Anyone for Teapacks?

High-energy band Teapacks will keep the hits coming at the Israel Museum.

High-energy band Teapacks will keep the hits coming at the Israel Museum (photo credit: YOAV ETIEL)
High-energy band Teapacks will keep the hits coming at the Israel Museum
(photo credit: YOAV ETIEL)
The Israel Museum is fast becoming one of the hottest spots on the national entertainment circuit. Most would agree that it houses the finest collections of historical and contemporary artifacts, but the hilltop national arts repository is increasingly hosting some top-notch musical programs, too.
There is the annual Jerusalem International Jazz Festival, held in December, and the predominantly classical music Seeing the Sounds festival has just closed. Next up is the four-concert LIVE at the Museum In the Art Garden, featuring some high-energy ethno-pop, blues-infused rock, folk-based crooning and some Greek music-laced rock. The shows will take place July 3 to 6, with the lineup including, in chronological order, Teapacks, Asaf Avidan, Yehoram Gaon and Yehuda Poliker. Most of the acts will also feature guest artists, such as divas Carolina and Riki Gal, who will put in appearances with Teapacks and Poliker, respectively.
All the main acts have plenty of “previous,” and all are staples of the national music scene. Teapacks burst into national consciousness in the early 1990s when the southern-bred bunch made the transition to Tel Aviv. The initial germ for the band was formed when singer-keyboardist Kobi Oz, from Sderot, met another local lad by the name of Gal Ferman. Back then Ferman was not a musician, but he blossomed into a bass player and one of the mainstays of the band over the past 30 odd years. Oz was, and is, the person most readily identified with Teapacks, with his effervescent personality and zany stage presence. He also writes all the music and lyrics.
Over the years, the band has put out a wide range of material, taking in pop, eastern rock, Mediterranean music, electronica, rap, world music and even disco.
“We thought we were a pretty weird band,” Oz observes. “When we got to Tel Aviv, we realized just how strange we were. Everyone there was busy with various strands of rock ’n’ roll, while we mixed accordions with Moroccan music and things people didn’t expect to hear in the world of Tel Aviv rock.”
Teapacks may have been a left-field act, but it eventually made it big. The group’s second album, Ha’aharon Ba’asiron Ha’elyon (The Last in the Top Decile), came out in 1993, by which time the lineup also featured guitarist Rami Yossifov, with Tamir Yemini on drums. Ronit Shefi was on accordion and Avinoam Marton provided additional vocals, sound effects and drumming backing. Vocalist Haim Oliel and the Sefatayim group also contributed. This was the start of something big for Teapacks, and the album produced the hit single “Betoch Niyar Iton” (In Newspaper Paper).
“When we came up from Sderot, we did what came naturally to us,” Oz continues. “The kibbutzniks in the group brought their music from the kibbutz, and I brought what I’d learned from Sefatayim, the Moroccan music I knew. All of that added up to a new mix of sounds.”
They may have been out of step with the accepted line of musical thought, but Oz feels they were ahead of their time. “In one sense, we told the story of Israeli music of the future. We took on some influences from earlier artists, but I think our music from back then is just as relevant today. We see a lot of youngsters in our audiences, which is great.”
Thirty years ago Sderot was viewed as being even more of a backwater than it is today. But the likes of Oz et al. not only shook up the local scene, they also gave notice to the rest of the country that something creative and exciting was afoot in Sderot.
“When we went to sign with a record company in Tel Aviv, we brought with us a tape of a group from Sderot called Knessiyat Hasechel,” says Oz. The latter subsequently became one of the country’s most successful rock groups.
Oz and Teapacks were also responsible for launching the glittering career of vocalist Sarit Hadad, who featured on the band’s 1995 hit “Lama Halachta Mimeni?” (Why Did You Leave?), with Oz and the band also helping out on one of Hadad’s solo albums. Oz was also the man behind Knessiyat Hasechel’s self-titled third album.
By the mid-Nineties Teapacks were one of the biggest turns in the land, mixing social comment-based lyrics with a highly entertaining stage act. The diminutive bespectacled Oz was a natural performer, delivering tongue-in-cheek lines, while the rest of the band members did their merry thing.
Teapacks worked pretty intensively through to 2009, before disbanding for four years. And they were welcomed with open arms on their return to the scene.
“The Teapacks continuum was very interesting from an artistic standpoint,” says Oz. “We started out like a band from a comic book. We were very electronic and very funny. We gradually became more acoustic and more socially minded. Toward the end [of the band’s first incarnation] we made a record called Disco Manyak, which is a milestone in Israeli music. That was a very special album.”
But there was a price to the band’s eclectic success. “When we split, we felt the public had become used to us. It was as if we didn’t have anything new to say. We’d put out an album, and two tracks from it became hits, but we felt that people had gotten used to listening to us,” says Oz.
But, isn’t that the name of the marketing game? Isn’t it all about branding and about identifying a sound? You don’t need to have a business-studies degree to appreciate that we tend to buy products we know. But, for Oz et al., this is about art not churning out the hits. They wanted to make a difference, not just put out background music.
“That’s not a good state of affairs for an artist,” Oz posits. “I think a good artist has to get eyebrows raising. I’d like people, when they hear our music, to wonder, What is this? They shouldn’t just think, Oh, it’s them.”
Despite the generous amount of airplay Teapacks numbers generally get, Oz says the band didn’t always make it easy for music-show editors to give their new material a slot. “It took the radio time to get used to our albums. They were different. Sometimes they were too Eastern, and sometimes too electronic, too comic, too socially oriented.”
Artistic agenda notwithstanding, the media perception of the band’s work eventually made inroads. “I think that, at some stage, we became a sort of conveyor belt of hits. We got to a situation whereby the audience was not listening the way it once did. That wasn’t good for us,” Oz says.
So, the guys went their separate musical ways, with Oz spreading his talents across various domains, including liturgical music, and also getting in on the media act. But the kernel of the band – Oz, Yemini, Yossifov and Ferman – couldn’t stay away for too long.
“We’d been together from the start and we missed one another, and missed working together. We thought we’d do a few gigs at Zappa in Tel Aviv and then see what happens.”
But Oz and his pals were never a fly-by-night bunch. “We said that if we were coming back, we were coming back as a Rolls Royce, not a jeep. We were coming back big.”
To that end they put together a nine-piece band with Danielle Krief on vocals, and brought in some heavy-duty instrumental firepower.
“We are basically a rhythm band, so we added some virtuosos,” Oz continues. “We have Adam Mader on trumpet, mandolin and violin, you name it, and there’s Sefi Asfuri-Hirsch, who plays oud and violin and all sorts of ethnic instruments. We have a Western-style violinist and an Eastern-style violinist, and there’s Noam Chen on percussion and Shahar Yampolski on keyboards. We spoiled ourselves with some wonderful musicians.”
No doubt, they will spoil their Israel Museum audience, too.
For tickets: (02) 677-1300 and