The next big breakthrough?

With the int'l release of his album, Israeli-born artist 'Yoav' could become a household name.

Yoav Saban (photo credit: )
Yoav Saban
(photo credit: )
They're beginning to dot the international pop charts with increasing frequency. Those artists with names that have that Israeli ring: Keren Ann, Yael Naim. Yup, you think the first time you hear them, those folks might have some Israeli heritage in them. Then you hear the name Yoav, and there's no question - this guy must be Israeli. And you'll likely be hearing his name all the time soon, as Charmed & Strange, the aptly titled debut album by the 25-year-old Israel-born, South African raised singer songwriter, is making waves throughout the world. "The record's doing really well around the Arctic Circle - places like Moscow and Denmark," laughs Yoav during a late morning phone conversation with The Jerusalem Post from his apartment in London where he's having a rare few days off from touring. Charmed & Strange is actually attracting notice in far larger circles. The San Francisco Chronicle calls it "a mindboggling premiere," and other reviews have likened Yoav's blend of acoustic guitar and electronica beats and loops as a combination of Beck, Bjork and Jeff Buckley. A 2007 stint as the opening act for Tori Amos, and a recent headlining tour in Canada and England have upped the Yoav buzz, and with a showcase next month at the influential Coachello festival in California, he's tentatively bracing for the inevitable lifestyle changes that are part and parcel with pop success. "For the last few months things have really been accelerating. I think beginning last year, when I opened up some shows for Tori Amos is when things started kicking into high gear," he said in a soft-spoken manner that hinted at a South African accent funneled through New York and Tel Aviv. When you look at his background, the international flavor of his vocals is not difficult to understand. Yoav Saban was the youngest child born to a father who immigrated from Romania in 1949 and a mother originally from the US who had been previously married to an Israeli. "They left Israel when I was three and we moved to Cape Town. I'm the only member of my family who doesn't speak Hebrew well," he said, adding that the family would return to Israel annually while he was growing up to visit family. He credits his parents with sparking his interest in music, albeit through a rather strict education. "My mother was an opera singer, and we always had music playing in the house, but pop music was not allowed. I only heard pop music from the neighborhood kids. The first music I was allowed to buy were things like The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel, because they were considered 'quality' pop," he said. "Then I worked my way through my first rebellion and discovered rock music and clubs. The lyrics really spoke to me at a time when I was just starting to learn to write for myself. The music of groups like Pink Floyd and The Cure had a way of speaking directly to me, something I hadn't felt before," he added. HIS INITIAL break came when he obtained a development deal with Columbia/Sony in New York six years ago at age 19. It led to a dead end when his main backer left the company, but he said the experience in New York helped mold his future musical path. "At that time I was a standard singer songwriter and hadn't developed my own sound - there were no elements of hip hop or trip hop," he said. Frequenting the NYC clubs and being exposed to hip hop, African and Indian rhythms, Yoav began experimenting with loops and using his guitar for percussion effects, perfecting the technique while performing impromptu shows in Central Park. "It explains why the kind of pop music I make is strange," laughed Yoav. He returned to South Africa and began incorporating the new musical elements into demos which he began sending around. Two years ago, a producer in England heard some songs and Yoav scored an audition. "He told me 'this is unique, but I really don't know what to do with it.' But eventually they said they wanted to make a record," said Yoav. The result - Charmed & Strange - is full of songs infused with dance and trance elements, performed by a singer-songwriter with his acoustic guitar. "I made the entire record myself - live in the studio. I use tape loops and mikes in my guitar to create different effects. The sound is actually bigger live than on the record, and I think people really connect to it in concert. I like to think my live show is somewhere between a singer-songwriter, a band and a DJ," he said. Local fans will get to hear what all the fuss when the album's released in Israel on April 9th, and Yoav puts a lot of weight into the reaction his former countrymen will give the album. "Israel as a whole has a reputation in international music circles as a tastemaker - a place where people discover new music first. "My management team also manages Radiohead and they told me the story of how in the early 1990s, Army Radio broke the band by playing their debut when it had bombed everywhere else," he said. Yoav's affinity for Israel is also reflected in the most basic of examples - his name. Non-Israelis will likely be stymied the first time they come across the moniker. "Most people have never heard of my name before, unless they're Israeli. People have called it everything from 'Yoove' to 'Yove' - they call it everything. We even did a YouTube clip explaining how to pronounce it," he said. "I decided to use a single name because Yoav is kind of a tough name, and I didn't want to throw anything else into the mix like Saban. But it's like Bjork, once people learn how to say it, it's easy."