Singer-songwriter Erez Lev Ari brings cultured offerings to Klezmer Festival

Lev Ari performed alongside Nathan Goshen, Tislam and Idan Haviv.

 BALLADEER EREZ Lev Ari. (photo credit: GUY PRIVES)
(photo credit: GUY PRIVES)

Some of us, possibly most of us, may still be in a hurry to make up for lost lockdown time and get back to routine. After all, isn’t that what our politicians suggested would happen if we all followed the government’s Green Badge guidelines? Then again, there are people who take a more gentle approach to eking out their path through life. Erez Lev Ari certainly pertains to those who prefer to consider their options and not rush in where proverbial angels fear to tread.

The 51-year-old singer-songwriter is one of the star attractions on the roster of this year’s Klezmer Festival, which takes place in its regular berth of Safed from August 9-11. He will bring his measured ethos to the 35th edition of the festival and a welter of balladic material from across the stretch of his career to date to the stage.

As usual, there is more than klezmer music on offer across the three-day program, with the likes of the harmonica-centric Adler Trio, singer-songwriter Nathan Goshen, rock-soul-Jewish music singer Akiva, pop singer Idan Haviv, veteran rockers Tislam and the all-female Arabic music Makamat Ensemble, also scheduled to perform up north next week.

In pure professional biographical terms, the accent for Lev Ari has always been very much on getting stuff out there as and when he is sure the time is ripe. If nothing else, the fact that it took him until the age of 37 to release his debut record as a solo artist tells the story in succinct fashion. I asked him why he waited so long. “I didn’t wait,” he sets me right. “It’s just that the songs started to pour out of me when I could say with confidence: ‘look, here’s a song.’”

It was, he says, a matter of being absolutely certain he was delivering the goods from an honest and heartfelt place. “There were all sorts of songs [he wrote] before that. But suddenly, songs began to emerge that I could present in public. That happened only when I was 30.”

That, he posits, may have been the result of a significant milestone in his life. “It may be symbolic or not, but that happened when I met Hadas, my wife. My heart opened up. The songs really only started to come out when I started to write songs, when I was 32 or 33.”

The relatively late start to saying and singing his piece as a frontman, Lev Ari notes, was compounded by industry logistics. “The whole process of a contract, a record company, mixes, you know, working on the whole thing, that took a few years, too. So the debut album only came out when I was 37.” He had a little competition in the procrastination stakes. “You know back then people talked about how it took [ethnically-inclined rock megastar] Ehud Banai until the age of 34 to release his first album. I did that three years after him,” Lev Ari laughs.

The advancing age conundrum is a constant in Lev Ari’s life and, he says, impacts both ways on the way he goes about his creative pursuit and the way he relates to the march of time. “When I look back today, you know, when you are 25 years old, you put all your life into a project. You put all your eggs in one basket. It is the be all and end all. You desperately want it to succeed. You have different considerations. When you are 37 – I was already a father then – you are in a sort of state of mind whereby you release songs, but I wasn’t going to kill myself if it didn’t go well. That wasn’t my whole life.”


He says it still isn’t his whole life. “I have a family, a wife and kids. If it succeeds that’s great, but that [professional success] isn’t everything for me. I have to be sure about what I have to say in my music, to be sure if I have something to say at all.”

“I have a family, a wife and kids. If it succeeds that’s great, but that [professional success] isn’t everything for me. I have to be sure about what I have to say in my music, to be sure if I have something to say at all.”

Erez Lev Ari

THAT CAME across as surprising, but also a wholesome approach to the music industry treadmill. And professed laid-back philosophy notwithstanding, Lev Ari is getting on with the business. While his discography, as a solo artist, may not be exactly bulging at the seams, he is in the midst of the gestation of a new album. A couple of singles from the forthcoming disc are now out and about, with “Yehidatee” (My Only One) the latest forschpeis ahead of the full-blown record release.

In keeping with his go-with-the-flow line, Lev Ari says the latter will probably happen “sometime in the next six months or so.”

Lev Ari’s seeming take-it-or-leave-it mindset should not be misconstrued as indifference. The man is passionate about his music and lyrics, puts his heart, soul, nimble fingers and vocal chords into his work. He says he got into music in early childhood when he saw popular Greek singer-guitarist Aris San on his grandma’s black and white TV in Kiryat Ata. “I saw him with his Gibson electric guitar. I was hypnotized by that. That’s the reason why I wanted to play the guitar.”

Years later, he got to salute San when he put out Ha’Oreach (The Guest), his latest album to date, in 2018. The usual guitarist Who’s Who suspects also came into the youngster’s sphere of inspiration, including Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour and Jimmy Page. As far as Lev Ari is concerned, the Led Zeppelin man has always been the best of the bunch. “Jimmy Page is simply a magician,” he says. “There is something bewitching about him.”

That is not an epithet that necessarily springs to mind when listening to Lev Ari’s output, but there is definitely something stirring about his music. You feel it comes from a genuine wellspring of emotions. “When I was 37, my songs were more about getting closer to religion and to Judaism,” he observes. “All of that was new for me back then, so my first record [Simchat Haprattim Haktanim – The Joy of the Finer Details] engaged in that.”

Life goes on alongside the music making stuff. “I had kids, a family, so my second album [Argaman – Crimson, which came out in 2010] had songs that were more about that. Then the third album [2016 release, Ketamim Shel Tarbut – Patches of Culture], which came out when I was 46, was more about the past, my childhood home and neighborhood, the smells and sights of those years.”

As he is about to turn 52, a few days after the Klezmer Festival, Lev Ari continues to look around him at the multitude of facets that comprise his life for inspiration. He says he is maturing and is now able to take a step back from events, which at one time would have been flashpoints that led to emotional turmoil. “Yehidatee” is a current case in point. The lyrics open with: “Everything passes. I can hardly remember what it was all about and what led up to it.”

Lev Ari may not yet have achieved complete inner tranquility but, like the rest of us, he seems to be getting there.

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