Living for the story

Levin Areddy clearly has an ax or two to grind with life, the universe and the rest of the existential shebang.

JERUSALEMITE singer-songwriter Hadara Levin Areddy is always working on a new creation, spinning out her life story, her loves and losses, hopes and darker moments as she makes (photo credit: HILA OZ)
JERUSALEMITE singer-songwriter Hadara Levin Areddy is always working on a new creation, spinning out her life story, her loves and losses, hopes and darker moments as she makes
(photo credit: HILA OZ)
The first thing you note about Hadara Levin Areddy is her eyes. They seem to be constantly on the move, furtively seeking, as it were, the next line in a song or a poem. You could add, possibly, a new chapter to a book, or even her career path. The patently energized Jerusalemite singer-songwriter is always at it, always scripting some new creation, spinning out her life story, her loves and losses, hopes and darker moments as she makes her way through life.
Over the past decade and a half, Levin Areddy has maintained a pretty busy performance schedule – penning poetry and prose, writing articles and making documentaries. A look at her bio can leave one a little breathless, and there appears to be plenty more where that lot came from. Next up for the pianist-vocalist is a gig at Jerusalem’s Nocturno performance space, on November 21 (doors open 8:30 p.m.).
This is Levin Areddy’s debut show at Nocturno and, thus, the relatively new Jerusalem venue, at 7 Bezalel Street – the café has been around for over 20 years, but the live entertainment side of the business began around a year and a half ago – joins the impressive list of Levin Areddy’s concert locations in Israel and abroad.
The Nocturno website dubs Levin Areddy “the pioneer of the indie scene in Israel.” While bragging rights in that department are probably up for grabs, Levin Areddy has certainly been at the forefront of the genre ever since she first took the stage, 17 years ago. She was already nearer 40 than 30, but that also meant she had accrued a fair bit of living, which she naturally brought to her writing and performing fray.
It is one thing to have lived a life, and quite another to have the ability, and guts, to get it out there in a coherent manner, to paint your story in no-frills shades, while keeping your au-dience suitably engaged and, yes, entertained. The kudos that has flown Levin Areddy’s way since 2000 has included such generous epithets as “a cultural bulldozer,” “Israel’s best singer- songwriter and blues artist” and “a courageous and uncompromising musician, a rare talent with superb self-humor.”
“I just released my 15th album,” comes the quick-fire reply when I inquire what she is up to these days. Really, “only” her 15th? “Wait, maybe you’re right,” she says, taking my intended quip seriously. Hey, we’re talking about music here, and Levin Areddy is serious about her chosen profession.
“I released a mini-album and an album, the album in English and the EP is in Hebrew. Maybe there are more.” The former is Love in the Wrong Times, and the mini-album is called Hadiber Hapnimi (“The Inner Commandment”).
Dedication to her craft notwithstanding, Levin Areddy says she follows a go-with-the-flow ethos.
“I didn’t plan it this way, that the two albums should come out together.” That, she says, is not down to the constant stream of ideas that bubble incessantly to the surface. She attributes it to the current state of the music consumer market.
“For years I have been saying that the era of the album is over.”
What about the renaissance of vinyl releases? Surely, it can’t have escaped her attention that LPs are now being purchased, and manufactured, by the millions. According to the Nielsen SoundScan information and sales tracking system, the mid- 2017 album charts revealed that vinyl album sales have continued to grow, up 2% from 6.22 million to 6.36 million in the US in the first six months of the year. Levin Areddy shrugs that statistic off as being irrelevant to the facts on the ground here.
“If you’re, say, Justin Bieber and you put out an album on vinyl you’ll make money, but if you’re a musician from Tel Aviv you’re going to lose money. That would obviously just be about the gimmick value. I deal with reality, not fantasy.”
For someone with a sober head on her shoulders, Levin Areddy made an irrational career choice at the not so tender age of 37. She had been making ends meet as a documentary filmmaker, teacher and journalist for some years, after returning to Jerusalem from New York following a largely fruitful seven-year sojourn there. While in the Big Apple she completed an honors degree in Film and TV at New York University and became a single mom. She also made her first feature film there.
In 2000, she set off on the long and still winding road to commercial musicianship, with more than a decent grounding in piano playing and putting her thoughts and feelings into words, but not much else. She began performing her own material on piano and vocals, at all manner of venue up and down the country. A year later she released her debut album This Is a True Story/The Rough Cut, which put down the marker for a seemingly bottomless wellspring of lyrical musings about life, love and the universe.
