As the renewal of cultural life here gathers momentum, the trickle of offshore artists making it through the minefield of Covid-19 guidelines is gradually gaining traction. Happily, and fittingly, that means the inaugural edition of the Sphera Festival, which takes place in Eilat this Thursday through Saturday, can bring in some top talent from overseas. After all, it is a world music event.
Artistic director Dubi Lenz has dipped into his expansive bag of tricks to put together a rich program that spans a multicultural spectrum from the infectious samba-inflected vibes of Brazilian singer-songwriter Fabiana Cozza, to the flamenco and Roma-seasoned jazzy textures of Spanish pianist David Dorantes who joins forces with stellar French bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons, French chansonnière Rosemary Standley to impassioned Italian vocalist Maria Mazzotta.
And that’s just the foreign side of the program. The Israeli lineup features such artistic powerhouses as veteran vocalist-percussionist Shlomo Barr and his long-running Habreira Hativit (Natural Gathering) cross-cultural band, kemancheh (eastern spike violin) player Mark Elyahu, and ethno rock-pop group Teapacks, and an intriguing interface between Yemenite, funk, rock, West African music outfit Yemen Blues with a big band led by jazz trombonist Jonathan Volchuk.
Dorantes says he got himself an early intro into the mysteries and joys of music-making, across a broad palette of colors and flavors. “I started playing music at home. At home, music flooded our whole lives. And when I say everything is everything, believe me.”
The Dorantes family has Romani roots and the pianist says it was always all systems go, any and every which way. He says he grew up with the idea that music feeds off, and informs, the dynamics of quotidian existence. “My father taught us the rhythm of life, the coherence of being together without being out of tune, the tolerance and respect so that the music of life flows always comfortable and beautiful,” he enthuses.
It was an addictive ethos that spilled over into the young Dorantes’s initial steps in music-making. “I was not aware of it, but the need to fill every moment of my life with that emotion grew in me, the dizzying need to find, in myself, what I received from my family. I started playing the guitar and I don’t know when or how. It’s like I’ve always played it.”
Before long the youngster discovered, and fell for, the keys. “I started with flamenco guitar but, one afternoon, on an old piano under the stairs at my grandmother’s house. I lifted the lid, looked at that immense unknown keyboard and timidly began to press the notes.” It was love at first tinkle. “I didn’t know how to play, nothing, but that sound caught my attention, I loved it and every time that I arrived at my grandmother’s house I could not avoid the temptation to run to the piano and continue to surprise myself with that wide bicolor ‘staircase’ that emitted those sweet sounds. I was nine years old.”
Dorantes’s pianistic autodidactic stage continued for some time, while he kept up with his guitar explorations until he eventually enrolled at the local music conservatory.
True to his earliest formative years, Dorantes seamlessly imbibed various genres of western classical music and material from his own multistratified cultural locale.
“What I have taken most from [late 19th- to early 20th-century French composer Claude] Debussy has been the color of the harmonies because it has been the music that has been most aligned with flamenco. I loved the world of dreams in his work, that passion is always above the rules. I also listened a lot to [20th-century Spanish composer Manuel de] Falla, [Debussy compatriot contemporaries Maurice] Ravel and [Erik] Satie.
Romantic Era music also comes into Dorantes’s creative equation. “During my student years, I played a lot of Chopin. Logically, it has also influenced my composing style. The beauty of his music and his poetry made me sail away.”
But there is no arguing with DNA, and Dorantes cites his Romani background as: “the most influential thing in me, without a doubt.” It is a mother’s milk element of his personal and artistic makeup. “Genetics, understood as experiences, as [a] cradle, as life, as natural learning, since when we are a baby we are sponges when we learn everything in that way that only as children we can learn, in that intense and meaningful way as languages that are installed in your mind without knowing how or why but they are already yours, you are already you. Experiences structure the foundations on which you will build a world. My music has the truth of Romani life.”
That and more, including the Arabic and Jewish aspects of Andalusian music, all filter through his professional work. For Dorantes, the two mesh and coexist naturally and harmoniously within his oeuvre. “There is a very great understanding between these cultures,” he notes.
That goes for Dorantes and Garcia-Fons too. They have been musically dovetailing on stages around the world for around six and half years now since they released their Paseo a Dos (Ride for Two) album in 2015. That forms the backbone of their Sphera show.
The pianist says their accrued time on the road has delivered evolving communicative rewards. “We have gradually discovered the natural complementary between piano and double bass played with a bow. That complementing allows us to be singers and accompanists at the same time successively. The idea of a duet whose repertoire would be based on primitive flamenco songs and shapes has been developed quickly, in order to allow piano and double bass to develop an instrumental ‘cante jondo (Flamenco singing),’ [which is] unexpected and innovative.”
That is a silver thread that runs through Dorantes’s musical interactions. He says he follows a give-and-take line of thought. “I like to respect the space of my colleagues, I do not aspire to lead, I like to learn and get excited, and when the backpack of the soul is full, good music starts to come out. I like to join musicians who feel the same way about meetings.”
There should be plenty of that around down south later this week.
For tickets and more information: *9964 and https://spherafestival.com/