McKnight’s Jerusalem journey

McKnight’s observations about life, in her lyrics, have frequently tended towards the grittier, bluesier side, so the darker vocal delivery and onstage deportment should suit that well.

Jerusalem-friendly Aussie singer-songwriter Amy McKnight will strut her stuff in a triple-header at Hamazkeka (photo credit: KATIE MCKNIGHT)
Jerusalem-friendly Aussie singer-songwriter Amy McKnight will strut her stuff in a triple-header at Hamazkeka
(photo credit: KATIE MCKNIGHT)
How’s this for a conundrum? When is an Australian not an Australian? Simple enough – when she’s in Jerusalem. The proof of that seemingly fanciful pronouncement can be felt, seen and heard whenever Amy McKnight wings her way over here from Down Under.
The 28-year-old singer-songwriter first landed on our sunny shores in 2009. She came here for a semester of studies at the Bezalel College of Arts and Design of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as part of a degree in sculpture, performance and installation art, which she completed in Sydney. McKnight got a lot more than she’d bargained for and, in addition to widening her academic horizons, she found herself drawn to the capital and, naturally, to its indie music scene.
She soon struck up a fruitful synergy with the No Coast alternative music venture, and has kept that bond going ever since – her going to and fro between here and Australia notwithstanding. She has appeared at the annual Hahazit (Frontline) underground music event, and has a gig coming up at the Hamazkeka venue in Jerusalem on April 26 (9 p.m.). It is, in fact, a triple header, with McKnight’s slot sandwiched between performances by Ana T Amat and Present Simple, who will complete the alternative Jerusalem folk night.
Now on her sixth extended sojourn in our fair capital, McKnight has been holed up in picturesque Nahlaot for the past six months or so and, although some chronic back problems kept her away from the city’s music venues for a while, she is now thankfully back in the fray.
In fact, she is back with some extra emotional firepower and valuable life experience, which she feels find their way into her onstage delivery. Betwixt trips over here, McKnight got into helping people with disabilities, which she found challenging and rewarding in equal amounts.
“If you want to have lasting good in someone’s life, you have to put a lot of yourself into it, and then you have to be really aware of your own self-care part of the job as well,” she observes.
“You really have to look after yourself too.”
That sounds like a healthy mind-set for a performing artist to have.
Musicians, for example. If they are going to put themselves over to their audience in a compelling way, they have to give their all, and that can take a heavy emotional toll.
“Yes, there is a kind of a parallel there,” says McKnight, adding that any artist worth their salt has to be prepared to make sacrifices, and to let go.
“When I get up there [on stage], I feel that I am giving my music to the audience. The music is not mine anymore. Once it comes out of my mouth, I can think about it as much as I like, and I can prepare, but once it’s through the microphone it belongs to the audience.”
It sounds like McKnight has come a long way, both as a person and an artist, since she first came over here seven years ago, but she now feels better equipped, emotionally, to handle that.
“There is always a cost, when you get on stage,” she declares. “You expose yourself. You can mask yourself behind words, and phrasing but, in the end, you’re up there giving of yourself. It’s real.”
The Australian says she also feels better able to strut her stuff over here, and specifically in Jerusalem.
“I really love playing in Jerusalem, and I feel comfortable with my music here. I feel like people respond to it well, and that I have something to offer people here.”
Being a visitor here – even a frequent one, who comes over for lengthy stays – McKnight possibly has a sharper perspective on the changes that Jerusalem has been through over the last few years than Jerusalemites who take in the progression on a daily basis.
“I guess everything has an ebb and a flow to it, but here I think, with the conflicts in Jerusalem, you feel it more drastically, and the venues and the businesses feel it the most.”
McKnight says she was taken aback by the number of enterprises in the city that have fallen on hard times, or simply closed down.
“It was really sad for me to see, this time, how many venues and businesses are struggling, not only because of the conflict, but also because of winter.”
The latter, of course, can be sorted more easily and more naturally.
“I guess, as spring kicks in, people are going out more – of course as long as there’s not much security trouble. When I arrived this time, it was right in the middle of the stabbings, so the whole city just had a general feeling of anxiety. There was a general feeling of paranoia buzzing in the air, and I had experienced that before.”
All of which, presumably, imbues McKnight’s music making with an even greater value, to help us get away from the bad stuff outside, and hook up with some positive vibes.
“I really want to encourage people to go out,” she states, noting that it is very much a two-way street.
“I want to encourage people to support their local musicians and artists – not to do anything that would put them at risk, obviously – but to be more actively involved in the community, and to contribute to it. If you can’t do it financially, to be there with your body and to support things or volunteer, or to do something that is helpful for a venue, that maybe nobody else can do. You can’t have a nice cultural city without people contributing to it,” she sagely observes.
All of which makes McKnight’s upcoming gig at Hamazkeka all the more poignant. The cozy Jerusalem music spot has been going for around a couple of years now, and has served as a thriving home for cross-genre independent art in Jerusalem. It hosts shows every night, and also functions as a live recording studio and a local hub for original productions.
Since its inception, it has provided stage time for singer-songwriter acts such as McKnight, top jazz acts, rock and pop bands, both from Israel and abroad. There is a laid-back positive and friendly charm to the place, and hopefully it will be able to keep going for many more years.
Anyone who has caught the Aussie’s act here over the years will probably be able to sense the added value, and newfound maturity, that infuses her delivery today, in the wake of her non-musical but soul-enriching bread-winning endeavor Down Under.
“I think that informs the way I play and the way I sing,” says McKnight. “My voice has changed a bit. I’m not singing as sweet as I once did. I think I am probably less innocent too.”
McKnight’s observations about life, in her lyrics, have frequently tended towards the grittier, bluesier side, so the darker vocal delivery and onstage deportment should suit that well.
For tickets and more information about Tuesday’s Hamazkeka show: