Fueled by sound

Quami, a popular Galgalatz’s music presenter, is making his own kind of music while garnering fans like Linkin Park and Rami Fortis.

quami_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s no easy feat to intimidate Quami, the loquacious rapping rocker and radio personality known to most Israeli music fans as the voice behind the popular night time alternative music program on Galgalatz – Hakatzeh (The Edge).
But it was the size of the audience and the stage that got to him earlier this month, when the 36-year-old singer and his band The Halvot opened up for Linkin Park in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park.
“It was completely insane, like nothing I ever encountered before,” said Quami, who performed a rousing half-hour set of raucous material off his soonto- be-released album Squeeze Me, produced by local rock legend Rami Fortis.
“There was a humongous stage, and a crowd to match, it was completely intimidating. But it was an experience for me and for the band.”
Quami and the Halvot were chosen to open the show by the American hard rock veterans after samples of their music and a couple dozen other Israeli artists were passed on to Chester Bennington and company by promoter Shuki Weiss. Quami never got to find out what Linkin Park thought about their set because they were sequestered in their own tent city until right before they went onstage, and returned to the cordoned-off area immediately after.
“It didn’t matter, because it was quite flattering just to be chosen – especially since they didn’t know anything about us or about the other artists, many of whom were more established. We were chosen solely for the music,” he said.
Music, and only music, has been Quami’s fuel since he can remember – whether he was playing it with his own bands or presenting it on the radio. He credits two pioneering DJs with instilling in him the love of alternative music, whether it be punk, indie, hip hop or electronic music.
“My mentors without their knowing it were Yoav Kutner and Michal Niv,” he said, referring to the the two Galei Tzahal DJs who opened up the music world for Israeli ears during the 1980s.
“Those shows really changed my life, and I always wanted to do similar shows to what they did. It was my childhood dream.”
After playing in indie rock bands in high school, Quami started moving in the footsteps of Kutner and Niv when he was lucky enough to land the position of music editor at Galei Tzahal during his army service which began in 1992. Upon his discharge, he stayed on at the station, launching the first rap music radio show in Israel.
“I was still listening to alternative music, but I thought I would never be able to get a chance to fulfill that dream and have my own alternative music show on the radio,” said Quami. However, in 2000, the host of the the bi-weekly show Hakatzeh, Nadav Ravid resigned, and the station asked Quami to take over.
“At the time, I was actually planning to leave Galgalatz, and when they made that offer, my whole life turned around,” he said. “Someone gave me an opportunity to fulfill my real childhood dream. It’s been more than 10 years now.”
AS A performer, Quami was mainly interested in a hip hop/electronic/rock hybrid, spurred by the energetic sounds he was hearing from the likes of The Beastie Boys.
“There was a period in the mid-1990s when almost nobody in Israel was doing that. Rapping in Hebrew was new, and it felt fresh and exciting. So that’s what I wanted to do back then,” he said.
“But as I listened to more and more indie music that I was playing on my show, I couldn’t just keep on doing pure hip hop because it wasn’t what I was listening to. I wanted to combine the other things that influenced me, so there was more distortion and influences from rock and punk, all kinds of electronic music, and everything surrounding what LCD Soundsystem was doing – their ideas which were hugely influential,” he added referring to the successful British genre-bending musical pranksters.
His first album – Everybody Knows the Answers – was released in 2005, followed in 2007 by his debut album with The Halvot, Pop War, a melange of hip hop, punk, jazz and blues. When Quami decided to return to the studio this year to record another album, he knew he was looking for something different – something more rock than rap – and his quest led him to Fortis.
“The person that I admire the most in Israel is Rami Fortis, mainly because he’s so free in his mind as a musician. He has no boundaries and always stays true to himself. He’s one of the few musicians in Israel that I can think of that never did anything to pander to his audience,” said Quami.
“I want to be like that, and felt that the best person to lead me in the right direction was Fortis. So I called him and asked him what he thought about producing most of the new album. That started a big adventure because all borders were being shattered.”
Among the many issues that the veteran rocker worked on with Quami was his singing, an area in which he admits needed improvement.
“I have a real easy time rapping, but always need more courage when I start singing notes, and Fortis gave me that courage,” he said.
“I haven’t collaborated with another artist so intensively for many years,” said Fortis about working with Quami.
“I think my decision to work with Quami had almost no connection to his music, even though I think he’s an excellent artist, but more because I really like him as a person. On the one hand, he has a rebellious character and on the other hand, he’s all heart.”
That duality led to what Quami calls “the hardest rocking thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m really happy with the results.”
For those that missed the sneak preview at the Linkin Park show, Quami and The Halvot will be performing tonight (Tuesday) at a special show in Tel Aviv to mark World Aids Day Wednesday called Rock4Life 2010. They’ll join Knesiat Hasechel, Geva Alon, Tamar Eisenman, Boom Pam and other artists at the show taking place at Comfort 13, with proceeds going to the The Committee for War on Aids.
With both his music career and his DJ journey in full swing, Quami is refusing to give up either dream, as he enjoys the ride and appreciates at every turn that this is always what he wanted to do.
“The band is completely the first thing in my life now, but I will never give up the radio. The two things I love the most are making music and playing music that doesn’t belong to me. I don’t see how I’ll be able to live a complete life if I don’t do both those things,” he said, while admitting that his twin paths have taken their toll on him in financial security.
“I don’t make a lot of money from anything. But I do the things I want to do, which is more important.”
And perhaps there is a cosmic payoff that supersedes financial gain. It comes from opening up the musical possibilities in young minds, much like Quami’s was opened a couple decades ago.
“If somebody tells me that I gave him the tools to find new music by himself, or that I introduced amazing music to him, then it’s one of the most satisfying and amazing things someone can tell me,” he said “And I’ve been fortunate enough to hear it a few times over the last ten years.”