Getting chilled in February

The 7'th edition of the Shaon Horef Festival brings an assortment of free cultural events to the Israeli capital.

Shaon Horef gets Jerusalemites out and about in February (photo credit: ARBAXSHEVA)
Shaon Horef gets Jerusalemites out and about in February
(photo credit: ARBAXSHEVA)
By all accounts it seems like a mad idea. At this time of the year, how in Heaven’s name do you coax Jerusalemites, let alone people coming from further afield, out of their cozy homes and out into the – putting it somewhat euphemistically – crisp Jerusalem evening night air for a cultural offering that spans all kinds of bases? Easy, just tell ’em that the Shaon Horef (Winter Time) Festival is back.
As for the past six years, Monday evenings through the month of February are Shaon Horef time. All told, the seventh edition of the festival, which takes place under the auspices of the Jerusalem Municipality’s Department of Youth Events, features mostly free events, including 150 shows and workshops, 50 exhibition spaces and some 300 artists across a broad spread of disciplines. The fun kicks off on February 5 at Nahalat Shiva, with the Shatz-Bezalel area stepping up to the festival plate on February 12, closing in Talpiot at 4 Yad Harutzim Street, with its plethora of arts institutions, and some quality electro-pop at the Yellow Submarine, on February 26. The third Monday slot, in the environs of Jaffa Gate, marks the festival’s first foray into the Old City.
The musical undertakings take in a broad sweep of genres and styles, including an intriguing ethnic workshop at the Music Museum with venerated tar (a longnecked Iranian string instrument) player Piris Eliyahu and violinist Eldad Levy. The February 5 program offers something for most musical tastes, with a show at the Tav Hashmini record store on Shamai Street with stellar rapper Kwami and rock doyen Rami Fortis. Elsewhere around that neck of town you will be able to find Australian-Jerusalemite singer-songwriter Amy McKnight and bass player Yehu Yaron, plenty of indie sounds, cooking workshops and wine tasting at various local eateries.
The eclectic monthlong program also includes standup spots, punk rock, a jewelry-making workshop, a concerto for oud and drum, nocturnal sky gazing, documentary screenings, arts and crafts stalls, a pottery workshop and meditation sessions.
The Shaon Horef musical fare will get a resounding sendoff with a gig by rising electro-pop star Noga Erez.
Although still in her 20s, Erez has become a fixture on the international gigging circuit with a string of well-received originals from her debut album Off the Radar, as well as alluring cover versions of such hits as Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara’s “Here.”
While the source work does not exactly exude boundless joie de vivre, Erez’s rendition takes the song into even darker quarters. “When Ori and I rearranged the song, we drop down a few scales,” she explains. The Ori in question is professional and real-life partner electronic music performer Ori Rousso. “That brings out the darkness. It conveys less of a sense of drama, but more gloominess. The text is sad, so it deserves that kind of treatment.”
But any impression that Erez is all doom and gloom couldn’t be further from the truth. She spreads her gifts and creative juices across various areas of artistic intent, with beat-based electro-pop her stylistic mainstay. Her initial and enduring source of inspiration, however, comes from a very different school of musical thought.
“The Beatles were the first musical sounds I heard,” she says somewhat surprisingly. Erez is clearly besotted with the Fab Four. “They were also the second, third and fourth things I heard. I had a serious crush on them for many years. Their music never gets old. It’s just so good.”
Then again, if the foursome from Liverpool have had any say into how Erez goes about her creative business it is not immediately obvious from the kind of sounds she puts out there. “I don’t think the Beatles come through in music, per se,” she says. “I think it is more a structural thing. I think our earliest musical education and inspirations influence the way we think structurally.
It is more a subconscious thing, you know, the way we compose a song – the chorus, the stanzas, the reprise – that sort of thing.” It is not about compiling the bricks and mortar.
“That’s pop culture. You can’t get away from that. It’s part of our DNA – how we devise these short works, of pop music.”
Caesarea-born Erez got a good early grounding in the ways of music making at a young age, starting on piano. It was toward the end of her high school years that she got the yen for a career in sonorous climes.
“I was about 17 or 18 years old,” she recalls. “I met people who wanted to make music for a living, all these weird people who dared to daydream about performing on a stage and actually living off that. I thought it was a bit of a cheek, to love something so much and to think that it could also be your profession.”
Erez made the latter observation with her tongue well nestled in her cheek and she began making strides in the requisite direction too. She did her army service in an IDF band and invested as much time and effort she could find in developing her keyboard-playing, vocalizing and lyric-writing skills. Back then there was no particular direction to her exploratory forays. She just two-handedly grabbed every opportunity she met to learn the craft in the most down-and-dirty way possible.
“I moved to Tel Aviv and really got into playing piano and singing and writing. Until then I’d just gone with the flow, but as soon as I made the decision to become a professional musician, I started to channel my energies and time. I played in lots of other people’s bands, to learn the music. I played jazz and funk and rock.” There was a non-musical learning curve, too.
“More than anything, I understood what’s involved in putting a band together.”
It took a while before Erez was ready to put herself out there, front and center.
“I led my own band, here and there, but not under my own name,” she notes. Everything changed when Rousso came on the scene. “Ori brought me into the world of electronica,” she says. “That was a big move for me. He is really into that world. He helped me understand the idiom.”
Sabra origins notwithstanding, Erez mostly sings and writes in English. She says working in a language she acquired allows her plentiful room for maneuver.
“I speak English well, but I am not at all fluent in it.
But I grew up listening to English-language songs – British and American. It’s natural for me. I was always drawn to the way English flows so comfortably with the music. The natural rhythm of English made it much easier for me to write songs.” Looking in – or listening in – from the outside, she says, offers her vantage points that artists born into English do not enjoy.
“I have the privilege of being aware of the sound of English,” she posits. “I think you don’t have that so much with your own mother tongue.”
Erez and Rousso are currently busy with working on their next album and, besides the Shaon Horef date, Erez has a bunch of gigs lined up in Europe soon, with more to come in the summer. It looks like the Yellow Submarine show offers a relatively rare opportunity to catch Erez in action here.
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