. He is the best in the world,” said the Season’s Artistic Director Itay Mautner, who has collaborated with Kutiman on Tel Aviv’s Pecha Kucha event and several other projects.
“[Kutiman’s work] allows all of us to look at Jerusalem as a piece of art once again. Kutiman’s approach to music, and I must say personally to life, is something that fits a lot of what we think about Jerusalem,” said Mautner, who grew up in the capital.
Kutiman, who takes already finished pieces and elevates them, fit the Season’s approach to the city.
“Jerusalem is like a diamond that is full of dust.
You don’t need to invent it. You just need to polish it and show it to the whole world. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jerusalem in that specific way before Kutiman did what he did,” Mautner said.
MAUTNER ACCOMPANIED Kutiman for three days as the video artist wandered the streets of Jerusalem armed with his camera. The result was a preview video, titled “My Trip to Jerusalem,” released on the Web last January. The music for this video is by Kutiman himself and percussionist Itamar Duari.
In both “My Trip to Jerusalem” and “Thru Jerusalem,” which collectively have garnered over 160,000 views on YouTube, Kuti’s camera seldom stops moving. He shows the city’s at once lush and dry landscape, an exaggerated view of the Old City, interspersed with a tattoo parlor, sweet pastries in the shuk and the iconic monster slide in Ein Kerem.
These are only a handful of the hundreds of scenes in the approximately two-minute “My Trip to Jerusalem.” The nation’s flags blowing in the wind mirroring the movements of people dancing at a nightclub, a camera zooming along art of the Israel Museum, and suddenly a skateboarder speeding downtown cuts to a flyer showing the face of a revered rabbi.
“He put my life in front of me,” said Mautner, adding that Kuti’s films highlight Jerusalem’s unique cultural narrative.
The images of the ballet dancers mirror the movements of the monks in the Old City, for example.
“This combination of body language 3,000 years ago and now, and the inspiration that dancers are able to get from monks or rabbis … is something fascinating,” Mautner said.
The only direction he gave to Kuti as they walked around Jerusalem, he said, was to be inspired by the city.
In short, “He was blown away by Jerusalem,” Mautner said.
For the longer film, “Thru Jerusalem,” Kuti returned to the streets for more footage, and to gather the sound of Jerusalem. He asked several local, mostly little-known musicians to play whatever they wanted, and later, he edited the riffs and melodies together.
“I had no idea what would come out of it,” Kutiman said, adding that the Season of Culture had no idea either.
“This is one of the beauties with working with Kuti,” conceded Mautner.
While perhaps it would have been easier to recruit big stars to perform for the video, this was not the point. By using lesser-known musicians, Kuti exposed the great talent that lies in the city, and offers an insight into these artists’ lives.
When Lazer Lloyd played acoustic guitar, Shimrit Greilsammer sang gently, and her husband Michael Greilsammer played a mournful melody on violin, the combination of the sounds brought tears to Mautner’s eyes.
“He captured this complexity of Jerusalem. What does it take to live in Jerusalem, what does it take to create in Jerusalem,” Mautner reflected.
The journey of discovering the simultaneously aged and young city was an emotional one, said Kutiman. So much so, that it was difficult narrowing down the overall tone of the “Thru Jerusalem” music. Deciding whether to make the gathered rhythms, beats and vocals come together in an upbeat, solemn or groovy style was not easy.
Striking a balance among the elements, the music turned out intricate and pensive, but also lively.
With a mix of Middle Eastern instruments like the oud and baglama, blended with a violin, sousaphone and A-track on a turntable, the sound of Jerusalem is old shuk, spiritual and funky.
“It was really very hard to compose only one track for Jerusalem. I tried to show all the feelings that went through me while I was in Jerusalem,” said Kutiman, adding that he was pleased with the final piece of work.
“Everything I want to say I try to put in my video.”
What essence did Kutiman seek to capture about Jerusalem? “I think beauty in any form... any kind of beauty I could find and see and hear,” he said – from the faces, to the music, to the landscape.
For Mautner, the videos evoke emotion, spirituality, a sense of hope. The comments on YouTube reveal that Kutiman captured the hope for Muslims and Jews, men and women, young and old, of being able to live together.
“Kutiman showed us in five minutes and 20 seconds that yes, it’s possible,” said Mautner.
“It talks about maybe what Jerusalem is all about.”
In the YouTube world of video wonders popping up every second, receiving a ton of attention and then fading into the Internet distance, Mautner believes Kutiman’s Jerusalem videos will be an exception.
“It will be relevant for many, many years. It doesn’t have a regular YouTube shelf life,” he said.
“This video I hope, this piece, like Jerusalem, will be relevant in so many surprising ways throughout the years. This video will become relevant in new angles again and again and again. For me this video is like a prayer.”