A family mix

Israel Borochov has been at the forefront of musical cross-breeding for years now.

Itamar Borochov toots the jazz trumpet (photo credit: DANA MEIRSON)
Itamar Borochov toots the jazz trumpet
(photo credit: DANA MEIRSON)
Israel Borochov has been at the forefront of musical cross-breeding for years now.
The 60-something multi-instrumentalist was a founding member of the groundbreaking Habreira Hativit troupe, which started life in the ’70s, and included charismatic percussionist-vocalist Shlomo Bar. After performing with the group for several years and playing on the first two albums, Borochov founded the East-West Ensemble, releasing five albums, appearing all over the world and winning a string of prestigious awards in the process.
Borochov also produced a couple of talented musician sons – Avri, who is principally known as a jazz double bassist, but also plays oud, enjoys electronic sound manipulation, and, it transpires, isn’t a bad vocalist either. And there’s the New York-based jazz trumpeter younger sibling Itamar. Dad and offspring have joined forces on stage before, most notably on Borochov Sr.’s Debka Fantasy project, in which he dug deep into the seemingly incongruent, but highly enriching cultural cross-fertilization that took place here prior to the establishment of the state when Ashkenazi musicians and composers drew on the sounds and energies of Beduin shepherd troubadours and married them with their own European musical tradition.
Borochov will be in the amalgamating business again when he lines up with Avri and Itamar, along with stellar Franco-Israeli pop singer Riff Cohen, as part of this year’s Piyut Festival, which takes place at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem from September 17 to 21. The show, called Fantasy for Bukharian Sacred Music, draws on Borochov’s familial cultural heritage.
Borochov refutes the idea of his “rediscovering” his cultural origins.
“I haven’t really got any roots to return to,” he states. “My mother came to Israel at the age of two, and my father made aliya when he was eight, from the vicinity of Bukhara. I had one grandmother who was Bukharian.
So I didn’t grow up listening to the music at home, or on the radio, like the musicians with roots in Arab countries who heard Arabic music on the radio.”
The latter include 60-year-international star oud player and violinist Yair Dalal, who initially rejected his Iraqi-born-and-bred parents’ musical beginnings, starting out as a rock and blues guitarist before eventually mining his sumptuous parental musical inheritance. “There are all those artists whose parents made aliya from Arab countries who, one bright day, did a musical U-turn,” continues Borochov, adding that his Bukharian quest began from a different area of the arts. “Back in the ’50s and ’60s, when I was living in Tiberias, if there was a good movie at the cinema it was generally an Indian movie.” The catalyst plot thickens.
“Bukhara is influenced by India, China, Persia and Turkey,” he explains. “The food, the style of dress and the music of Bukhara were strongly impacted on by India. There are similar words in both languages, too.”
Ultimately, Borochov was given a high-octane push in his current musical direction by one of the leading outfits in the cultural sector. “I played with the Alaev family [from Bukhara] for a few years and, when they spoke Bukharian between them, I recalled my grandmother.
Maybe it’s genetic or maybe it’s because of things I heard. I don’t know exactly.”
As Borochov continued exploring his musical roots he began to encounter enticing sonic gems. “I was in England once and someone gave me a record of Bukharian music. I thought of recording the music myself, but nothing came of it. Around 30 years ago someone gave me some Bukharian music that really grabbed me, even though it sounded Chinese. From a melodic standpoint, the final tone of the music is totally unexpected; you don’t understand why it’s there.”
Borochov was not sure what he was going to do when he got the call from Piyut Festival artistic director Yair Harel, who gave the Borochovs carte blanche. “I told him I am not a bona fide Bukharian music expert.
Yair said we should do whatever we wanted, and that we should take Bukharian music as a point of reference.”
Dad and sons will all contribute to the project, and while I was at Borochov’s exotically appointed East West House home and music venue in Jaffa, the seasoned mix and max musician played me an early version of a couple of Avri’s works. They made for impressive and stirring listening, and they take in expansive genre and style domains. It has been a true cross-generational enterprise, which has strengthened all three protagonists’ ties with the culture and music of their forebears.
Each member of the familial triad will naturally pull the package in his own chosen direction, and will include some definitively improvisational fare. “You can never exclude jazz when this guy’s around,” says dad Borochov in the specific direction of his trumpet-playing son.
Itamar says that the Beit Avi Chai slot has drawn him more deeply into the fiber of his great-grandmother’s musical heritage. “It sounded familiar and really felt natural, and connected with my family history.”
For his part, Borochov Sr. says the works in the forthcoming project offer something for all kinds of music consumers. “I included a Bukharian number in the Mizmorim Nistarim (Mysterious Songs) project, and people came up to me after the show and said ‘what a wonderful Yemenite song that was,” he laughs. “I don’t mind that, and if the music we perform appeals to different people in different ways, that’s perfectly okay.”
Elsewhere on the roster of the eighth edition of the annual Piyut Festival you can find big guns and intriguing slots all over the place, with Berry Sakharov, Haim Louk, Shai Tsabari, Victoria Hanna and Tamir Muskat happily in the festival fray. 
For tickets and more information: (02) 621-5900 and www.bac.org.il