EBV blues, at the Abu Ghosh Festival

The repertoire includes localized versions of such perennial favorites as Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy,” Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine."

The award-winning Oreya chamber choir from the Ukraine is the leading act at the festival next week (photo credit: VLADMIR KLICH)
The award-winning Oreya chamber choir from the Ukraine is the leading act at the festival next week
(photo credit: VLADMIR KLICH)
EBV blues, at the Abu Ghosh Festival Everyone gets the blues now and then, and we all have our own way of dealing with downers.
Sometimes we snap out of it, and sometimes it takes a while.
Tomer Sharon – a.k.a. Tomash – certainly had good reason to feel gloomy a few years back when he contracted infectious mononucleosis (EBV), which left him bereft of physical and emotional energy.
“I was cooped up in the house for months on end,” says the 46-year-old artist. “Someone gave me a guitar, and I just taught myself to play, and to sing.”
That enforced spell of self-education has stood Sharon in good stead, and he will display his evolving musical skills at the forthcoming Abu Ghosh Festival (June 10-12). His slot, which goes by the eminently appropriate title of Tomash’s Blues, will take place at The Crypt on June 11 (2 p.m.), and Sharon will proffer his own singular takes on a range of Israeli and American staples, all in Hebrew.
The repertoire includes localized versions of such perennial favorites as Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy,” Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which was made famous by Marvin Gaye.
The Israeli classics include “Laila Laila” composed by Mordechai Zeira to words by Nathan Alterman, and “Tza’ar Lach,” written by Avraham Halfi, recorded and released with Yoni Rechter.
Sharon has enlisted some stellar instrumental support for the occasion, in the shape of guitarist Yair Yona, bass player Shai Hazan, who is normally to be found in the jazz domain, and veteran percussionist Gilad Dobrecky.
Sharon first came to wider notice as a member of the Platfus comic team, which was a TV hit in the 1990s, followed by a dubbing berth on the Hartzufim satirical TV puppet show. Actually, Sharon got a much earlier start to his media career, at the tender age of 10, when he appeared alongside legendary actor Shaike Ophir in Sallem Uteallam, a Channel 1 TV show in which Ophir, who was originally called Goldstein, enlightened the public about the Arabic language in his trademark entertaining style.
Mention the name Tomer Sharon to most TV viewers or theatergoers here and the response would go something along the lines of: “Ah, the comedian-actor!” Sharon is aware that he is not best known for his musical exploits.
“When people hear me sing for the first time, they don’t understand why I am not worldwide,” chuckles Sharon. Perhaps they are waiting for him to segue into his comic routine and slip in some impersonations. “They are probably waiting for the humor to kick in,” he confesses.
“It is very difficult to be so varied in this country.”
Sharon says that, while his vocal skills may catch some by surprise, he has been developing his voice since his childhood.
“I always sang. I sang in school shows and at jam sessions with my pals.” Things got more serious a few years later.
“I was around 30 years old and I decided I wanted to make a record,” he recalls. “I was perfectly happy to sing songs written by other people.” Then his health deteriorated and he found himself with lots of time to dabble in this and that.
“When I got EBV and I got a guitar I started writing songs myself, and I saw I was pretty good at it. I taught myself to play the guitar and to compose.” Sharon has since moved on to the piano as his principal instrument.
He says he is not exactly an expert keyboardist, but he manages to acquit himself well enough.
His ailment-induced creative endeavor quickly bore fruit on an emotional level as well.
“It would not be going too far to say that it saved my life,” states Sharon. “I sometimes give talks about the time I was sick, and about depression, and I also sing songs. I think music has amazing healing powers.”
There is a flipside.
“It is a double-edged sword,” Sharon notes. “Music can make you dig down deep, and when you’re down in the dumps that can be very painful. You have to be ready for that. I wasn’t ready for that, but for me it was worth it.”
Sharon has been feeding off that hard-earned personal and artistic epiphany ever since. “What is art anyway?” he poses. “It is basically just an attempt to communicate, and primarily to communicate with oneself. I think music is the best means of self-exploration.”
The blues line of musical thought was prompted by a musical show Sharon was involved in.
“The show was set in the 1930s and 1940s, and I heard the blues in that show,” he recalls. “It wasn’t blues music, per se, but it got me into the music and I started listening to classic American blues and soul songs. That’s the music I love the most.”
It was a natural fit.
“I see a strong parallel between the pioneers of the blues and the pioneers here. They both worked in swamps, they both lived in hot climates and they were both émigrés.
The blacks were taken from Africa, the Jews came here from Europe, and they both talk about the dark recesses of the soul. I made the connection.”
The forthcoming show is based on a blues-flavored act that Sharon has had on the road for some time.
“I won’t do the whole show at Abu Ghosh,” says Sharon.
“The whole thing includes acting spots, although I may slip a few of those in at Abu Ghosh, too.” Naturally, there is a twist to the entertainment zeitgeist.
“I call the full show Radio Inshallah,” he adds with a laugh, referring to the word for “God willing” in Arabic.
“It’s a sort of an eastern take on the blues.”
Certain sonic considerations came into play in the run up for the Abu Ghosh show, due to the natural resonance of the venue, but Sharon says he was happy to dispense with the electrical augmentation.
“I am really excited about doing an acoustic concert.
Doing it acoustically is good for me because I have a very powerful voice. It is sometimes difficult to find the right balance between my voice and the instruments [with electrical amplification]. The Abu Ghosh show is going to be very precise and very moving.”
There is plenty more to be had over the three days in the village. Internationally renowned jazz bass player Avishai Cohen is in the Abu Ghosh festival fray, with a trio of pianist Omri Mor and percussionist Itamar Duari, while the stellar Oreya choir from Ukraine will perform works by Bach, Monteverdi and Poulenc.
Other acts to look out for include a rendition of Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C Major, with instrumentalists from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and an impressive roster of vocalists, including sopranos Keren Hadar and Alla Vasilevitsky, presided over by conductor Hanna Tzur, who has also served as the festival’s artistic director for more than 20 years.
Hadar will also have the starring role in the June 12 performance of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, and at 2 p.m. today, you can catch a Leonard Cohen tribute, courtesy of vocalist Hadas Faran-Asia and guitarist Eyal Leber.
For tickets and more information: www.agfestival.co.il/, www.bimot.co.il, (02) 623-7000 or *6226, 072-275-3221 or *3221