Fishing across the pond

Hadag Nahash lead singer and lyricist Shaanan Streett talks about the band’s new album and their upcoming North American tour.

Hadag Nahash (photo credit: Guy Koshi and Yariv Fine )
Hadag Nahash
(photo credit: Guy Koshi and Yariv Fine )
It has been almost 18 years since Hadag Nahash formed, though the passage of time has not seen the band diminish in demand or relevance, as they continue to resonate with generations of Israelis for their socially conscious lyrics and dynamic dance music. The creative melting pot of their music forges funk with hip hop, rock with reggae and electronic dance with a live instrumental band. Their list of accolades ranges from Best Band of the Year and Best Album of the Year to Best Video and Best Lyricists of the Year, and almost every album they’ve released has attained gold or platinum status.
Now, with their sixth studio album,Time to Wake Up, released earlier this year, the social agenda has not became a footnote to former fervor but is still very much part of the band’s expressive creativity. Having toured the UK earlier this year, the band members are now set to tour North America, with gigs in Canada, the US and Mexico.
Frontman and singer Shaanan Streett may be the voice with which the socially conscious lyrics are most associated, but it’s more than the thoughts of a single man.
“The kind of stuff that we sing about, people talk about it but they don’t generally sing about it. The only difference is that we started singing about it also.
When we started singing about this stuff, people were already feeling it; we didn’t invent anything. We were just telling them the reality of young people in Israel. It’s nothing more than that,” he says.
However, Streett is quick to dismiss any grandiose perceptions.
“It’s not that we are the voice of a generation; it’s hard to be an honest voice for all six of us. Although, I can definitely tell you that sometimes we get the feeling that we are speaking for the people and our generation,” he says.
With so many Israeli bands such as The Apples, Geva Alon, Asaf Avidan, Balkan Beat Box and Riff Cohen gaining success overseas, for Streett it isn’t just Israeli music that he sees as being on the successful creative edge.
“It’s a good time for the arts in Israel, and it has been for a decade. Things are happening all over the art world. Israel has never had so many Oscar nominations like we had in the last decade, TV shows are being sold left and right, Israeli dance is famous worldwide, and Israeli painters, sculptors and musicians are all doing better now than they ever did,” he explains.
It’s either something in the water or the society or, if you know their contribution to the soundtrack of the film Don’t Mess with the Zohan, the humous.
“The standard has got higher in how people finish projects. I also think that political turmoil is not a bad thing for the art world. People are looking for an outlet, and that outlet is art, and people like what they hear and like what they see. The culture and art are successful; maybe it is a sign of better things to come,” says Streett.
Seventeen years at the top with six studio albums and a live album is quite an achievement for any band, so what is the secret to their creative sustainability? According to Streett, “I know it may seem like a cliche, but the main secret is just to hard work. Keep the faith, keep the energy and enjoy what you’re doing, and then it’s just fun to do it again and again. Keep yourself intrigued, do not repeat what you’ve done before, keep yourself interested and try to develop the communication you have with the audience.”
Every famous band has a songwriting center. If you look at any successful act, you’ll see a core team such as Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards. Is this also true of Hadag Nahash? “Sometimes one guy or another will be more instrumental with an idea, but being a team we have the openness to accept that. It’s like a soccer game – sometimes one guy has the hat trick, and the rest of us are passing the ball all day,” says Streett.
With all the conscious lyricism, is it hip hop? “It’s definitely more than your old-school hip hop with two turntables, two speakers and a microphone,” says the frontman. “The sound is richer. We like to call it modern Middle Eastern funk because we have the Middle East in it. We have the funk in it, but it’s definitely not old-school funk, and there definitely isn’t a section like that in the record stores.”
The band are famous for collaborating with a long list of people and not just musicians.
“I’m not gonna name drop right now, but Hadag Nahash always cooperate with lots and lots of filmmakers and musicians and political people – and I don’t mean MKs, I mean activists. We want to participate and always like to play and share our thoughts and feelings with a wide array of people,” he says As for their plans to work with people stateside, Streett says, “Whenever we’re in town or a city, if somebody is going to hop on stage, we’re good for it.”
Despite the constant touring, gigging and recording, Streett keeps himself busy with running a bar in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda. Having released their seventh album earlier this year, the band have already been recording with another project that they can’t say much about right now. Still, they have a new album in their creative lab, but what direction will it take? “We’re pondering different thoughts,” says Streett.
“We have some English songs in our portfolio and a little Arabic too, and we’re thinking maybe of broadening those aspects. Too early to say...”
What can be said, though, is that Hadag Nahash, after years at the top of the Israeli music scene, are adapting very naturally to the global age and are taking their tireless creativity on the road. The question is which road, which street, and is there ever a destination in mind or is it more about the journey?