Israeli klezmer, Balkan, Gypsy band Gute Gute expands beyond weddings

Amitai Mann sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss being one of the most sought-after wedding bands in Israel.

GUTE GUTE: We were the guys who played for friends and for the holidays (photo credit: KATERINA SAVINA AND DANIEL ELIOR)
GUTE GUTE: We were the guys who played for friends and for the holidays
Trying to pin down the sound of one of Israel’s most sought-after wedding bands is like trying to catch a fly with a pair of chopsticks; it’s ostensibly possible but practically impossible. One is left with the feeling that it’s better to let Gute Gute just fly. Begun by friends and musicians, Aviv Kest and Amitai Mann, 10 years ago, the band has gone through several permutations of members, but the band’s heart has remained strong and steady. Gute Gute consists now of Aviv Kest on guitar, bouzouki and vocals; Amitai Mann on clarinet, gaida and vocal; Yanush Hurwitz on accordion and synthesizer; Meidad Cohen on electric bass; and Meir Yaniger on drums. You can catch them at their upcoming show at Nocturno Live in Jerusalem on January 5 and Faruk BaShuk in Tel Aviv on January 22. Mann sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss being one of the most sought-after wedding bands in Israel, recording their second album, and the pull of klezmer music.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Jerusalem. I started playing music from the time I was young; I played piano and then around nine years old, I played the clarinet. I even played the violin for a bit. I grew up with music all my life. I was writing songs and playing klezmer tunes ever since I can remember. Neither of my parents are professional musicians, but music was always in the house, especially klezmer and sacred niggunim. I was very attracted to these forms of expression.
It’s amazing to have found what you love so early on. You still play the clarinet, right?
My main instruments are clarinet, flutes and saxophone, but I still compose with the piano. I also play the gaida, which is a Bulgarian bagpipe. It’s a very primitive instrument.
How did you and Aviv meet and come to form Gute Gute?
We met in a mechina program before the army on an urban kibbutz in Jerusalem, where we were working with at-risk youth. We were studying and volunteering in the community. We started playing music together at some community events; klezmer and Balkan tunes. From here to there, people came to hear us play. They danced and sang with us.
It sounds like you could feel that people were responding to the two of you playing together right away.
Yes, we were the guys who played for friends and for the holidays. When we went to the army, we served together in the Golani unit. After we finished the army in 2015, we established Gute Gute with another friend of ours who is a bass player, who’s no longer in the band. Even after not playing for three years, we had an audience that still recognized us. People came to hear us. Ever since then, we’ve played together. One day, a good friend of ours asked us to play at his wedding. We said okay, and started to rehearse to become a wedding band. We were joined by an accordion player, a violin player and a drummer. Since then, the wedding gigs started to come. All of our friends who were getting married started to ask us to play at their weddings. From wedding to wedding, we became a very meteoric wedding band. We combined regular wedding music with our own touch and ecstatic energy, as well as Balkan tunes and gypsy and klezmer music. At that time, there were no other wedding bands that were combining these genres together on stage. We were being asked to play weddings all the time. When I was a student at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance studying clarinet, this was my job. Playing weddings was how I earned money. We probably played 100 every year.
That’s incredible to play 100 weddings a year!
Yeah, it is. It’s a huge experience being on stage with all the people dancing. We feed off the energy of the simcha and put out our energy.
So how did the band get its name?
I don’t have a very good answer for this question. One day, we got an invitation to play somewhere. This was before we started the army. We went to this restaurant to play and the people asked us what was the name of our band. I just said “Gute Gute.”
Do you speak Yiddish?
Just a little bit. My grandparents spoke Yiddish, so I absorbed a little from them. My grandfather’s family was from Hungary, but he was born and lived in Mea She’arim. My grandmother was from Transylvania and was a Holocaust survivor. In my house, Yiddish was spoken and sung all the time.
Does Aviv also have a connection to klezmer music and to Yiddish?
Actually no, he grew up on a kibbutz near Gaza. His father made aliyah from the Ukraine when he was young, so I don’t think the family spoke Russian or Yiddish. When we met, klezmer music was new for him. Gute Gute is really a mix of our different inspirations.
When did Gute Gute decide to transition out of being only a wedding band and into something new?
In October 2017, we released an album. We had one album from the very beginning before the army from someone who recorded one of our concerts and made a CD, but you almost can not find it now. There were maybe 500 copies made. It spread out all over the world. People told us they found it in South America and in Nepal. But because we were in the army, we didn’t really know whatever happened with that CD. Maybe this is one of the reasons why we were able to not play for three years while we were in the army, and our music continued on.
Once we started playing weddings, we had a lot of our own songs and we recorded our music. So when we released our self-titled album last October, it represented a lot of years. The album is the culmination of our vast musical inspirations and combines instrumental compositions with songs with lyrics. It’s not a commercial album; it’s very artistic. We did it because we wanted to record and express ourselves. We have a huge repertoire so we didn’t put all of it on this album. We worked hard on it. We always write all together because we are all songwriters and composers. When one of us brings a new song or a new melody, we meet and we play it together. We meet every week to play together in a historic house where Aviv lives. We get together, eat, and play.
Now you’re working on a new album?
Yeah. This new one is much more accessible to a larger audience, to everybody. It’s still niche music, but the sound is much more accessible. It’s more mainstream. It still has a mix of instrumentals and songs with lyrics. The inspiration and the melodies are Mediterranean, Balkan, Eastern European, and Israeli. They represent traveling. We love to travel individually and together. You can hear that in the music.
For more information on Gute Gute and upcoming shows, visit: