Hip hop/funk band Hadag Nahash to perform at Red South Negev festival

The 17th edition of the festival offers the usual expansive spread of family-oriented activities, with sporting events, workshops, guided tours and plenty more.

Hadag Nahash (photo credit: OHAD ROMANO)
Hadag Nahash
(photo credit: OHAD ROMANO)

Back in the 80s, at the height of the Cold War when the superpowers of the day, the US and Soviet Union, seemed to be constantly on the verge of cataclysmic nuclear fisticuffs, there was a tongue-in-cheek expression that did the rounds of the peacenik camp that went “better red than dead.” It intimated that lefties in the western world preferred the idea of succumbing to communist rule to being zapped out of existence by some intercontinental ballistic projectile.

These days, if you have a penchant for something on the ruddy side, you might want to make your way over to warmer climes down South to catch the stirring sight of the season’s first anemones. 
This year’s Red South festival takes place in the northern Negev beginning Tuesday until the end of February, kicking off with displays of sprawling floral beauty in the winter rain-washed expanses between the Shikma Valley and the Besor Valley. The anemones can generally be sighted in the vicinity of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-supervised forests and parking facilities dotted around the area.
The 17th edition of the festival offers the usual expansive spread of family-oriented activities, with sporting events, workshops, guided tours and plenty more. It also takes in half a dozen frontline entertainment acts, including the likes of veteran rock band Tislam, preeminent singer-songwriter Hava Alberstein, and religious pop-rock vocalist Narkiss as part of the Red South Live program. 
If you happen to be a fan of hip-hop, rap, and/or funk, laced with a bundle of other genres and musical colorings, you might want to get over to the Eshkol Regional Council Auditorium on February 12 (3 p.m.) when Hadag Nahash takes the stage. The band is one of the stalwarts of the Israeli hip-hop scene and is currently marking its 25th anniversary.
I asked vocalist Shaanan Streett whether he and the other members of the sextet could have imagined still being around, and very much a musical force to be reckoned with, a quarter of a century after their very first gig, in the now-defunct Glasnost club in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound. He says he had no grandiose aspirations back then. “I just wanted to know that what we were doing was serious, that we were growing and that it was all going somewhere,” he reflects. “I didn’t want us to be a band that doesn’t do gigs, that doesn’t want to make an album, or that it is all just a hobby. All of that was definitely in my mind, but I never thought we would still be going 25 years on.”
Still going strong would be a more accurate assessment of where the Jerusalem-bred band is at. “I’m not a nostalgic sort of guy. I don’t really look back. Actually, I don’t really bother with the now either,” he laughs. “I do my best to focus on tomorrow, on where I am going.”
That credo evidently works in the context of the band, which has been playing to packed houses all over the country, as well as taking on successful tours of North America over the years, and putting out 10 well-received records in the process. 
 Hadag Nahash will be performing during Red South month.  (credit: OHAD ROMANO) Hadag Nahash will be performing during Red South month. (credit: OHAD ROMANO)
“Clearly, knowingly or subconsciously, we all wanted to get to this point, 25 years on. That is pretty amazing,” says Streett.
That is no mean feat, especially in this day and age of fast fixes and ever-shrinking attention spans. Naturally, over the past two and a half decades Streett and his pals have all grown up, had families, taken on other responsibilities, and developed all kinds of interests. 
The secret of their longevity, Streett posits, is ensuring everyone is on board, and simpatico. “One of the most important factors was that we realized that this group is a place of creation for each of the members, and that each of us has to feel comfortable with presenting their ideas.” 
That doesn’t mean that anything goes. “Each of us has to also accept that anything they suggest may also be rejected,” Streett notes. Fair enough. Indeed, it is not constantly sweetness and light for all concerned. “We all know we have to compromise, and we still have sticking points we struggle with,” Street adds. “But that’s the way it is. And we have all experienced both sides of that. We have had ideas no one has liked, and we have all felt unable to put things in the ring, being in a position of not offering something to your own band.” 
It is an ongoing learning curve. “We saw that was happening. It was a process and it will always be a process. We’re making progress. You could say we have a healthy relationship.” You get that vibe when Hadag Nahash hits the stage, and from their studio work. There is a feel of joyous cohesion sprinkled with humor, as well as a modicum on the darker side.

STREETT ET AL have also gained a reputation for saying their piece on a range of issues, including in the political and sociopolitical spheres. Their lyrics convey the need for change in the way we view the world and our orders of priority.

The band’s appropriately named sixth release, 6 which came out in 2010 and went gold, spawned several hit singles, including “Anee Ma’amin” (“I Believe”). One stanza reads: “I also believe we are going around in circles, that there is no chance another war will help, and that all the talk about the war on terror is only designed to make an impression on the enlightened world.” 
And on the sociopolitical domestic front: “I believe we have to invest in education, that our order of priority has to be reversed, that the salaries of senior management are scandalous, that we have to shift the kiryah.” The latter refers to the IDF decision-makers.
True to the aforementioned collaborative group ethos, all the band members are credited with the score and the lyrics. That may or not be an accurate reflection of who actually penned the lines or composed the music, but Streett is clearly a gifted wordsmith. He was responsible for writing most of the early Hadag Nahash material, and he recently became a bonafide member of the literary profession when he published his debut Hebrew-language novel Rega Netzach (Forever Moment). 
Born to American parents, Streett is also fluent in English. Yet the band only has a handful of numbers in English which, after all, is the discipline’s source lingo. For Streett, it is basically a matter of remaining true to himself, and the artist’s need to feed off their own core. He gets into the realms of domestic renovation work to elucidate his take. “If you repair a wall, and you apply the trowel with the plaster where there is a hole, the material has to match the cracks.” 
He gets to the artistic language-choice point while referencing some of the burning issues the band’s songs touch upon. “If the cracks [in Israeli society] are in Hebrew you need to relate to them in Hebrew. Israel is our place, our home. Yes, we do criticize things in some of our songs but I’m still here. I still love this country.” That vibe should be all present and correct down South on February 12.

MEANWHILE, Shikma-Besor Tourism Association director-general, and Red South Live artistic director, Doron Ashtan, are looking forward to unfurling the full Red South banner.  “After a break of a year we are delighted that the shows are returning to the Red South festival and that, this year too, top Israeli artists will come to perform in the northern Negev,” says Ashtan. She says there is plenty to catch down there outside as well. “The anemones are already blooming and are covering the region in beds of red. The tourism facilities here are ready to host our visitors, and we are waiting for everyone, from all over the country, to come to us for the festival.” 

For more information: https://www.habsor.co.il/