An impressive venue

The Old City is set for its fourth annual ‘Sounds’ festival.

The old city as a stage (photo credit: REUTERS)
The old city as a stage
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If you’re looking for added marketing value to get the public to sit up and take notice of a cultural event, it helps to have an impressive venue lined up. Where that is concerned, you can’t get much better than the Old City of Jerusalem.
The third annual four-day Sounds of the Old City, which kicks off in Jerusalem on Monday, offers a dazzling array of talent and a remarkable range of sounds, rhythms and cultural sensibilities. Performances will take place in all four quarters of the Old City, with the musical fare tailored to the ethnicity of the district in question.
Musical director Yoav Kutner has clearly gone for broke and has lined up top acts from across the cultural and genre board, with rock and pop stars and blues musicians and an eclectic swath of shows that feed off all manner of ethnic roots, from Ethiopian and Persian to Yemenite and Arab, as well as Turkish, Jewish, flamenco and even jazz and country music. And all the entertainment is free of charge.
In addition to the shows, there will be a record, CD and musical instrument market called Boulevard of Sounds set up next to Jaffa Gate, in conjunction with the Hatav Hashmini record-store chain.
Everywhere you look on the festival roster, there are either big names or intriguing acts. The front liners include singer-songwriters Danny Robas and Evyatar Banai, veteran rocker Ariel Zilber, balladeer Udi Davidi, pop singer Idan Haviv, Jewish-Arab hip hop group System Ali and globe-trotting self-styled Oriental metal band Orphaned Land.
Orphaned Land is one of longest serving and most successful rock groups. The band spends much of its time on the road, both in and out of the country. Over the last two decades, it has built up a large and wildly enthusiastic international following, including in some surprising parts of the world. Orphaned Land calls the sounds and energies it puts out “Oriental metal.”
Since its inception in 1991 – initially as Resurrection before taking on its current moniker – it has fused Jewish and Arabic influences through the powerful filter of progressive metal rock.
The group’s output is so captivating, it is a wonder no one thought of it before.
Band front man Yoav Farhi observes that it was his and his band mates’ natural curiosity that led them to take a singular approach to rock music.
“We are a group with strong Middle Eastern-Jewish influences, and that it what made us look outside the global rock scene,” explains Farhi. “There would have been no point in us just aping American rock groups. The whole idea, as an artist, is to draw your inspiration from your own locale, from its colors and atmosphere.”
Farhi incisively notes that the band’s multifarious standpoint is particularly tailored to the upcoming festival.
“You could say our music is a kind of ‘Jerusalem.’ It was love at first sound. We wanted to bring something new in music to the world; and as soon as we started with Oriental metal, we felt we had found something true,” he says.
Farhi and bass player Uri Zelcha are founder members.
The rest of the gang includes guitarist Chen Balbus and drummer Matan Shmuely. The singer says that each member brings his own hefty musical baggage to the creative fray.
“We all feed off music from Israel and from abroad, particularly the tremendous range of colors we have in this country, with our incredible melting pot of cultures, and Judaism that connects us all,” says Farhi.
In his case, that melting pot was right on his own childhood doorstep and in his living room.
“I grew up in Jaffa, in a home where we listened to San Remo Italian [pop] music, as well as the operas of Verdi and Puccini. I also heard Arabic music from the neighbors, the calls of the muezzin from the nearby mosque, the sounds from the synagogue and the bells of churches,” he recounts.
Sounds and instrumental textures and delicacies are, of course, very important, but Farhi also attaches paramount importance to lyrics.
“My mentor is Leonard Cohen,” says the vocalist, referring to the legendary Canadian poet and singersongwriter, “mainly because of the written word.”
The Orphaned Land output is very much the result of collective enterprise. Farhi says that it may be one of the factors behind the band’s ability to maintain its creative continuum for so many years.
“We have a very complex relationship. The members of the group have changed over the years. Only Uri [Zelcha] and I remain from the original lineup, but the main driving force is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Orphaned Land is an idea that is bigger than me or any other member of the group. You can see that from the fact that, despite the personnel turnover over the past 23 years, the group only gets better. We all write together, like with a jigsaw puzzle. We don’t have some kind of mastermind or a main writer. We have sessions where we all bring material, and together we create an album,” he says.
With more than half a dozen hit albums and hundreds of sell-out concerts all over the world, Farhi and the gang are clearly doing something right with their Oriental metal sounds and all-embracing ethos.
The band’s fan base stretches across the world, and they are popular in many of our neighboring countries. They have played to large enthusiastic audiences in Turkey and have accrued plenty of followers there.
“We have tens of thousands of fans [in Arab countries] and they come to our shows in Turkey and Europe,” notes Farhi. “Unfortunately, we can’t perform in Arab countries, but we communicate with our fans there through our Facebook page. It is wonderful to see the response we get from there when we send them greetings for a Muslim holiday. We get hundreds of responses, and they are all amazing,” he says with pride.
Orphaned Land set out their non-discriminatory stall from the outset. The band members’ credo is indicated by the group’s name. “Orphaned Land” is a paraphrase of Promised Land or Holy Land,” Farhi explains.
“How much holiness can be left on holy land that is soaked in blood? That was the main idea behind getting the group together, way back when we were 16 years old,” he says.
Farhi says that the proof of the cross-cultural, allembracing pudding is in the hearing.
”I truly believe in the power of music to cross political and religious obstacles. It is a fact that we succeed in bringing people together better than leaders of countries and religious leaders. That makes me wonder what they are really doing with all the power they have,” he muses.
Despite performing on a regular basis all over the globe, Farhi says he and his cohorts are very excited about their Jerusalem gig.
“This is going to be a special and very moving concert for us. Jerusalem is the strongest influence on us – or Jaffa, which is very similar to Jerusalem in so many ways,” he says.
That bond will be front and center at the Sounds of the Old City festival show.
“We will perform liturgical material with Arab musical influences,” says the singer. “There will be Ishmael [Arabic] liturgical songs with Israeli music, which will convey the closeness between Isaac and Ishmael, between Israelis and Arabs.”
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