Rasta rhapsody

Bob Marley devotees get together on Thursday night in Tel Aviv to celebrate what would have been the reggae icon’s 66th birthday.

Gadi Altman 521 (photo credit: Muper Photos)
Gadi Altman 521
(photo credit: Muper Photos)
If there’s one long-deceased rocker who’s as revered for subsequent generations as he was for his own, it has to be Bob Marley.The Jamaican reggae pioneer would have been 66 this month if he hadn’t died in 1981 of cancer at the age of 36 – young even by rock star standards.
The Jamaican government declared his February 6 birthday a national holiday in 1991, and for the last few years local fans have been unofficially marking the day with a birthday musical get-together.
This year’s rasta rhapsody takes place on February 17 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv and features Karolina, Mookie, Alma Zohar, Omer Glickman from Hativa 6, Avital Tamir and Matan Cohen from Betsefer and many more performing their Mediterranean-tinged takes on the beloved classics of Marley and The Wailers.
Anchoring the lineup, as they have for the previous half-decade, will be the Marley cover band Rasta Koah featuring Gadi Altman. The veteran guitarist, who once played in The Flying Baby with Geva Alon and today fronts the band Sugar, Peanuts and the Circus, arrived at the altar of Marley relatively late.
“Of course, I was familiar with him before, but I was always into more heavy rock and metal,” he said. “When The Flying Baby was in LA in 2000, I saw that everyone there had posters of Marley on their office walls, so I started paying attention. I traded with a friend of mine his Song of Freedom collection by Marley for a guitar case. I was pretty shocked by the vibe, how happy it was, but I also loved the drumming. There was something intoxicating about it, and I just used to listen to it over and over again. That got me started.”
When Altman returned to Israel a year later, one of his first tasks was to form Rasta Koach as a Marley cover band. Ten years later, most of the band consists of members he met at the annual Marley birthday bashes.
“His music really helps to bring people together. When I first got into it, I didn’t know anybody from the Israeli reggae scene. Now they make up a lot of my social circle. The parties are amazing; you meet new people, see great singers and share the love,” he said.
As the ringleader for the musical tribute evening, Altman said he and the band work hard to keep the songs faithful to the Marley originals while trying to cater to the varied styles of the many guest performers.
“It’s a huge show, almost 30 songs, and there’s so many different singers,” he said. “We only have a short amount of time to maybe run through a song with the singer maybe twice in order to find the right pocket and make him feel comfortable.
We don’t stray too far from the original arrangement; I’m a pretty traditional guy when it comes to cover versions. We like to keep it real rootsy and Bob-like.”
According to Altman, Marley’s star has continued to rise 30 years after his death due to the honesty of his music and the transparency of his image.
“The DNA of his music is really simple. He had a couple of building blocks and just shifted them around. It’s like he took some colors off the palette and said, ‘I’m going to create with only these five colors.’ It was very systematic but very easy to get into as a listener,” he said.
“Despite being a star, he was a simple guy and gave people a very direct way to connect with him. And the whole focus on peace, love and freedom really struck a chord with people and still does.”
And that includes a rabid following in Israel, who will likely be out in full force on Thursday night in Tel Aviv. Altman thinks he understands why.
“When I read his lyrics today, so many of his songs seem to be written specifically about the trials and tribulations of the Israeli people.”