Oud player, vocalist Uriah Haroush showcases debut album at Yellow Submarine

He grew up in a religious Moroccan home in Dimona, before eventually settling with his wife and two small children in Moshav Bet Zayit in the nether regions of the Jerusalem Forest.

 OUD PLAYER and vocalist Uriah Haroush. (photo credit: YANAI YAACOV LIEN)
OUD PLAYER and vocalist Uriah Haroush.
(photo credit: YANAI YAACOV LIEN)

Uriah Haroush has been there and done that. OK, so at the still relatively young age of 30, the oud player and vocalist is only just past the first quarter of the biblically allotted full stretch on terra firma, but he does seem to have accumulated some pretty impactful life experiences thus far.

That should be apparent when he unfurls numbers from his debut album, Bega`agu`ay (In My Longing), at The Yellow Submarine, under the auspices of Confederation House, on Wednesday, doors open 8:30 p.m. and the show starts 9 p.m.

One’s first visual impression of Haroush tends towards the image of a religiously observant young man who appears to be infusing his, possibly, orthodox upbringing with some personal nuance and tweaking. For starters, his head covering is a little in the New Agey department, rather than the common or garden kippah.

That line of thought is not too far off the mark. “I returned to the religious community at some point,” he says. “I grew up in a religious home, but I wasn’t religious. I’d go to the synagogue and all that, but really becoming religious came at a later point. I didn’t feel comfortable wearing a regular kippah. I couldn’t do that.” What he could, and did, do was imbibe a heady stew of musical influences, from day one.

That Haroush is not exactly your pigeonhole-compatible type of guy was becoming rapidly apparent. That also applies to his musical references.

Guitar illustrative (credit: NEEDPIX.COM)Guitar illustrative (credit: NEEDPIX.COM)

He grew up in a religious Moroccan home in Dimona, before eventually settling with his wife and two small children in Moshav Bet Zayit in the nether regions of the Jerusalem Forest. The name of the southern development town, for the majority of Israelis who live in the central region, may conjure up ill-informed, nay patronizing, images of a dusty shanty town, far off the geographic and cultural beaten path. In a way that is spot on but, as Haroush notes, paradoxically it is the former than also offsets the latter. “More than anything I listened to my parents’ blues records when I was kid,” he recalls. Those textures and colors are palpable right across Bega`agu`ay. “[Late blues guitarist-vocalist] Stevie Ray Vaughan was my hero.”

That wasn’t the sum total of the parental imprint on the youngster’s evolving musical consciousness. “My father was always singing piyutim in the synagogue,” Haroush adds. “That filtered into my subconscious, but it wasn’t part of my practical musical world. When I played music. I played the guitar and I played what guitarists played. But that [liturgical material] found its way into my mind through the back door.”

There were other musical guiding lights around close to hand. “I have three brothers and we all play music,” Haroush notes. He was keen to join in with the bigger boys. “I loved to sing and I’d mess around on their instruments when I could.”

He had plenty to feed off and he saved some classroom time in the process. “My brothers went to the music conservatory to study, but I taught myself,” he says.

Naturally, the autodidact route involved lending an ear or two to some of the greats, embracing and initially plagiarizing a broad hinterland of styles, sounds and intent. Jimi Hendrix was one of the titans who came into the young Haroush’s burgeoning artistic orbit, as did Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin. “I’d play Hendrix licks a thousand times until I felt I got it right. Right from the start I wanted to get his sound right.”

It wasn’t just about blues-seasoned rock, there is plenty of Andalusian musical spirit in there too. Haroush’s bio to date features quite a few confluences with the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra – Ashdod. The genre incorporates Jewish, Arabic, North African, Arabic, Spanish and other influences. That figures.

HAROUSH’S YOUTHFUL musical mindfulness wended its way into Black American tracts. “I, of course, loved Stevie Wonder, too. I still love his music. I relate to his music the way I relate to Bach.”

You get a taste of that on Sharav on the new album. There is a gospel feel to the backing vocals which Haroush attributes to the input of record producer Udi Turjeman. That is also a salute to the cultural sensibilities that underscore the work of Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and the whole host of rock musicians who came under the influence of British blues revivalist Alexis Korner.

Haroush, like all artists with an eye and ear on the bigger picture, absorbs sounds from all over the place. “After I played blues and that sort of thing on guitar I started getting into Arabic music, Indian music.” He had a much-loved helping hand there. “My older brother [acclaimed musician] Yagel opened me up to those things.” Yagel also introduced his younger sibling to the real deal. “When I was 15 he took me into his groups. Suddenly I was playing with professional musicians.” It was a winner all round for the teenager. “I learned so much from that and I began to earn money from playing music.”

After following his own learning curve for a few years he decided it was time to get into the formal musical fold, and get down and dirty with the basics, and benefit from the expertise, accrued knowledge and street level wisdom of some of his more senior colleagues.

Typically, he cast his study net far and wide. “I did a BA in Eastern music, on oud, at the Jerusalem Academy [of Music and Dance]. And after I’d been deep into Eastern music for around 7-8 years, I decided to go as far as I could away from that. I did an MA in improvised contemporary music, jazz and all that.”

There he came under the spell of veteran avant garde jazz saxophonist Albert Beger, who gave him a nudge in the desired recording direction. “When I played something for Albert, the very first time, he said I must have played jazz and blues before. He told me I needed to make an album. He said I wasn’t an Arabic music player, that I was both [Arabic and blues].”

And so Bega`agu`ay eventually came to be. Intriguingly, the Haroush trio features double bass player Dror Tubul along with percussionist Hillel Amsalem. “I am a frustrated double bass player. We all are,” Haroush laughs. “I got to the oud in my search for the sound of the double bass. When I compose I start from the bass part.”

The Yellow Submarine sonic offering will be augmented by keyboardist and qanoun player Sarel Hacohen, with stellar violinist Elad Levi guesting. The show also offers an opportunity for Haroush to reconnect with his childhood roots, with guitarist-vocalist Akiva Turjeman joining in the fun. “Akiva and I were neighbors in Dimona,” Haroush explains. “We played music together as kids. We went on hikes and trips. We hitchhiked a lot around the country. Akiva’s father is my rabbi.”

The show repertoire takes in some of Turjeman’s material, too, along with the multifaceted cultural baggage that continues to inform Haroush’s musical growth.

Haroush’s incipient discography is due to be complemented by a different avenue of expression in the coming year or so, with an electric oud-based project currently brewing. All of which makes for an intriguing prospect over at The Yellow Submarine this week.

For tickets and more information:

*6226 and http://tickets.bimot.co.il,(02) 679-4040 and https://yellowsubmarine.org.il/,(02) 539-9360 ext. 5 and http://www.confederationhouse.org.