Midwestern rock with a Haifa soul

Bat-Or Kalo left Israel to develop her sound in New York, Oklahoma and Mississippi but is back to play a show in Tel Aviv.

BAT-OR KALO with drummer Mike Alexander and bassist Mack McKinney (photo credit: JACK MILLS)
BAT-OR KALO with drummer Mike Alexander and bassist Mack McKinney
(photo credit: JACK MILLS)
It’s been at least a decade since Bat- Or Kalo took to a stage in her native Israel. But on Wednesday night, the singer, songwriter and guitarist will play a show in Tel Aviv launching her third album, Wild Change.
Kalo, the granddaughter of famed Israeli author and poet Shlomo Kalo, grew up in Haifa, but felt like there was no place for her on the local music scene.
“I was very attracted to gospel and blues and rock and roll and everything,” she told The Jerusalem Post last week. But as she came of age, she said, the music in Israel was “shifting from the ’90s being kind of rock and roll toward all that Mizrahi movement... I couldn’t find a place for me.”
So after completing her IDF service and beginning her studies at the Hed College of Music in Tel Aviv, Kalo jumped at an opportunity to be an exchange student at Oklahoma City University.
“I said hell yeah, I’m jumping on this adventure!” she recalled. But Haifa to Oklahoma City was certainly a culture shock for Kalo.
“It was pretty funny... people are really shy and quiet, they’re really kind and smiling at you and saying hi in every corner.” She said that when she first arrived at the university, they explained the concept of personal space and keeping your distance from strangers.
When she finished her studies, Kalo went back to Israel – but not for long.
Her next destination was New York, to try to make her name as a musician.
“It took me a minute to understand that I want more than just another year in the United States to learn what I want to learn and see what I want to see,” she said. “I needed to learn more about myself as an artist... it was hard for me so I just decided to go on my own journey.”
The young musician also wanted to escape from the name recognition of her famous family.
“I was always being recognized as ‘the grandchild of’ and all that,” she said. “And so it was a bit of a journey for me to be enjoy being seen for who I am.”
And while Kalo found New York very educational, it was “not really what I was meant to do.” So she headed back to the Midwest, to burnish her blues and soul bonafides. There she built her band KALO, with drummer Mike Alexander and bassist Mack McKinney, who produce sultry, guitar- driven rock with a soulful undertone.
After her 2009 solo album Flesh & Bones, KALO produced the 2013 album Dear John. Now they’re releasing Wild Change, and continuing on their rock and roll journey.
Kalo was convinced by a friend to launch the new album with a show in Tel Aviv, despite her hesitation.
While she loves her home country, she always felt the music scene here left her no room to be herself. But she never cut ties with Israel, and always comes back to visit family and friends.
“It’s a back and forth thing, always back and forth, because my family is here and my passion is there,” she said. As much as she misses home, “it was really hard for me to maintain [my career] here and be exposed to what I wanted to be exposed to.”
So she will take the stage in Tel Aviv this week, with a healthy dose of trepidation alongside her excitement.
“It’s home, you know,” she said.
“I’m trying not to be a perfectionist, I’m trying really hard to not try too hard, to bring the music, the good of the music, and not think about anything else and just enjoy it.”
Bat-Or Kalo will be performing at the Ozen Bar in Tel Aviv at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night. For tickets visit ozenbar.com.