Music Review: Karolina at The Lab, Jerusalem, February 4

Karolina’s recipe for success is bound to get her far.

karolina 311 (photo credit: Yifa Yaakov)
karolina 311
(photo credit: Yifa Yaakov)
Karolina’s show at The Lab coincides with the season finale of the Israeli Big Brother. She tells the crowd as much, and adds that she wasn’t sure about making the trip to Jerusalem that night. The crowd is unfazed; they came to hear some good music and there isn’t anywhere else they’d rather be.
“Ma nishma, everybody?” Karolina asks. It is her first show in Jerusalem since the release of her Hebrew-language solo debut, Ma E’ese Achshav (What Will I Do Now). The release followed a wide range of projects and collaborations with some of Israel’s funkiest musicians: Funset, a Tel Aviv project for which she was awarded the prestigious Akum prize; Habanot Nechama, a dual-language folk rock collaboration with Yael Deckelbaum and Dana Adini that gained acclaim and extensive radio play in 2007; recording with soul-funk master Kutiman; and opening for the likes of Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu.
Very different from the all-female folk sound of Habanot Nechama, Karolina’s solo work is at once thought-provoking and something you can move your body to. It echoes new trends in Israeli music: reggae rhythms, catchy beats and an indelible ethnic influence. It zigzags from songs of spirituality and individuality to empowering ballads about love, life and pride, all with a distinctly Israeli twist that reflects Karolina’s Eilat upbringing. All this she delivers gracefully, breezily, as though singing is to her a second nature. She’s as comfortable onstage as she is in her own skin in a way that is not only refreshing, but infectious.
When she isn’t busy channeling the great divas of 20th century soul, Karolina’s songs give off a laid-back vibe. Her stage antics and humorous gestures give the performance a light, playful tone, but it is clear that both she and the musicians surrounding her, among them percussionist Kutiman and bassist Shaham Ohana, are serious about what they do – in essence, bringing groove into the 21st century.
KAROLINA’S BEEN around for years, and though some of her songs were embraced by the mainstream, she has not conformed. Though she doesn’t stand tall, she stands confident, and her voice and presence – as well as her chemistry with her backing band – fill the room.
When she takes the stage, she employs just the right balance of drama, energy and intimacy, seeking mutual interaction with her spellbound growing audience. Her set is diverse, combining songs from collaborations with other artists with her new solo work.
Though Karolina’s solo songs embody a mix of reggae, trip hop, funk, soul, and even traces of bossa nova and rock ’n’ roll, her candid lyrics dig deeper than your average party soundtrack. In many instances, her powerful voice and sweet demeanor are countered by lyrics that are not always cheery. “I’m just a lady,” she says apologetically, almost supplicatingly, when introducing one of her more introspective songs.
“There are many fish in the sea, but they are all in the sea,” she sings emphatically in another song, “Af Ehad Lo Ba Li,”(No One Came to Me) one of her most popular. One ballad that standsout, a duet originally sung with Uri Kanarot – whose part is sungduring the show by guitarist Uzi Feinerman – is a nostalgic,Mediterranean-inspired take on the story of a mermaid and her knight.Guitar cast aside, tambourine in hand, in these moments it seems asthough Karolina herself may have risen out of the Red Sea.
Shewrites in beautiful, poetic Hebrew and switches fluidly into English,her raw vocal prowess backing her up. She takes her innermost thoughts,conveys them artfully and couples them with the music of the clubs andstreets. With hooks and melodies that jump out at the listener from theannals of musical history, a radiant personality and positive message,Karolina isn’t just another big voice. With just the right amount ofbass, brass and rhythm, good vibrations and a whole lotta love,Karolina’s recipe for success is bound to get her far.