Rabble-rousing Ramirez Brothers run counter to the musical norm

Rabble-rousing Ramirez B

If you unknowingly stumbled upon a set by The Ramirez Brothers in one of the Tel Aviv area clubs they regularly perform in, you'd be forgiven for thinking they were a '70s-obssessed, hairy, American power-funk trio who had been mysteriously transported across the world from a sweaty bar in Texas. But despite the trio's raw, compelling mix of howling groove-based blues, soul and all things Americana, Uzi, Eitan and Sefi Ramirez are sabras… and if you couldn't guess by their first names, their last name isn't really Ramirez. "We thought it would be really cool to have stage names. And even though we're not biological brothers, we are very close friends," explained Sefi Ramirez (Zisling), the band's trumpet player, who along with Uzi Ramirez (Feinerman) on guitar and vocals, and Eitan Ramirez (Efrat) on drums, form the unorthodox trio. "We get people coming up to us at shows and asking, 'are you really brothers?' or if we're from Mexico or South America. We have to explain that we just liked the name Ramirez." They also like to do things that run counter to some accepted commercial musical norms, like retaining a penchant for performing shirtless, encouraging their free-flowing jams to transport their songs and the audience to unexpected destinations, and à la The White Stripes, eschewing the standard bass guitar foundation. "One of the unique things about the band is that we don't have a bass player, but it wasn't a decision 'hey let's do a band without a bass,'" said Zisling. "When we started playing together, we heard a specific sound that was really cool. We thought it sounded very good with just the three of us, and we seemed to agree that we have all we need with just the trio." The songs, sung in English, capture an unrestrained interpretation of Feinerman's take on indigenous American music, whether it be practiced by Curtis Mayfield, The Meters or John Coltrane. "Most of our music is written by Uzi, who's influenced by the music of America - blues, country, Americana," said Zisling. "He spent some time studying and exploring the history of American music from the South, like folk, blues and country. But I think we bring a lot of other influences to the mix. I personally come from a soul and funk background, so there are a lot of grooves in The Ramirez Brothers music." As a result, in its short, two-year life, The Ramirez Brothers have forged a strong cult following in Tel Aviv, boosted by the release earlier this year of their self-titled debut album. The album was recorded analogically, reel to reel, to capture a vintage feel, and was released on the alternative Audio Montage label. The band is likely to win more fans when they play next Friday, October 23 at the Barby club with Yehudit Ravitz, as part of the sprawling Tel Aviv Music Festival, held from October 20-31 throughout the city (see briefs). While the band may still be in the early stages of their arrested development, its members are all accomplished musicians who stock some of the country's top live acts. Feinerman was a member of Boom Pam (described as a mixture of Mediterranean, rock and surf music with two electric guitars, a tuba and drums) and today fills a guitar slot in Hadag Nahash, and Zisling has been a staple of funk rockers Funk'n'Stein for over 10 years, as well as a sideman in Ravitz's band. Zisling admitted that he needs to be as organized as a businessman to keep his various obligations on track. "I really try to write everything down - it's really hard playing with a lot of different bands. But this is my life," he said, adding, "I love all the bands I play in, but The Ramirez Brothers are something special that we created from scratch - it's our baby." All three musicians received their musical education at the Thelma Yellin Arts School in Givatayim, where Feinerman preceded Zisling and Efrat by three years. "We knew about him; he was kind of a legend," said Zisling. "After we finished the army, I moved in with Eitan in an apartment in Jaffa, and we found out by chance that Uzi was living in the same building. At that point we all became close and started playing music together." Having widespread musical connections hasn't hurt the band's career, especially Zisman's affiliation with local superstar Ravitz. "I invited Yehudit to see one of our shows a few months ago in Tel Aviv, and she really liked it and even joined us onstage for a song. It was a really successful collaboration," he said. "We thought it would be cool to do something more official together, and here it is, happening next week. I'm not exactly sure what we're going to be doing at the show, but it's amazing that she's playing with us - she's such a great artist." Ravitz fans who show up at the Barby next week may end up saying the same thing about The Ramirez Brothers by the end of the evening. With the band gearing up for its first European tour in November, Zisling expressed satisfaction at the progress the group has made at home in providing a musical 'education' for local music fans. "I think audiences here are learning to appreciate this combination of Americana that we do. You see it elsewhere with artists like Geva Alon and Asaf Avidan. We're not doing what they're doing, but you can see the connection," he said. "At our shows, you can see people getting into it. Well, maybe not the country so much… that could take time."