With relations with Israel formally normalized only a week ago, few, if any, Emiratis have heard of leading singer-songwriter Arkadi Duchin or his iconic former band The Friends of Natasha.
But Duchin, 57, one of Israel’s premier singer/songwriters and the co-founder of the legendary Friends of Natasha, has spent some time thinking about the UAE. In fact, his newly released song “Abu Dhabi” focuses on what Israelis can expect when they visit the political hub of the ambitious young country.
Upon first listen, Duchin’s rap rendition seems to be making fun of Abu Dhabi, one of seven emirates that came together in 1972 to form the UAE. “Babi Babi, Come to Abu Dhabi.
Horses and Sweets.
Everyone is flying to Abu Dhabi
Dancing in the streets.
Fifty degrees in Abu Dhabi’’
However, in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Duchin denied he was trying to disparage the Emiratis or depict them as being primitive.
“I’m sure there’s a lot more than horses and sweets there, but I don’t really know what there is. I think it’s a humorous song. I’m not trying to put down anybody.”
“I felt there is something here that can really make people happy,” Duchin, whose song “Yesh Bi Ahava” (I Have Love Inside Me) became an Israeli classic, continued. “I was really struck by how all the things there look and I imagined how a family from Kfar Saba or Bat Yam tours around in Abu Dhabi. It’s a funny tale. People come from Netanya and take over the streets of Abu Dhabi,” Duchin said.
Duchin, who immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union when he was 15, and was inspired by the Beatles, is considered one of the leading and most diverse figures on the Israeli music scene, and is known for love songs like “Leehov aw Lamut” (to love or to die).
“His musical language is very rich,”says Ofri Akavia, a composer who teaches at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem. “I really love his ballads. The texts are moving and he sings straightforwardly”
“Over the years he has collaborated with many artists with a variety of styles,” she continued. “It shows that he is very diverse in terms of what interests him.”
Duchin is very prolific. He composed nearly 200 songs (yes, 200!) during the first coronavirus lockdown, he said. He was able to do this, he says “because it was quiet, there is no competition and the imagination works well.”
The songs are “about the soul, the nature of the human,” he explained.
Duchin came across as an open, down-to-earth and self-aware person during the interview, someone who tries to spread love because, he says, he did not receive any as a child. “I was a child who wasn’t loved at all. My parents were victims of World War II and went through very hard traumas. Because of Hitler, my parents were not capable of loving me. That’s why I write mantras to strengthen me and the world. I don’t want this to happen to other children.”
Duchin also said that Friends of Natasha, which broke up after only four albums made in the early 1990s, could come together again if a strong third party could persuade him and super talented guitarist-songwriter Micha Shitrit to reconcile and work together.
Like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Duchin and Shitrit grew apart, breaking up the band, whose Shinuyim B’Hergelay Hatzricha (Changes in the Patterns of Screaming) is considered one of the best Israeli rock albums ever.
“If there was someone strong as a third party, someone like Brian Epstein, it would happen,” Duchin said of working with Shitrit on new songs. He was referring to the Beatles manager.
Both Duchin and Shitrit have had successful solo careers, but their music is not as good as when they worked together. “It’s a shame they are not together, they complete one another,” said Simon Dwek, former music director for Kol Yisrael (the Voice of Israel).
Friends, perhaps better than any other contemporary band, drew on the styles of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and others and enhanced and “Israelized” them. Their hit album Radio Blah Blah bears similarities to "The Wall."
They were also known for their sharp lyrics. “They were pioneers of more explicit texts,” Dwek said.
For example, on Radio Blah Blah, the song “Kok Batzohorayim” (Cocaine in the Afternoon) says: “Coke in the afternoon, a shitty habit, but for me that’s the only way the speech rolls out.”
The same album contains “Blu Blu,” a song about taking antidepressant medication and “Ani Lo Roked Keshe ani atzuv” (I don’t dance when I’m sad), a catchy dance number.
The guitar riffs of Shitrit, whose familial roots are in Morocco and who wrote a haunting Hebrew version of the Arabic classic song “Inti Omri” (You are my life) were influenced by the Rolling Stones, Dwek says. “Shitrit is raw and Duchin is soft,” Dwek said.
Duchin said that it was Shitrit who introduced him to Israeliness and took him beyond the narrow confines of Russian immigrant status.” Micha introduced me to Israeli music, to Shalom Hanoch and Shlomo Artzi. Micha is really Israeli and through him I got to know Israel. Much of my Israeliness I owe to Micha.”
That was a long time ago. More recently, the former Friends of Natasha have been unable to reach agreement over rights that would enable a new release of Shinuyim B’Hergelay Hatzricha, Dwek says. The classic album, which contains the love song “Od Negiya” (Another Touch) has been unavailable for years.
“Between me and Micha there is no fight about anything,” Duchin says. “We are good friends.”
But asked why they cannot then work together, Duchin asks his interviewer: “Do you get along with all the people you met?”
Meanwhile, Israeli music lovers pay the price for the rift and the inability of Duchin and Shitrit to live up to the clincher lyric in “Od Negiya.” “There’s something good that both of us, you and me, are together.”