Rolling back the years

Arad Festival reaches 36th anniversary with The Parvarim.

THE PARVARIM have been entertaining audiences up and down the country for 58 years (photo credit: AMI VARDI)
THE PARVARIM have been entertaining audiences up and down the country for 58 years
(photo credit: AMI VARDI)
The Rolling Stones may still be eschewing moss gathering, but The Parvarim beat them for longevity. The Israeli duo – albeit with an intermittently changing cast – has been entertaining audiences up and down the country for a full 58 years, two more than the evergreen iconic British rock outfit has been strutting its stuff across planet Earth.
Now 78, Iraqi-born vocalist-guitarist Yossi Khouri has been the mainstay of the twosome since its inception in 1960, when he was all of 20 years old. Khouri is still there doing his thing, and will display his nimble fingerwork and still mellifluous vocals at this year’s 36th edition of the Arad Festival (August 19-23), with his younger partner in musical arms, Hagai Rehavia, on August 21 (6:30 p.m.).
The Parvarim started out with Khouri and sidekick Nissim Menachem, with Khouri responsible for arranging a multifarious repertoire of numbers with lyrics by some of the country’s preeminent songsmiths, including Yoram Tahar-Lev, Naomi Shemer, Ehud Manor and Nahum Heiman. After 17 years of sterling recording and live work, Menachem opted for a religious lifestyle and turned his back on the showbiz arena. He was replaced by Uri Harpaz, with whom Khouri enjoyed a highly successful 38-year liaison.
After such a long and settled professional relationship, Khouri had his work cut out for him to find a new musical sparring partner. “At first, I didn’t really know what to do,” he admits. After close to four decades of plying his craft with the same artist, that is hardly surprising. The Internet soon came to Khouri’s rescue. “I started looking for someone new, for Parvarim 3, and I went to YouTube, to look for guitarists and vocalists,” he says. “The first one who suited me was Hagai.”
Once found, Khouri got right down to brass tacks. “I called him and he couldn’t believe I was asking him to join The Parvarim,” says Khouri. “He came over to my place the very next day, and we started work straightaway. Hagai had been a fan of The Parvarim for a long time.”
Age difference notwithstanding, Khouri and Rehavia – Khouri’s junior by almost three decades – the two shared a common musical preference. “We both, mostly, love South American music,” Khouri says.
Rehavia is a seasoned and much-respected performer, and recording artist, in his own right. He established the Brazil-leaning Tucan Trio, along with flutist Amir Milstein and Brazilian-born percussionist Joca Perpignan, in 1998 and has collaborated with many of the country’s leading pop performers who share his penchant for Latin sounds, such as Matti Caspi and Shlomo Gronich. He has also performed in Brazil, with top local artists.
Both Rehavia and Khouri first encountered South American music at a young age. It was love at first earful. But, while Rehavia was born and bred in Israel, at a time when access to music from different cultural climes was relatively easy, Khouri was born in Baghdad which, at the time, was controlled by British forces. The presence of the foreign power led to the infant Khouri’s musical epiphany. “There was a British commander called Captain Josephs who used to come to our house almost every evening,” Khouri recalls. It must be said that youngster had already begun displaying some nascent artistic leanings. “He liked us. He was Jewish and he found a sort of home away from home with us. He’d hear me singing to myself and, for my fourth birthday, he gave me a record player and some records.” The discs included music from all over the world. “I liked the South American records the best. There were guitars and vocals, which I liked a lot,” says Khouri. “That started it all off for me.”
The birthday gift was not just a means of providing aural entertainment. “We had parties at our house every played, and we played all kinds of records and danced to the music,” he continues. “My mother taught me to dance all kinds of styles – tango, rumba and waltzes. The record player gave me so much pleasure, and I could hear all that music.”
Khouri made aliyah with his family at the age of 11 and maintained his musical path here. “I heard a lot of the same music here, in Israel, but I also liked Shoshana Damari, Yaffa Yarkoni, Shimshon Bar-Noy and all sorts of other singers who put out hits. That was new for me, but I carried on with the world music.”
Things got a little more serious by his late teens, when Khouri employed some slightly nefarious tactics to finally get his hand on a guitar. “I went into the army and, when we finished our basic training, we had a party and my parents came,” he recalls. “I told my mother I was coming home to get a guitar. I said that if I didn’t return to the army with a guitar I’d be punished. She got me a cheap model, but I didn’t care. I had a guitar.”
Suitably enthused, Khouri got right down to working out the mysteries of music making with six strings, but lacked the basic theoretical know-how. “I fumbled around with the guitar for a while until, one day, a friend of friend showed me some chords. I was amazed. That really helped me progress. I basically played by ear.”
Khouri soon met Menachem, who was also into South American music, and they landed their first gig. It was something of an inauspicious start to their performing career, but it was a start to their professional learning curve. “We played at a folk-dancing school somewhere in Tel Aviv. I can’t remember which one. We didn’t know how to dress for the show, so we got some suits – my father ordered them from a tailor – and wore a shirt and tie.” Khouri and Menachem soon realized that was a bit of an overkill. And the technical side of the debut showing wasn’t too nifty either. “We had one microphone, for both of us – for two mouths and two guitars. There we were, sweating in our suits and the kids in the audience sat on the floor in short pants,” Khouri laughs. “We made 31 lirot from the gig. Nissim and I went to a café, to work out how we could develop a career in music, with 31 lirot.” Almost six decades on, clearly that was money well spent. Together with Menachem, and subsequently Harpaz, the Parvarim have produced some timeless chestnuts, including enchanting readings of “Tziporim Nodedot” (Migrating Birds), “Matok Hatapuah” (The Apple Is Sweet) and “Erev Shel Shoshanim” (An Evening of Roses).
Now well into his golden-age years, Khouri maintains a busy performance schedule through the year, and his vocal delivery remains untainted by the passing of the years. He and Rehavia have found a common musical language, and the Parvarim’s trademark close harmony style is still in robust health. That, says Khouri, is as much down to good old elbow grease and natural talent. “We rehearse a lot. The Parvarim have always done that. And I like working with Hagai. The pair have been together now for three years. “He suits me and he is a wonderful guitarist. I am responsible for the arrangements, but Hagai has a lot of freedom to do his own thing too.”
Khouri is delighted to be back at the Arad Festival too. “I last played there around 15 years ago. I like the audiences there. They are all ages, from 30 to my age and older, and they listen to us. I like creating an atmosphere of intimacy at our shows. That has always suited The Parvarim.” Mind you, the cozy ambiance comes with its challenges too. “People like to sing along with us,” says Khouri. “That’s great, but we also like to present our arrangements of the songs, and sometimes it’s a bit hard to hear them when people join in. Still, I suppose it’s a nice problem to have.”
The Arad Festival lineup also has plenty of stellar pop and rock acts, including Mosh Ben Ari, Gali Atari, Hadag Nahash, Shiri Maimon and Chava Alberstein.
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