Young Israelis of the year: Asaf Avidan, 29: Welcome to pop stratosphere

Asaf Avidan, 29 Welcome

These are indeed the days of reckoning for Asaf Avidan and the Mojos - The Reckoning being the name of the 2008 album that has opened the gates of stardom for the 29-year-old singer/songwriter and his spunky band, and has placed them in a position to potentially become the first Israeli contemporary artists to break out beyond our cozy borders big time. Sure, Ofra Haza achieved some mainstream US success in the 1990s, but was generally lumped with the "world music" crowd. And Ahinoam Nini and Idan Raichel can pack in audiences around the world, but many of the attendees are Jewish or expat Israelis. But last month's announcement that Sony Columbia had signed Avidan and the Mojos to a four-album record contract, including the European release of The Reckoning in November, has raised expectations that the band's charismatic, strikingly passionate blues and folk-based rock will catapult an Israeli act into the pop stratosphere. "This is the sort of music that draws its influences from the smoking joints of the 70s and the anarchic attitude of punk rock. And if Jeff Buckley was still with us, he would most likely join them live on stage," said Willy Ehmann, the senior vice president of Sony Germany who was responsible for the signing. The people exercising the most caution, however, are Avidan and the Mojos - Ran Nir on bass, Yoni Sheleg on drums, Roi Peled on lead guitar and Hadas Kleinman on cello. "This is a dream come true for five kids from Jerusalem who grew up with great faith and love for music, and it's almost impossible to comprehend this honor. [But] it is important to emphasize that this is but another stepping stone in the band's ever-building path - we have a long way to go," the band said in a statement. Comanager Avisar Savir was even blunter, telling a music seminar in Tel Aviv in earlier this month that "nothing has changed. If anything, the band now has to work even harder." Hard work is nothing new for Avidan, who writes and records in English, a talent picked up from a youth spent in Jamaica with his parents, who were career diplomats. Where he picked up his musical ability - or his singing voice which has been compared to Janis Joplin and Buckley - is another matter. But it's impossible to listen to The Reckoning or experience one of the band's shows without the impression that you've had the privilege of hearing a young Van Morrison or Bruce Springsteen just as they're coming into their prime. The fact that Avidan and the Mojos signed with Sony, the home of Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, makes perfect cosmic sense. Dividing their time between Germany, where they've built up a strong following over the last year, and Israel, Avidan and the Mojos have recorded another album, Poor Boy/Lucky Man, which is being released here this month, well ahead of its international release. And next month's homecoming, their first tour here since the cementing of their international status, will see the band graduating from the clubs to concert venues like the Jerusalem Theater (October 17) and the Shuni Amphitheater in Binyamina (October 10). Whether this will prove to be the peak of the band's trajectory, or a way station on their journey to international stardom, it would be wise to catch their show and buy their CD now. In the future we may only be able to see them on TV collecting a Grammy award. And if they do reach that pinnacle, the colors on the TV screen will surely be ablaze in blue and white.