Levin Areddy is a proud Jerusalemite. Unlike the vast majority of her Jerusalem-born co-professionals, she would not even consider the possibility of relocating down to the western end of Route 1.
“Hey! I’m an eighth-generation Jerusalemite!” she exclaims with a palpable sense of fierce pride. She is also a proud Israeli. After all, she could have stayed in New York and plied her craft in a far bigger market of consumers who would, no doubt, have been more amenable to her output. Even so, for the vast majority of her scored penmanship she has drawn on her proficiency in English.
While Levin Areddy has been busy accumulating her expanding oeuvre and proffering the fruits of her soul searching to faithful audiences, quite a few Israeli pop and rock musicians have opted to create and deliver works in the genres’ original language. While her lyrics provide incontestable evidence of full mastery of English, she is no quasi-Americanized sabra. Her Hebrew is free-flowing and devoid of slang or lazy expressions. Her eloquence was there in black and white in her journalistic efforts, as it is in conversation and in her Hebrew songs. Many of her numbers, in either language, are dark, with wistful observations about the vagaries of romance – which come across as being well-learned lessons of firsthand encounters – but there is an underlying comedic content in there, too.
Levin Areddy clearly has an ax or two to grind with life, the universe and the rest of the existential shebang. But it is not all doom and gloom and hankering after opportunities lost. There is some tongue-in-cheek seasoning in there, too, and she exudes a sense of a finely tuned fusion of emotion and intellect.
“I always say it’s all a matter of proportions. If you are all air and no flesh, or all flesh and no playfulness, you can’t just be in the light stuff, in the spirit, or only grounded. It’s about financial proportions, too. I would never play the rock star. That’s not me.”
Many would argue that you have to shake things up a little if you want to make a move in some direction, take a step of faith – that it is fundamental to the creative process. Plentiful output notwithstanding, Levin Areddy opts for a different tack.
“I don’t believe in having to step outside your comfort zone,” she declares. “I take it one song at a time. The era of the album may be over, but I still believe in music.”
If she never ventures outside her comfort zone, she must feel pretty well at ease across expansive life domains.
“Yes, it looks like I live right outside my comfort zone, but my comfort zone is very large and liberal,” she laughs.
She certainly is a dab hand at verbal expression in both languages. Her Hebrew tome Rage Against the Eclipse, which came out in 2014, tells the story of a down-at-heel aging rock star who battles the ravages of time and embarks on a homosexual love affair that is obviously doomed from the get go. There is not too much in the way of sunny passages in the book but, against all odds, the end comes with more than a hint of a beacon at the end of the long tunnel.
Levin Areddy has taken her fair share of knocks over the years, but there is a steely resolve to the diminutively proportioned writer-singer songwriter. She seems to be made of sterner stuff, and is well equipped to roll with the punches and come up smelling of roses. Self-deprecation features in the Levin Areddy life survival kit, as is succinctly conveyed in one of the works in her lengthily and explicitly titled poetry tome Till Next in Hell: Comedy on the Edge of an Abyss. The poem is called “Nafalti Labor” (“I Fell into the Pit”) which, roughly translated, reads thus: “This winter I fell into a sewage pit. I pushed out my elbows in time and leant on them, suspended between heaven and the nether regions, and I pulled myself out of the pit. And I didn’t know whether to laugh. I thought to myself, look at me, I’ve started falling into pits.”
That open-eyed, not overly optimistic but never quite desperate ethos comes across in many of her songs, too. Her keyboardside delivery is polished, yet not overly so. It is highly personal, but not unduly confessional, and is tailored – possibly unwittingly – to draw the members of her audience into her world, which could just as well be theirs. Talking about her latest releases, Levin Areddy observes that she feels a duty to get her thoughts and feelings out there.
“I always have the feeling that I live to tell the story, and that the story enables me to live.”
Presumably at a low point in her life, in 2008 she put out an album with the none-too-optimistic title of Alone Is Alone Is Alone. The title tracks closes thus: “No one cares anymore, once a star once a whore; no one covers your song. No one’s rolling a stone. Get it into your head, baby, alone is alone is alone!” Was that an exercise in scraping the bottom of the emotional barrel, or was it just an astute observation borne of a lifetime of living?
For more information about the Nocturno show: (077) 700-8510 and