Arbateinu quartet brings a whiff of good old Israel to Yamei Zemer Festival

Fans of Ariel, Krauss, Artzi and Hanoch should get their money’s worth over in Holon on April 18 and then some.

 THE ARBATEINU quartet will perform the songbook of Shmulik Krauss, Meir Ariel, Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Hanoch. (photo credit: Seli Ben Arie)
THE ARBATEINU quartet will perform the songbook of Shmulik Krauss, Meir Ariel, Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Hanoch.
(photo credit: Seli Ben Arie)

There’s nothing like a dose of nostalgia to warm the cockles and send us back to better and simpler times. While the accuracy of memories may be questionable, there is no escaping the fact that for the older crowd, the sounds we heard in our youth conjure up happy memories and simple make us feel good.

That has been a recurring theme of the Yamei Zemer Festival which traditionally takes place at the Holon Theater over the Passover vacation. This year’s installment, the first full program for two years, takes in a broad sweep of source material and as usual, some of the biggest names in the Israeli pop-folk sector will strut their stuff at the theater April 18-20.

There are quite a few iconic performers in there, including the likes of diva Esther Ofarim and fellow octogenarian Yehoram Gaon, with Yoni Rechter, Sassi Keshet and Uzi Fuchs one generational rung down the local music community ladder. The younger crowd also get a shout, with Ester Rada, Keren Hadar and Miri Messika.

You could also place Adi Lavy at the more junior end of the festival age group. She joins forces with Reut Yehudai, Inbal Avnaim and Noa Vax at 7:30 p.m. on the first day of the festival, as part of the Arbateinu quartet. Together, they will put their own considered spin on popular and less well known numbers written and performed by four of the titans of the Israeli Songbook, the late Shmulik Krauss and Meir Ariel, and the still very much with us Shlomo Artzi and Shalom Hanoch.

It is, says Lavy, a natural fit. “First of all, we looked for artists we greatly admire.” Fair enough. “We had a sort of brainstorming session with the four of us to think about the songs we grew up on, and the lyrics and music we like.”

Guitar illustrative (credit: NEEDPIX.COM)Guitar illustrative (credit: NEEDPIX.COM)

There was something of a left field factor in the program choice. “We were all excited about the idea of four women singing the music of four men.” 

This had little to do with political correctness and/or gender checks and balances. This is more about infusing the base material with their own sensibilities and experience, and complementing the subject matter written by the aforementioned stellar gents with something from their own lives. 

“We connect strongly with their lyrics and we naturally augment the music we perform with things we talk about that relate to our place as women in the world, motherhood, our relationships and so on. We offer the woman’s angle to the music and words.”

It goes without saying that artists necessarily bring themselves, not just their musicianship and technical expertise, to their live work. Lavy says she and the other members of Arbateinu very much bring that to the table with the current project. “We are four women with our stories and challenges and joys we have had so far.” Lavy, for example, went through a painful divorce and two of the band members became mothers during the group’s lifetime.

Lavy has three offspring herself, with her younger daughter making an entrance on the cusp of a previous appearance at Yamei Zemer. “When we performed at the festival seven years ago, that was only two weeks after I gave birth. My pregnancy took place in parallel with the gestation of Arbateinu,” she laughs. “The baby was our first audience.”

Fans of Ariel, Krauss, Artzi and Hanoch should get their money’s worth over in Holon on April 18 and then some. While the original numbers will clearly be visible and audible Arbateinu takes the core charts and runs with them. Actually, we are very spoiled,” Lavy chuckles. “Reut Yehudai does most of the arrangements for us. She prepares everything and we practice our parts at home, so when we get together we can get straight down to playing the music. We do some arrangements together but we always bring ourselves, our added value, to the shows.”

Some of the makeover endeavor involves combining a couple of songs, often created by different writers. “We do, for example, a mash up of [Ariel’s] “Yaldatee Shelee” (a.k.a. Sdot Goldberg) and “Kach Lecha Isha Uvneh La Bayit” (by Hanoch). I think that works quite well.”

Lavy feels the gender crossover sits well with all concerned. 

“When men wrote, they wrote for us, for women. So, when I hear those songs, it seems right for women to perform them.” 

There is often a subtext to be had too. “I am powerfully attracted to songs with insight and lessons drawn from life, like “Bagilgul Hazeh” (This Time Round) by Shalom Hanoch, “Tetaaru Lachem” (Just Imagine) by Shlomo Artzi or [Hanoch number] “Holech Neged Haruach” (Into the Wind). All those songs suggest some kind of summary of an observation of life. That fills my heart. That’s what we all looked for in the songs. That’s the place.” 

There is also a seductive escapism element on offer. “There are the major hits and there are also lyrics which, for a brief moment, take us away from the minutiae of daily life and allow us a perspective of hope – some hope within all the complexities of life.” That sounds like just what the post-pandemic doctor ordered.

I wondered whether there was a sliver of educational intent in the Arbateinu purview, in the best non-dogmatic sense. Are Lavy and her pals looking to introduce some of the younger generation to the magic of the Israeli pop-folk classics? “I don’t know if that is part of our agenda,” she says. “I can say that it is important for us to work with the music of these four giants, who are still very relevant to contemporary life. It wasn’t premeditated, but I can see we are happy to offer these older songs a new lease of life, through our arrangements and presentation. There is a lot of value and significance to that.”

Elsewhere across the three dayer in Holon there are a slew of tributes to some of the doyens of the Israeli music community, including 90 year old songwriter Moni Marilio and septuagenarian composer and lyricist Talma Alyagon-Rose, and several who have moved on to celestial musical climes David Zehavi, Lior Yeini and the recently departed celebrated poet and lyricist Yoram Taharlev.

There’s plenty to wrap our ears and heart around at the Yamei Zemer festival.

For tickets and more information, visit: (03) 502-3001 and https://zemer-festival.co.il.