Piyut time

There are all kinds of intriguing synergies lined up for the five-day event.

Jerusalemite Victoria Hanna has made a name for herself as a leading vocal artist on the alternative New York scene (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalemite Victoria Hanna has made a name for herself as a leading vocal artist on the alternative New York scene
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Over the last seven years the annual Piyut Festival, which is held at Beit Avi Chai between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, has presented some surprise packages. The eighth edition, which will take place September 17 to 21, is no different. There are all kinds of intriguing synergies lined up for the five-day event.
Perennial festival artistic director Yair Harel is clearly a freethinker, and betwixt the more traditional items that one might expect at an event based on Jewish liturgical material, one can find rock shows and slots that feed off diverse ethnic and other vibes. The latter take in the Fantasy for Bukharian Sacred Music, which draws on the familial cultural heritage of multi-instrumentalist Israel Borochov. He will perform a wide-ranging repertoire with his jazz-oriented sons, bass and oud player Avri and trumpeter Itamar, with a generous helping of electronica and all kinds of wild and woolly effects thrown in.
It is a fair bet that the Victoria Hanna concert – which features accordionist-guitarist Noam Inbar; and drummer, sound manipulator and all-round wild man Tamir Muskat – will keep the audience members on the edge of their seats and highly appreciative of the onstage offerings.
Over the past 15 years or so, Jerusalemite Hanna has put out a broad spectrum of material and genres and made a name for herself as one of the leading vocal artists on the alternative New York scene, performing at such major experimental venues as the Knitting Factory. Earlier this year, she scored a viral success with the delightful “Alef-bet” song, which has accrued more than 400,000 hits.
The Hanna trio show at the Piyut Festival goes by the name I Will Open My Mouth. According to the festival blurb, it presents an alluring fusion of “sacred Jewish music, song, language and voice, which fragment into their component parts and reassemble.”
The concert is also billed as “an innovative show that addresses the Hebrew language, liturgy, prayer and the voice from a primordial, daring, ancient and contemporary place.” That’s quite a description, so it promises to provide the Beit Avi Chai audience with something of an unforgettable experience on September 19 at 9:30 p.m.
On the face of it, there is little common ground to be had between Hanna, Inbar and Muskat, who will be joined on stage by drummer-percussionist Giora Politi and accordionist and string instrument player Yarden Erez. For the occasion, Inbar will stick to vocals.
“We have never played together as a trio,” remarks Muskat, whose rich résumé includes ongoing work as a producer and sound engineer, and highly fruitful berths with so-called world punk band Firewater and high-energy gypsy- funk-electronica-Mediterranean music outfit Balkan Beat Box. “But I produced the last albums by the Biluim [of which Inbar is a founding member], and I recorded the album by klezmer group Oy Division [which is also includes Inbar]. So Noam and I go way, way back. The Biluim actually came over to New York – I wasn’t even in Israel at the time – to make [2007 album] Shechol Vekishalon. That’s when our story began, and every so often the right moment comes up and Noam and I get together to do something.”
Muskat and Hanna first joined forces many years ago.
“I don’t want to give our exact ages away, but Victoria and my musical story started about 15 years ago. It took us all over the world, almost as a duet,” says the drummer.
His Hanna-associated endeavor found him in typically energized form.
“I would play four instruments at the same time. I’d have something in one hand, my legs on the drums, and my head in the sky,” he recalls with a laugh. “And Victoria would bring her crazy world of wisdom. That’s how we made music for quite a long time. We’d play at all kinds of festivals that presented experimental music and that kind of stuff. That’s how our story began. We recorded material, and we’d disappear off each other’s radar for a while, and then get back together.”
They are certainly back together now. The current project began to germinate around two years ago.
“Victoria called me out of the blue, after quite a long break from each other, and she said it was time to get back together and that something new had happened. That’s how ‘Aleph-bet’ came into being, and that was the first part of our renewed creative relationship. That came out on my label, APE Records, and it signaled the start of a new era for us working together,” he says.
Long breaks notwithstanding, Muskat says that he and Hanna have a strong musical bond and are a natural fit.
“There is a record on the way, but primarily I think there is something super-strong and primitive between us. She is always involved in a thousand different things, and I have my production work and all my other stuff; but when we get back together, there is something almost tribal that happens. I get back to my most basic instrument, which is the drums – actually the drum – and Victoria brings her one and only instrument, the voice. There is something so pure and basic about that coming together,” he says.
That makes perfect sense. After all, the voice and the drum which, by definition, means any surface on which a person can be produced percussive beats and sounds, are the two primary instruments known to humankind.
“My thing, when we get together, is the rhythmic power. I take the material that Victoria brings, and I turn it into something which is almost hip-hop. And when Victoria encounters the liturgical material and vibe and all these snaky-charm melodies, which suddenly come into contact with massive beat, something happens with her, too. In a really simple way, that’s the essence of us as a music-making team. And there are, of course, all the other worlds we feed off in there, too,” he says.
There are plenty of alluring slots on offer all over the Piyut Festival show. Now in its eighth year, the event has made incremental popularity ground and attracts plenty of big guns to its artist roster. This year’s lineup features Ehud Banai and Berry Sakharof, with iconic paytan Rabbi Haim Louk in there, as are powerhouse vocalist Shai Tzabari, multi-talented artist Netta Elkayam and Persian-inflected singer Maureen Nehedar.
The New Year’s first Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony will take place during the festival, naturally with a generous dose of music. There will also be screenings of documentaries about leading piyut musical figures; guided tours around Jerusalem connected to some of the themes in the festival; and a fascinating workshop about traditional women’s singing presented by Elkayam, Tair Haim – one of the three sisters in the up-and-coming A-Wa Yemenite style trio – and Polish-rooted French singer Milena Kartowski. •
For tickets and more information: (02) 621-5900 and www.bac.org.il