Getting his ya-ya's out

Hadag Nahash's bassist enjoys being the sole decision maker and on his first solo effort, he's focusing on rock and pop.

Hadag Nahash's bassist enjoys being the sole decision maker and on his first solo effort, he's focusing on rock and pop Bass players often get a bad rap. They're not out front singing, playing flashy lead guitar solos or making a commotion on the drums. Their comparatively anonymous position within the ensemble format is perhaps best exemplified in the Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do, where the running joke is that the bass player is not only never identified by name, but is easily replaced at the last moment. Yair Cohen-Aharonov is no joke, and he certainly isn't anonymous. Founding member - and bassist - of the country's leading purveyors of alternative hip hop, Hadag Nahash, the man they call simply Yaya may not be as identifiable as animated frontman Shaanan Streett, but with his corkscrew wild hair and his groove-producing instrument, he's definitely not part of the background. And with the release of his first eponymous-titled solo album away from the band, he's ready to stake his claim at the front of the stage. "I actually started to get the itch, after a long time of not being in front, to go back and start writing songs on my own," he said. "In Hadag Nahash, we write together. We have six people, like factions of their own parties where everyone has a say. This is my own party." THE 12 songs on the album would make a good soundtrack for a party, with Yaya focusing on more of a pop and rock style than the rap rhythms of the mother-ship band. He told The Jerusalem Post that he intentionally wanted to move away from the band's sound, and therefore none of his bandmates appears on the album. "I decided I wasn't going to ask any of the band to play on it - it's going to be a different style. It's a rock album, but with a black influence. Those are my two big loves. I grew up listening to people like Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Beck and Led Zeppelin. "I asked the best players I knew from over the years and called them, and I got Eyal Katsav, the best producer I know. Then I asked some people to be guests on the album, like Karolina [from Habanot Nechama] and Rami Fortis. When I was arranging the song 'Something Good,' I heard Fortis in my head singing a part. I called him and said, listen there's a song you have to sing on. He listened to it and said, 'OK, I'm coming.' For me it was a big thrill. His album [Plonter] was the first I ever bought." Yaya's musical affinity began early in life with keyboard lessons at age four. By the time he was eight, he had moved on to the trumpet and the guitar before settling on bass, an instrument that he said is much overlooked. "It's the glue of the band - the connection between all the rhythmic and harmonic instruments." AFTER MEETING Streett, the pair founded Hadag Nahash in 1996, and following service in the IDF, they devoted themselves to the band and developed it into one of Israel's big draws both at home and abroad. "Our reception in the US has been amazing," said Yaya about the group's frequent tours to North America, both as emissaries of government bodies and on their own. "We're going back in February for our ninth tour there. It always surprises me to receive such a big response and so much love from the crowd, even though most of them don't understand the lyrics," he said. Despite his satisfaction with the success of Hadag Nahash, Yaya began writing songs on his own about three years ago and had compiled almost 50 when he decided to pursue the solo path. Now that the project is completed, he's delighted with both the musical results and the effect it's had on him personally. "It's very satisfying and a freeing feeling. This is more personal. It's like putting yourself on the line in public, not like if you're part of a band. Here, you can't hide," he said. Another side effect is the reality check he's experienced following the years of adulation as part of one of Israel's top bands. "After you're in a successful band, it's like going back to the starting point. I feel like I'm 10 years younger, and just starting out." While Hadag Nahash fans might read into an earlier solo album by Streett and now Yaya's effort that all is not rosy on the home front, Yaya says that the outside projects are precisely what keeps the band thriving and energized. "We all have a lot to say for ourselves, and it's important that we do other things besides the band. If not, we would explode."