Digging for gold

The Tor Hazahav festival in Ashdod presents stellar performers from all Israeli musical genres

(photo credit: DANIEL KAMINSKI)
The Tor Hazahav (Golden Age) Festival will take place at the Cultural Compound in Ashdod, April 21 to 24, for the seventh year running.
Since its inception, the event has presented the public with the crème de la crème of local artistic endeavor, across a range of cultures, creative idioms and languages. This year’s program features the likes of Boaz Sharabi, Dikla, Idan Amedi, Ziv Yehezkel and Shimon Buskilla, all stellar performers from the Mizrahi-leaning side of the musical tracks, with veteran crooner Oshik Levy, long running pop-rock band Ethnix  and seasoned folk-pop singer Dorit Reuveni also in the mix. Add to that a couple of imports, reggae-influenced dBlackLion from France and top Moroccan chanteuse Sanaa Marahati, and you have yourself one well-balanced, richly-textured festival spread.
Mor Karbasi seems to incorporate almost all the above spheres, and then some. The 32-year-old Jerusalem-born singer has been there and done that, in her relatively short time on terra firma thus far, putting out four albums in double quick time. That is besides bringing up a couple of young offspring.
Karbasi says she will probably surprise her Ashdod audience, even though her repertoire will be based on Ladino songs, a discipline which is generally considered pretty familiar territory for many of the festival’s regular patrons.
“I will bring lesser-known songs,” she states. “Ladino speakers, mostly, don’t know the things I will perform there.”
This is not a blatant attempt to challenge or, God forbid, snub the festivalgoers. It is just a matter of going with the personal flow.
“I sing things I connect with,” explains Karbasi. That applies to a number of levels. “I need to connect with them emotionally, in terms of the musical and textual content. In terms of my musical world, the things in which I believe, and the things I want to relate through my music.”
Even so, Ladino songs were not always uppermost in Karbasi’s musical consciousness. It took some mining through the rich familial cultural seam to get there, along with an evolving interest in wider sonic domains.
“I came to this as a teenager, but not just that. I started getting into world music,” she notes.
In fact, the latter was fired by a very different musical line of thought.
“I became interested in world music when someone gave me a CD of fado,” she says, referencing the wistful Portuguese genre. “It was a disc by [leading Portuguese fado group] Madredeus.” 
The youngster’s cultural hinterland was also enhanced by genetic baggage.
“My mother comes from Moroccan roots and she would play world music at home.”
But it was the fado encounter that set Karbasi’s exploratory juicing running.
“I began to look at flamenco music, fado and jazz. I also sang in a pop group for a while. I’d listen to tapes of all sorts of vocalists, from the past, from all sorts of styles and cultures. I’d press play and rewind, again and again, for hours on end, until I heard something that really something to me.”
All of which, eventually, helped to lead Karbasi back up the long and winding road to where she is today _ digging enthusiastically through deep multistratified Ladino musical heritage – that is, with a gentle maternal shove in the desired direction. 
“My mother suggested I sing Ladino.”
The mom in question is Shoshana Karbasi, who just happens to be an acclaimed poet and writer of children’s books.
One of the tests of a singer’s ability to convey the sentiment behind their vocal delivery is to perform in a language that is totally unintelligible to the audience and still get the patrons to enjoy the entertainment on offer. Karbasi passed that particular trial with flying colors, while sojourning in London with her British-born husband.
“I’d go to open mic nights at pubs around London and I’d sing in Ladino,” she recalls.
It is hard to imagine London pub goers getting into Judeo-Spanish cultural vibes.
“You could hear a pin drop when I sang,” says Karbasi. “As far as I was concerned, I’d done my bit.”
Karbasi is still doing her eclectic thing, delighting audiences with her cherry-picked repertoire designed to entertain and surprise.
For tickets and more information about the Tor Hazahav Festival: https://www.torhazahav.co.il/