Southbound sounds

The Tzlilim Bamidbar Festival returns to Sde Boker.

THE JAMAYA GANG are sure to put a beaming smile on everybody’s face (photo credit: VLADA KATZMAN)
THE JAMAYA GANG are sure to put a beaming smile on everybody’s face
(photo credit: VLADA KATZMAN)
Perhaps it is the wide-open spaces of the desert around Kibbutz Sde Boker, down in the Negev. But it is far more likely that it is the accommodating mindset of composer pianist and conductor Michael Wolpe that spawned the variegated line-up of this year’s Tzlilim Bamidbar (Sounds in the Desert) Festival, which will take place December 5 to 8.
This will be the 21st edition of the event, and all, under Wolpe’s steady and well-informed guidance have offered the public just as broad a musical spectrum as one could expect to see, and hear, within a single festival framework. Next week’s lineup features, for instance, classical or classically-oriented spots, such as the “Seventy Years of Israeli Music” and “How He Sings” concerts. The former, a free concert scheduled for December 5 at 8 p.m., includes the Ra’anana Symphonette orchestra, the Ramat Negev Singers and the Sirenot choral ensemble. That will be followed at 10 p.m. by the “How He Sings” program of songs penned by veteran singer-songwriter Danny Robas, performed by the Meitar Ensemble chamber music troupe. Megastar singer/songwriter Aviv Gefen is also in the Sde Boker mix, as are Hemi Rodner, Efrat Gosh and a number of aspiring local artists.
As is his wont, Wolpe has cooked up a veritable potpourri of sounds, styles and energy levels that take in plenty of contemporary upbeat fare, with one such show due to close proceedings on December 8. One of the headliners of the whole four-dayer is a star-studded synergy between veteran pop-folkie Hava Alberstein and renowned singer songwriter Shlomi Shaban. The 8:30 p.m. slot is sure to be sold out but, just in case, you miss out on that one you might want to hang around for the next free entry show, when the Jamaya gang hit the stage and ramp up the decibels and calorie output with a slew of ethnically laced sun-drenched numbers that are sure to put a beaming smile on everybody’s face and get them ahoofin’ and agroovin’.
It all started for Jamaya around five years ago, when logistics and serendipity intervened. It was an underground venture from the outset, at least in the physical topographical sense.
“We began in 2013, when we shared a rehearsal space in a bomb shelter in Petah Tikva,” recalls Tamir Hillel, who plays bouzouki and guitar. “We started from scratch there. We got a studio together and it became a sort of second home for all of us.”
The other members of the crew include singer-guitarist Tal Araya and oud player and electric guitarist Naor Elyahu and the threesome forms the backbone of the outfit. But the band often performs in a sextet format.
The subterranean gathering parties hit it off immediately, musically and personally, and the chemistry remained intact as they each took different paths to learning their craft and finding their singular mode of musical expression. The regular get-togethers also produced the collective moniker.
“I went to Rimon [School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon] and our keyboardist too,” Hillel continues. “A whole bunch of people from there too used to come to the shelter and we’d have jam sessions on Friday evenings. That’s where we got the name for the group. You know, jam – Jamaya,” Hillel laughs.
Hillel started out on guitar but eventually added bouzouki.
“I really liked the sound of the bouzouki and I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to grow musically, and the sound really opened my ears up, and opened up new directions for me.” 
The rest of the band members are happy to follow suit.
“We are always looking to add new instruments. I’m sure we’ll do that in the future, too.”
That can also include non-acoustic gear too, and an eclectic approach.
“I use electronic [drum] pads in our shows. We like to fuse authenticity with the east and the west, new and old. We really connect with that – roots and the sound of 2018-19.”
As far as Hillel is concerned one plus one makes at least three.
“When we mix things up, the music takes on a new color. Sometimes we do more acoustic shows, with more bouzouki, and then we do more electronic material. It’s a nice evolution that does everyone good.”
That said, and broad sonic range notwithstanding, Hillel says the group remains anchored. We keep to a uniform line. We can play a bit of reggae, and bit of Yemenite material, Moroccan music and Israeli pop, but we are still true to ourselves, and who we are as people and as artists.”
For tickets and more information: (08) 656-4115 and