Reworking hit records can be a dicey business. On the one hand you want to pay tribute to the original, and are probably sensitive to the fact that a lot of people may be pretty protective of the first-time renditions. Then again, there is not much point expending time, energy and probably quite a few dineros just to end up with a similarly sounding bottom line.
Rea Mochiach says there is little danger of that eventuality occurring when he and a veritable roll call of A-lister rockers join forces on the stage of the YMCA Auditorium in Jerusalem on June 19 (9:30 p.m.), as part of this year’s Israel Festival.
“It is not a copy-paste job,” he declares.
That is patently evident after listening to Mochiach’s contemporary recordings of the Ehud Banai and The Refugees album, which came out in 1987.
It was something of a landmark release for the local rock industry, loaded with political commentary relating to such burning issues as Arab-Jewish relations and the lot of the country’s Ethiopian community. There is a plaintive, fresh quality to Banai’s debut record which got many of us to sit up and take note, both of the music and the textual content.
Now, over three decades on, Mochiach has called on some of the leading rockers of the local scene, quite a few of whom have worked with him in the past, to rearrange the Banai material and to present it at the YMCA, on the closing day of the Israel Festival.
The initiative for the new reading was provided by Haim Shemesh, who produced the Banai effort. The Mochiach release goes by the name of Egel Hazahav (The Golden Calf), which references one of the tracks on the Banai record, and features stellar rockers Berry Sakharof, Corinne Alal, Eran Tzur, Efrat Ben Tzur and Kfir Ben Layish, with Banai also putting in an appearance.
The latter was clearly happy to go along with whatever Mochiach came up with. “He told me he didn’t need to know what I was going to do with his songs, and said I should get on with it.”
That’s just what the celebrated 49-year-old New York-based musician, arranger and record producer did.
Of course, Israel was a very different place, politically and socially, back in 1987. The First Intifada broke out in November of that year, the mass influx of Soviet Jewry had yet to occur, and Yitzhak Shamir was the prime minister. But Mochiach wasn’t into doing the nostalgia trip. He wanted to bring the Banai creation into the here and now. Then again, he did employ some yesteryear technology from those times for the recordings, as will be the case at the YMCA on Saturday evening.
Mochiach was determined to have his say on the Banai album and to play it out in his own singular style.
“Ehud’s record is very band-oriented,” he notes. “You know, it is called Ehud Banai and The Refugees. But I do the opposite on this record.”
As such, Mochiach’s partners in creative redux will take the stage in turn. “This isn’t a reworking of Ehud’s album per se. It is, in fact, a record I made. There is a big difference between the two.”
Indeed there is. Mochiach has adopted a very distinctive approach to the source sonics, taking the delivery into very different tracts of vocal and instrumental delivery. Gone, for example, is the standout surge of energy of Banai’s refrain on “Ir Miklat” (City of Refuge), with Tzur rolling out a more restrained enunciation.
There is a haunting element to the new working, and you get the sense of the loaded baggage each of the artists brings to the fray. The darkness is there in plain view, with the unpolished vocals underscored by electronic sounds that seem to come straight out of the eighties.
“I use vintage electronic instruments, without programming,” Mochiach explains. “It is mostly manual.”
That raw approach also carries over to the more traditional instruments, such as electric guitars, the artists will use on the YMCA stage.
“There will be no precise tuning of the instruments,” says the producer, whose varied recording and performing bio, which began when he was in his early teens, also takes in free improv, gypsy punk and rock. “We won’t use a computerized tuner. It will be like a rock & roll aesthetic.”
That, for Mochiach, is a refreshing blast from the past. “That’s the way they once played music. The parts were simple and, you know, when you play live, different things can happen. It is not all watertight. There is something wonderfully fresh about it all.”
Despite serving as chief cook and bottle washer of the recorded, and live, shebangs, Mochiach says he will endeavor to leave things as loose as possible.
And when you go for a light grasp of the tiller, it helps to have some tried and trusted pals around you. Sakharof and Mochiach have been working together, in the recording studio and on stage, for nigh on three decades, and the producer has chalked up plenty of collaborative hours with Tzur and the rest as well.
Egel Hazahav came out earlier this year, with Shemesh, at the time, praising Mochiach for taking the new album “to a new, more extreme, place, telling a different and more dramatic story.”
Shemesh also referenced the “sparks of hope and anger” generated by the protracted freeze on the country’s cultural sector during the pandemic, which, he said, prompted him to opt for Mochiach to head the revamp outing.
In an interview to the Ynet news website, Shemesh called Mochiach “a revolutionary, one of the deepest and edgiest musicians of Israeli culture in general, and Israeli music in particular.” Coming from the man who steered such an iconic record back in the day, that is high praise indeed.
All Mochiach has to do now is to make good on that resounding vote of confidence in front of the YMCA audience on Saturday.
For tickets and more information: https://www.israel-festival.org