ARNOLD AND Yehi play together on the Blaze stage.  (photo credit: TRACEY SHIPLEY)
ARNOLD AND Yehi play together on the Blaze stage. (photo credit: TRACEY SHIPLEY)
Jerusalem's Blaze bar roars back to life

“Have you heard? Blaze bar is closing!”

Blaze, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of experiencing this very unusual, special bar, was founded by Yehi Zaken who himself had a metal rock band in need of a performance venue. This was almost 13 years ago when veteran nightspots Mike’s Place and The Syndrome both closed and he was at a loss as to what to do.

At the same time, he managed Old Friend, a local bar that ended up closing as well. Hearing about a billiard’s bar in the Rasko passage across from the Dublin bar, which had closed, as well, Yehi decided to dive in and take over.

He and a group of friends worked night and day to fix up the bar, and it was open within a month, attracting bands from all over the country wanting to perform, and drawing in audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Though Blaze had a reputation as a metal bar, it actually hosted bands and musicians of all music types, from rock, to jazz and blues, and even Hassidic music. Every night there was something musical going on, from concerts, to jams and open mic nights. Everyone was welcomed with open arms. Blaze became much more than a music bar, it was a second home to hundreds of music lovers from all over Jerusalem and even the country.

Continuing the story, in 2020, as the pandemic swept the world, Blaze almost joined the list of business casualties. At that time, a crowdfunding campaign was opened to save Blaze, almost against Yehi’s will. For those of you who know Yehi, the man is great at giving, yet not so good at accepting help. The campaign succeeded in keeping Blaze afloat for two more years until Yehi’s announcement this past May spread like wildfire. Due to corona and terrorist attacks plaguing Jerusalem, once again Blaze has no choice but to shutter its doors.

 A BUSINESS meeting and brews: Arnold and Ben. (credit: TRACEY SHIPLEY) A BUSINESS meeting and brews: Arnold and Ben. (credit: TRACEY SHIPLEY)

Seeing the Facebook post announcing Blaze’s pending closure, Arnold “Arik” Nesis, who had known Yehi for years as a young musician and regular at Blaze called his business partner Ben Shmuelof, who was also a Blaze regular, saying, “Ben, did you see Yehi’s post?” Answering Arnold almost simultaneously Ben said “Yes! Lets help and keep the Blaze open.”

"Lets help and keep the Blaze open"

As founders and owners of the gaming company Capricia, which makes music-based games, they were excited about saving their second home. They called Yehi and offered to pay off his debt and cover his expenses for the following year. They agreed to meet, where, as Arnold puts it, they held the weirdest negotiation he had ever experienced. Yehi would not take money for free but only if they took over ownership of the bar and insisted that they change everything from the name to the venue to make it profitable again.

Arnold and Ben would not have it. Blaze is Blaze and will remain the same as it always was, except for some exciting changes. It will become a music and gaming bar. On the walls and tables, you will see gaming and music art painted by hand, while the music playing in Blaze will remain the same. There will be gaming tournaments, developer meetups and other related activities, in addition to nightly live music.

A little about this dynamic duo who showed up to save the day: Arnold began playing guitar at the age of 14 and by his 17th birthday, formed his first progressive rock/metal band by the name of Capricia.

AFTER THE army, Arnold attended the Rimon Music School, studying music composition for film. He wanted to focus on concept albums, which was the emergence of his interest in composing music for video games. After graduating, Arnold reformed his old band Capricia and they put out their first album Fooled By The Hush and had their first serious show at the well known Barby venue in Tel Aviv, in front of a sold-out audience. Wanting to perform in Jerusalem and not succeeding in finding a venue that would accept a metal band, he was referred to Yehi, the owner of Blaze bar. He ended up becoming a regular at Blaze and even formed a band with Yehi. At the same time, Arnold ran a municipal music center in Jerusalem for teens. He approached Yehi about holding teen music festivals at Blaze and, as usual, was greeted with “Sure, why not?”

At that point, Arnold and his band began working on their second album, when they questioned why? Wanting to do something out of the box and working also as a game composer, Arnold had the idea of making a music album as a video game. Excited about the concept, Arnold jumped in head first and began calling Venture Capital firms.

Here, Arnold stops the interview and shares that musicians have three advantages over everyone else when taking risks. One is they don’t care so much about the outcome. Two, they are used to getting “No’s” and three, they are used to running a team (a band) for no money. And so Arnold and Ben, who joined the project, pursued their idea of making music based video games, which, in essence, were like interactive video clips.

Capricia, the band, became Capricia, the gaming studio. This is when Ben Shmuelof came into the picture. Not only was Ben involved in the music world but he was a video editor, who also taught teens at the Rene Cassin High School. He was a part of several creative communities’ movements in Jerusalem, including the How Much Sugar group, which took over Histadrut Street downtown, creating underground festivals, such as beach parties, where they actually brought in tons of sand, dumping it on the street, getting inflatable pools, and playing music for families and students in downtown Jerusalem.

Years later, Ben approached Arnold about creating sound and music videos for Guache, Ben’s other venture. Ben soon became a game designer and a game producer, and joined Capricia as a partner.

Next, they began to look for famous musicians to play Arnold’s music compositions created for the project. With persistence and connections, they managed to contact the lead guitarist of Within Temptation, who himself was a gamer and convinced him to play on the album/game Of Bird and Cage that they were working on. Once he got his first famous musician, it was much easier to find more and the project ended up being recorded by members of bands like (ex)Guns N’ Roses, Epica, (ex)Evanescence, Asking Alexandria and many others.

With a complete attractive package to market, Capricia began attending international gaming conferences, promoting their game and concept of metal/rock-based music games. With the investment of two Polish companies, they received millions, allowing them to release their first game Of Bird and Cage. A year ago – seven years later - the game was released.

Capricia soon began touring the world, performing their game compositions with symphonic orchestras and choirs, along with the well known musicians involved, while the game was being projected in the background to audiences of thousands. Capricia is now the largest indie game studio in Israel, and the company has grown to include 20 artists and developers

Blaze’s grand opening will take place on Monday, August 1 at 9 p.m. It will feature the internationally famous Subterranean Masquerade band and lots of other exciting surprises. With three of the most creative men this town has ever known banding together to recreate an incredible music venue the possibilities are endless. For more information about the opening event see Blaze’s Facebook page. Hope to see you there! ❖

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