Music across the waves

Pop radio show host Yoav Kutner features in Ashdod’s Poetican Festival, a tribute to the sea.

Hatzuk Beach, Netanya, by Orit Siman Tov, from ‘The Last Sea – Israeli Art and the Sea’ exhibition. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hatzuk Beach, Netanya, by Orit Siman Tov, from ‘The Last Sea – Israeli Art and the Sea’ exhibition.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Many moons ago, Ringo Starr – probably the most melodically challenged of the Fab Four – sang about how much he’d like to be “under the sea, in an octopus’s garden in the shade.”
Perhaps, as inhabitants of the UK, it was perfectly natural for The Beatles to sing about the bodies of water around them – but the sea is a pretty prominent feature of life in this part of the world, too.
Although a Jerusalemite by birth, Yoav Kutner is a longtime resident of Tel Aviv, and has a strong personal bond with the White City’s seafront. That sentiment will fuel his slot at the forthcoming Poetican Festival, taking place at the Ashdod Art Museum on June 9.
The one-dayer offers the public a multifaceted glimpse of the sea, with a star-studded evening program boasting a host of big names from across a wide range of artistic disciplines. This includes the likes of world-renowned author Amos Oz and a slew of top musical acts such as Yahli Sobol, Daniel Solomon and Eran Tzur, with filmmaker and lecturer Avner Faingulernt also in the mix, as is preeminent rock and pop radio show host and walking-and-talking commercial music encyclopedia Kutner.
The pretext for the evening is the “The Last Sea – Israeli Art and the Sea” exhibition, which is currently up and running at the museum. The show focuses on the way the Mediterranean Sea appears in contemporary Israeli art, while referencing the history of local art.
Kutner isn’t exactly the surfboarding or hardy swimmer type, preferring to get his marine kicks from a safer, drier distance.
“I’m not a fan of getting into the water, or getting sand stuck between my toes,” he confesses. “But I do like to take a stroll along the waterfront, alone or with my wife. The sea, for me, is more about the beach and looking out at the water and the horizon.”
That far-off interface between the waves and the blue of the sky, of course, has provided writers and artists of practically every ilk with a source of inspiration across the millennia, and Kutner will use his “It’s Always the Sea” (Tamid Zeh Hayam) presentation to enlighten us about the place of the sea in Israeli pop and rock music over the years.
The title of his berth in the evening’s proceedings comes from the song of the same name that appears on Muscat, the last album recorded by Arik Einstein and Shalom Hanoch. For Kutner, it is one of the definitive Israeli pop works in terms of aquatic evocation. Einstein’s words portray a picture of his beloved Tel Aviv with its constant physical – and certainly emotional and spiritual – backdrop of the sea.
“When you live in Tel Aviv, you may not see the sea the whole time, but you are always aware it is there,” says Kutner.
“It is like the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
You don’t see that the whole time either, but it is there, as a symbol, all the time.
“‘Tamid Zeh Hayam’ is one of the most beautiful songs in the world,” he declares, before launching into an impromptu – albeit off-key – rendition of “Zemer Ahava Layam,” Love Song to the Sea, by highly successful 1960s group Hatarnegolim.
“The sea has a central role in Israeli culture,” Kutner notes. “The sea, over the years, has been something we have always longed for. Historically, we have been surrounded on all sides by enemies, except for the western shoreline.”
This time, Kutner turns to one of his personal favorites – late troubadour Meir Ariel – for another relevant marine mention.
He cites lines from Ariel’s number “Shlal Sharav” – Heatwave Booty – in which Ariel repeats the phrase “with your back to the sea.”
Does it then follow that the sea features in Israeli music predominantly in its escapism guise, or is there a more romantic side to it? Kutner feels it is a bit of both.
The sea has always offered a way out of here, to see other places in the world, but there is also a sense of mystery.
Kutner’s personal preference for the terra firma part of the seafront naturally leads him in the direction of songs that describe the shore side of the Mediterranean.
“There is, for example, a song called ‘Migdalor’ (Lighthouse), sung by Shoshana Damari. That is a wonderful song, and there are quite a few where that one came from.”
One such reference comes from a surprising source. “My favorite Hebrew song about the sea of all time is ‘Halicha Lekesariya’ (The Walk to Caesarea); it is a supplication. I think it should be our national anthem,” asserts Kutner. The lyrics by Hannah Szenes – the Hungarian-born Jewish underground fighter who was parachuted into Hungary during World War II in an effort to save some of the country’s Jews, but was then captured, tortured and executed – have become immortal, as sung to the stirring score by David Zehavi.
The two-stanza song includes the words “the sand and the sea, the swish of the water” twice. In that context, Kutner notes that the Mediterranean has not only always offered an exit from here, but was also the route Holocaust survivors took to get the Promised Land.
Of course, Israel has changed almost out of recognition since independence and the early years of the state. Back then, there was no TV, relatively few entertainment enterprises – and even less spare income to spend – so the beach was the place to go. So does it follow that the plethora of other ways to spend our free time has impacted on the frequency with which the sea features in Hebrew pop songs? Kutner thinks that may be the case.
“I hear fewer songs about the sea these days,” he notes. “Twenty or so years ago, Danny Sanderson sang about surfing the waves and that sort of thing, but there’s less of that now.”
This, muses Kutner, may also be down to the change in generational mindset.
“I think, in general, artists sing less about nature and that sort of thing, and more about themselves.”
The Poetican program kicks off with a tour of the “The Last Sea – Israeli Art and the Sea” exhibition, followed by a reading by Amos Oz from his book, The Same Sea, and then a choice of items.
For tickets and more information: (08) 854-5180/1/2, (08) 956-87111 or