Ripe for export

A year after its founding, the non-profit Oleh! Records aims to add 'booking agency' to its repertoire.

Coolooloosh 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Coolooloosh 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With Gypsy breakbeat punks Balkan Beat Box, who are signed to New York's JDub Records, playing sets for 80,000 at Tennessee's Bonnaroo festival and low-fi jammers Boom Pam, who are signed to Frankfurt's Essay Recordings, touring Europe nonstop, the time seems ripe to export Israeli music. After garnering grants from The Pratt Foundation, The Bronfman Family Foundation and The Orion Fund, Jeremy Hulsh, 28, founded Oleh! Records and modestly launched the organization in January 2007, kicking off an ambitious initiative to give Israeli musicians the tools they need to be heard the world over. Hulsh had recently moved to Israel and was inspired by the shortcomings of the music scene here. "I noticed that the entire music industry in Israel is based on white hype, and that there needs to be a credible institution that nurtures indie and alternative music if this scene is going to be taken seriously," he said. So he started Oleh!, a not-for-profit organization, loaded its board of directors with industry experts, and quickly assembled a roster of 13 promising acts. "I think that many people in the Diaspora have the potential for interest in Israeli music, but they don't have enough exposure to the various scenes, other than what the establishment actively promotes," says Hulsh. "I feel that if we make certain efforts to engage, educate, and promote these artists in an active and concerted way, the level of engagement and interest will increase ten-fold…. We posses the practical know-how via our professional experience, our scores of allies in the music industry abroad. We're results-oriented. Oleh! Records focuses on low investment-high return actions to impact the largest target audience possible." WHILE OTHER initiatives like the Eganu social networking platform and the commercial Anova Records label have similar goals, Oleh!'s approach sets them apart. "What might seem to be basic components for proper [English-language] packaging and promotion are oftentimes missed by Israeli artists," explains Hulsh. "Additionally, we hold free workshops monthly, open to the music community to give practical advice to musicians, such as how to book festivals abroad, how to create concepts for graphic images, press kits, bar coding their work for later application on Nielson SoundScan, stage presence - which often times is lacking." Ultimately, Hulsh explains, "Our goal is to really create sustainable careers for all of our artists, and help other artists that we cannot work with directly to learn the same system we use." And the efforts seem to be paying off. Oleh!-signed Funk'n'stein The Band has been winning international songwriting competitions and has been invited to perform at festivals in Europe. Hardcore rockers the Midnight Peacocks are about to drop their highly anticipated, Oleh!-aided second album. MC Karolina was the opening act at Erykah Badu's Tel Aviv performance last weekend. Now Coolooloosh, in the US to record their next effort with Grammy-nominated producer David Ivory, is embarking on an Oleh!-sponsored major tour there, cobranded with birthright, called Israelity. Moreover,, the organization's Hebrew-language resource for artists, has attracted some 10,000 unique users in the past year, and the label has been instrumental in concert tours for over half of their artists, with shows in the US, across Europe and even the Far East. With so many stages reaching out to Oleh! artists, the label is dedicated to upping its role as a booking agency in its second year. "We've already done so much with quite little," notes Hulsh. "Just great ideas and plenty of passionate people making incredible things happen." "It's definitely answering a need in Israel today," says Coolooloosh bassist Ori Winokur of his label. "There are so many great musicians in Israel that sing in English that can go international. It was never like this. The government and the Jewish organizations don't recognize the power of the scene yet - we are a powerful promotional tool for Israel. It's something that works great - people come up to us after shows and say, 'Now I like Israel.' No wars and politics, just good songs about daily life."