A world of music

Sharon Ben Zadok certainly knows where her music comes from and she will, no doubt, captivate her Yellow Submarine audience when she plays there with her own band.

Firqat Al Noor performs music from across the Arab world (photo credit: EVYATAR NISSAN)
Firqat Al Noor performs music from across the Arab world
(photo credit: EVYATAR NISSAN)
World music has been with us for some time now. When it first hit the airwaves and concert halls of the global entertainment scene over three decades ago, it was embraced with gusto. A few years down the line interest began to wane somewhat. It was as if music consumers had “been there and done that” and had heard just about every fusion of sonic ethnic baggage around.
However, there seems to be an inexhaustible array of cross-cultural blends out there and, when it is done properly, when the artists in question really know the ins and outs of the style in question, there is still plenty of room for surprises and emotive thrills.
Sharon Ben Zadok certainly knows where her music comes from and she will, no doubt, captivate her Yellow Submarine audience when she plays there with her own band and alongside tar player Itai Hermon, on March 7 (9 p.m.) as part of the 17th edition of the Jerusalem Arts Festival.
The show goes by the heartstring-tugging moniker of Rega’im V’tzlilim Shel Ahava (Moments and Sounds of Love), which sort of sets the emotional and spiritual scene. It is also a logical titular confluence between Ben Zadok and Hermon’s principal vehicles of artistic expression.
“Itai’s band is called Rega’im [Moments] and my show is called Tzlilei Ahavati [Sounds of My Love]. I just took the two names and made them into one,” explains Ben Zadok.
Ben Zadok began her musical career as a vocalist with the highly successful Teapacks ethno-rock band which did extremely good entertainment business through the 1990s and until it eventually broke up in 2009. Ben Zadok was on the band’s breakthrough release, “Hahayim Shelcha Belaffa” (Your Life Is in a Laffa – a sort of pita) and left a couple of years later to pursue new musical avenues.
 In fact, she reverted to her own family roots.
“I released an album of women’s Yemenite singing, called Zaffa Funky Grooves of Yemen,” she says. “In general, I engage in all sorts of roots music. As my parents came from Yemen and I learned these songs from my mother, that became my first solo album, a roots album.”
There were more roots to be explored.
“I STARTED studying classical Indian singing and I began introducing elements of that into my work, a sort of fusion, into Yemenite women’s song.” Ben Zadok went to the source. “I went to India around 20 years ago, and I studied in Varanasi. I had an amazing teacher. My husband, Eyal Shahar, is a sitar player and we’d spend six months a year in India and the other six months in Israel.”
Shahar was also the catalyst for Ben Zadok’s musical homecoming.
“I bonded with Yemenite music after I met Eyal. I asked him to play on a record of Israeli music which I was working on at the time, but which never came out. That was after Teapacks. Eyal played with [veteran oud player and violinist] Yair Dalal, and he asked me to teach him a Yemenite song, so that he could play it on sitar. The sitar is not exactly a Yemenite instrument,” Ben Zadok laughs, “but that was the uniqueness of [Dalal’s] Al Ol Ensemble. Later I sang with the ensemble, too.”
Ben Zadok says it was a pretty transition for her, from Yemenite songs to Indian music, and that she had spread her talents across several musical domains over the years. She had been looking to dip into other areas, and not just from a musical point of view.
“I was in Teapacks, I served in an army band and when I went to India I discovered Indian classical singing. But it’s much more than that. It’s a matter of culture. I was 27 years old when I left Teapacks and I was already considered a veteran singer. I had worked with [pop acts] Ethnix and Friends of Natasha and done all sorts of things. I think I was looking for something with more spiritual value to it, something deeper, that the music should involve a personal journey. Some people go for yoga when they are looking for something. I found it in Indian classical music.”
There were, it seems, therapeutic benefits to be had from the new approach.
“Some people do yoga. That’s their way. I looked for voice yoga in singing and found it in Indian classical singing, which really comes from the discipline of ancient yoga.
“I teach voice training through yoga of the voice. For me it is the joining of the body, which is our instrument, like any musical instrument. A lot of singers think it is only about the vocal cords. It is about the whole body. Then you take all the musical information into the body.”
There is an abundance of that to be had.
“That means songs, words, emotion, musical phrases, everything that is connected to music. When you sing words, it is not just about getting the words right, it is about conveying feelings and, in practice, telling a story.”
CAN’T ONE express feelings without lyrics?
“Yes, of course you can and that is the basis of Indian classical music,” says Ben Zadok, “but suddenly I missed the words, I missed the place of communicating with the Israeli audience. I speak Hebrew. All my life, up till the age of 27, I sang in Hebrew. I missed it.”
That led to a natural synergy of her natural and acquired skills and cultural baggage.
“I took all the scores I love from the classical Indian tradition and from the Sufi qawwali tradition and I wrote Hebrew words to many of them. I also found words for some of them, like words from the Song of Songs, which I added to a delightful Indian score. They fit together perfectly.”
Even so, Ben Zadok had to bide her time a little.
“When I first started trying to marry Hebrew words with Indian music it seemed impossible. But they say practice makes perfect and eventually I saw that they go together really easily. I felt I had been waiting for this moment. It is really exciting. The show in Jerusalem is the first time I will bring my 20 years of learning and all this odyssey to India together. I will sing in Hebrew, and a bit in Urdu, and I will connect them. For me it is magical.”
Hermon will also bring his rich accrued professional baggage to the fray on Wednesday and expand the cultural offering. The show program features both Hermon’s band and Ben Zadok’s group, and there will be a number of interfaces between members of each ensemble.
Hermon’s music is original ethnic music. His music goes through India and the Middle East, Asia and South America – and comes to Jerusalem.
Ben Zadok says Wednesday’s gig will offer the Yellow Submarine audience global delights.
“It will be a celebration of music from all over the world. There will be a lot of Hebrew in there too, with a strong connection to Israel.”
There will also be some heartwarming positive stuff in the mix.
“The music is also about peace and bringing people together. That is an important part of my music, too, and there are some fantastic instrumentalists in both groups.”
For tickets and more information about the festival: (02) 679-4040 and yellowsubmarine.org.il/ and www.arts-festival.jerusalem.muni.il/