Greek Israeli fusion in Tel Aviv

Tomer Katz's band Perach Adom (Red Flower) presents traditional Greek rembetiko music with original Hebrew lyrics.

perach adom  (photo credit: )
perach adom
(photo credit: )
Tomer Katz's band Perach Adom (Red Flower) has been presenting traditional Greek rembetiko music with original Hebrew lyrics for five years now. By keeping its music focused on acoustic intimacy and audience connection, the band has built a loyal fan base that feels more like an extended family. The project started after then-guitarist Katz visited Greece on vacation and heard some rembetiko, which is the music of the lower classes in Greece that developed during the years between the first and second world wars. Upon coming back to Israel he took up the Greek bouzouki (the main instrument in Greek music) and the Arabic oud at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. He put an ensemble together to play rembetiko instrumentally, but "without words it was too simple, too bare and not interesting," he says. Instead of learning Greek, he began to compose his own lyrics in Hebrew to accompany the already existing Greek melodies, and a new sound was born. "I had never written poems or songs before, but I found something from my heart. It was good for me, and I found people loved it. It was something new." After a brief brush with the Greek music scene in Tel Aviv, Katz and his ensemble settled down to a series of weekly all acoustic performances in a converted one-room apartment in Nachlaot. "This was inspired by something in Greece, where a musician finds a place to play every week for a few years. Everyone knows each other and it begins to feel like you are at home," he says. These Tuesday night sessions ended up lasting two years and achieved a legendary status in Nachlaot, with crowds often spilling out into the street and peering into the windows of the small space while singing along. Katz has a traditional acoustic aesthetic, and although the band has had a variety of players over the years, the sound has been consistent: the melodies are carried by the bouzouki, voice and violin, with acoustic guitar, upright bass and Middle Eastern percussion holding down the groove. Speaking of groove, it's worth noting that rembetiko features a variety of interesting time-signatures and in concert Katz's band usually plays three or four different types of nine-beat patterns. Now that its Nachlaot run is over, Perach Adom is beginning a series of more high profile performances showcasing its laidback "Israeli-Greek blues," including a show tomorrow night at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. Katz has also been taken under the wing of Manolis Rasoulis, an extremely famous Greek author and songwriter (think Ehud Manor) who wants to bring the group to perform in Greece. Perach Adom also plans to do a show with Yair Dalal in Jerusalem sometime in January. This Thursday the band will play at the Inbal Theater in Tel Aviv with special guest vocalist Cochava Levy, who is well known as the mother of Ladino/flamenco singer Yasmin Levy and the wife of the late musicologist Yitzhak Levy, who was an important chronicler of the Ladino tradition in Israel after the formation of the state. Not surprisingly, Cochava Levy is herself a fine singer in the old Saloniki style and displays true charm and elan in her concerta appearances, which she makes all too rarely.