The best time to visit the beautiful Negev is in the winter and spring, when the desert is pleasant and inviting.In addition to all of the area’s natural wonders, there is an outstanding magical musical event that happens every December during Hanukka. The location is Kibbutz Sde Boker, famous as David Ben-Gurion’s homestead. To him and many others, Sde Boker and its challenge to make the desert flourish are the essence of Zionism.As a kind of test for us Israelis, if we can succeed here, then we can defeat every other challenge.More humble in his ambitions is Michael Volpe, a well-known musician and composer, who set for himself and his small kibbutz a target – a national music festival, four to five days long, with the best music that the State of Israel can offer.Tzlilim Bamidbar is not a regular festival just for entertaining fans or commercial profit. This festival is rooted in education, volunteering and providing a top-quality stage for talented musicians at the beginning of their careers or at innovative crossroads. No less important is shedding a bit of light on the outlying areas away from the popular Center and away from the crowds. As a matter of fact, there is no festival like this one anywhere else in Israel.Over the last 18 years, the festival has showcased more than 1,000 shows, around 500 established performers (among them many well-known artists) and, of no less importance to the festival, 500 emerging artists (singers, composers, conductors, musicians) who are able to showcase their talents as building blocks for their future careers.
Beduin sounds of the desert (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)This little kibbutz in Ramat Hanegev holds a warm spot in the hearts of these new musicians, and they are clearly grateful for the opportunity to share their best material on return visits during subsequent festivals.As the musical director for the festival, Volpe pushes the limits in the combination of different Israeli music.The music must be of high quality and innovative. It is not unusual to have seemingly contradictory styles of music side by side on the same stage, such as a joint rock performance and classical orchestra, or a typically Eastern-style singer such as Margalit Tzanani singing traditional songs of the kibbutz movement. It has been this element of carefully crafted risk-taking that has contributed to the success of this unique festival.
Eastern-style singer Margalit Tzanani, also known as Margol (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM)The well-connected Volpe has endeavored to build a viable and fascinating cooperation with the participating artists, and they have learned to trust his experiments. Producer Eitan Peer is always on the move, trying to solve every little problem before it occurs and ensuring that the festival flows as smoothly as possible. The kibbutz basketball hall is turned into the main venue with 500 seats. The central shows are paid performances (reasonably priced at NIS 50 to NIS 90), but a big part of the festival is open to the public free of charge and takes place in the nearby festival plaza big tent.There is a loyal crowd hooked on the festival who keep coming back every Hanukka, among them locals from the South and others from the rest of the country.Many of the kibbutz members join in the effort and volunteer their time to the festival.The artists enjoy the show and seem happy to participate.This year’s lineup included Hemi Rodner, Alon Olearchik, Shlomi Shaban, Shem-Tov Levi, Yair Dalal and Margol. The Andalusian Orchestra of Ashdod (conducted by Volpe) and many other talented ensembles came together in the Negev for a few magical nights of music. For families there are two morning performances geared toward children.
Vered Dekel (photo credit: ITSIK MAROM).Tzlilim Bamidbar continues to be a blessing to the Negev and one that will hopefully continue to innovate and entertain for many years. Unfortunately, the festival is challenged each year by shrinking financial support. A truly Israeli, high-quality event such as this, which promotes important values such as education, volunteering, activity in the outlying areas and support to young musicians, should get more financial support from national institutions. With a little more financial backing and the imagination of Volpe and company, the sky is the limit. The sounds of the desert festival will continue to overcome the sounds of the winter desert winds at least for a few days each year during the Festival of Lights. It would seem that the spirit of Ben-Gurion, who lived in a modest home just 200 meters away, remains alive in Sde Boker.