Sweeterland’s sugary groove is the unlikely result of the joint efforts of Israeli Einat Betzalel and French Muslim Hakim Boukhit.
By YONITH BENHAMOU
Einat Betzalel was born into a Jewish Israeli family; Hakim Boukhit was born in France to a Moslem family. They could have succumbed the rivalry of their origins, but instead produced an unlikely album pervaded by an infectious sugary groove and tinted with optimism and spirituality.Betzalel’s grooving, crystalline voice seduces with its charm and disarms with its simplicity. She has her own style, a mix of jazz and soul. And Boukhit, her accomplished musical accomplice, won’t say anything to the contrary. “When I heard her for the first time, I was amazed,” he says. “She reminds me of jazz improvisers. Her relation to the beat, the rhythm, is simply unique.”That fascination led to the formation of Sweeterland and a self-titled album in 2009. The two are performing in Israel through the end of March. “Sweeterland” is a play on “Switzerland” and the “Land of Milk and Honey,” as well as an invitation to create a “sweeter” world.Betzalel grew up on a kibbutz near Zichron Ya’acov and at the age of 18 joined a military band. That experience, she says, “was a great learning experience for me. We were performing almost every day throughout various countries.”After the army Betzalel attended the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music and started to work with top artists in Israel, among them Alon Olearchik, who is best known for being one of the founding members of Kaveret.Boukhit hails from a very musical family, which originated in the Algerian city of Oran and then made its home in Perpignan, in the South of France. “My mom, especially, used to play the darbuka,” he says. “I started playing in a band with my family when I was 12.”When he got older, Boukhit studied various subjects but all the while continued to play music. A few years ago, he moved to Switzerland in order to study jazz, and remained there for four years.AdvertisementBefore meeting Boukhit, Betzalel explored music through her own cultural roots. She started with traditional-ethnic music, passing through funk and soul before finally finding her true musical identity in jazz.“I have always been attracted to groove,” she says. “But jazz gave me the tools to improvise and express myself.”IT WAS three years ago, on MySpace, that Boukhit discovered Betzalel among the top friends of Yael Naim, one of the more successful Israeli singers abroad. He gave her music a listen and was soon captivated. “It was really accidental, but I immediately fell in love with her voice,” he says.After many virtual exchanges of music, lyrics, melodies, Betzalel and Boukhit met. The two also share the same birthday, and it was on one of these days that Betzalel offered Boukhit to come with her to Israel. It took some convincing.“I answered her: ‘But you know I am a Muslim, I don’t think it’s possible for me to come,’” Boukhit says. But Betzalel didn’t see any barrier. She reiterated her invitation until Hakim relented and bought tickets to Israel.“I didn’t have any prejudice before coming to Israel. I was just alittle worried,” Boukhit explains. “I do think that in Europe, we get alimited perspective of the situation. Everything is not just black andwhite, it is more complex.”Despite her own initial apprehensions about working with a Muslim,Betzalel came to realize that Boukhit’s R&B was just the thing thatwas missing. One of their first performances together was in December2007. Boukhit says that he “literally fell on the stage. She wasamazing... We are similar in our musical world. We are interested inthe same topics, about sharing, accepting, we have one world.”“One world” is also the title of one of the songs of the album.“It is important to show that this is possible, that we can sharethings,” says Betzalel. “It is really time for both sides to open andbroaden their perspectives.”“Let’s build bridges, not walls,” adds Boukhit.Sweeterland performs in Tel Aviv onMarch 19, 4 p.m., at the Poopik Studio, and on March 23 at 8:30 p.m. atBenino, Rehov Hayarkon 52. On March 24, at 9 p.m. they come to Soko 67,Rehov Sokolov 67, Ramat Hasharon. Details and samples onwww.myspace.com/sweeterland.
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