PULKES WENDS ITS merry way around the byways of the pastoral fringes of Jerusalem. (photo credit: Vadim Mechona)
PULKES WENDS ITS merry way around the byways of the pastoral fringes of Jerusalem. (photo credit: Vadim Mechona)
Jerusalem's Ein Kerem Festival returns

If you’re looking to drum up some alluring ambiance for a cultural event, it makes sense to arrange it in a setting that is evocative, aesthetically pleasing and welcoming. All three attributes, and a couple more, can be had in Jerusalem’s picturesque Ein Kerem neighborhood with its quaint old houses, church spires, cozy eateries, alleyways, tree-laden hill slopes and even a spring or two.

That compelling milieu will be on offer and fully utilized, when the latest edition of the Ein Kerem Festival kicks into gear on October 12 under the guidance of artistic director Rachel Raz. As usual, the three-day event, which has been around for nigh on 40 years, encompasses a broad variety of musical entertainment and other items, along with enlightening talks, intimate encounters with local artists and residents, enticing vittles and outdoors activities, and a slot or two to keep the kids amused and thoroughly engaged. And, by the way, entry to all the festival events is on the house.

Getting off to an energized and welcoming start

Raz could not have gotten the program off to a more energized and welcoming start than the Pulkes septet as the instrument-toting gang wends its merry way around the byways of the pastoral fringes of Jerusalem. The group has been around for four years and, by all accounts, seems to have made decent headway on the local and international scenes. 

For starters, the group’s name suggests a European Jewish line of thought, and a jocular take on life in general. “We play music from Eastern Europe,” explains drummer Tuval Haim, “but, basically, we play folk music.” Therein lies a bit of titular synonymity. “You know ‘folk’ sounds like ‘pulkes,’” Haim chuckles. 

 Join the festivities at the Ein Kerem Festival this year. (credit: Natasha Shakhnes) Join the festivities at the Ein Kerem Festival this year. (credit: Natasha Shakhnes)

There are extraneous interpretations too. “Sometimes, when we play abroad, for audiences that don’t know Hebrew, they think that maybe Pulkes means we play punk music.”

“Sometimes, when we play abroad, for audiences that don’t know Hebrew, they think that maybe Pulkes means we play punk music.”

Tuval Haim

Actually, that isn’t too far from the truth, at least in terms of the way the band performs, if not the actual material it puts out. That may be partly down to one of the main influences on all the members. “We all studied with Eyal Talmudi at the School of Music and Silence,” notes Haim, referencing the adventurous educational institution which, sadly, is now defunct. 

Their teacher is one of the most energetic flamboyant and mesmerizing artists on a scene that takes in ethnic music, jazz, rock-inflected sounds and rhythms and, yes, even some in the punk vein. “Besides the purely musical side, we absorbed something from his personality, his stage presence and sound,” Haim adds. That can’t be bad for entertaining business.

The Pulkes gig offerings flow every which way, and Haim and his pals allow themselves plenty of room for stylistic maneuver. “We don’t play the music in the most authentic way,” he says with a touch of understatement. “We overlay our music with modern groove, and we have an oud in the band.” The latter is hardly a natural bedfellow with Eastern European culture. “We very much blend Mediterranean music with Balkan sounds.” 

There’s more. “We even mix in moments of punk rock, drum and bass, sound effects and electronics. There won’t, of course, be any electronics in Ein Kerem.” Considering the three-hour slot there – with the odd coffee break – is an al fresco peripatetic affair that is hardly surprising. 

FOR HAIM and the rest of the boys, it is about marrying the roots with the here and now. Stands to reason. Even with the requisite familial backdrop, a twentysomething or thirtysomething man or woman is very much also a product of their times and societal and cultural zeitgeist. Any attempt to try to painstakingly resurrect the vibes of say, late 19th century Bulgaria, is doomed to failure before it gets off the ground. 

“Everything is open and out there in front of you,” says the drummer, adding that the locale is just as important as the times in which one lives and works. “We are from here, not from Serbia, for example. We are not from some small place where people only heard Balkan music. And we don’t pretend to play like Serbian groups.”

Fittingly, all the members of the band hail from Jerusalem, although a couple of them have since moved on to other pastures. That, and the myriad cultural influences that flow freely through this part of the world, inform the way Pulkes put it out there. “For me, groove is very important,” Haim says. “I want people to dance to the music, and think [musically] outside the box. I like the idea of jungle groove over the Balkan line. I also brought electronic music into what the band does.”

Haim is very much the rhythmic and conceptual anchor of the Pulkes outfit. “Most of the band members mostly play world music, jazz and other stuff. I come from here,” he says. Mind you, there seems to be lots of definitive wiggle room in “here.” 

“I have played with [pop star] Ivri Lider, and in all sorts of pop productions with singers. That, together with the Balkan side, creates something really cool.”

It certainly makes for a walk on the sunny side of the street, and Haim says he and his pals are delighted to be in the festival lineup. “Ein Kerem is such a special place. I love it. Maybe one day I’ll get to live there,” says the Rehavia resident.

Meanwhile, Pulkes has been spreading it around all over the show, playing gigs in Dubai and Canada, and putting in several shifts on the local circuit, too. And, while, playing for large crowds at major venues is great, Haim says the essence is on unfettered, face-to-face presentation. 

“We very much wanted to play at the festival. It seemed natural. The vibe in Ein Kerem is having music out on the street. We do a lot of street shows.” That seems to be a particularly Jerusalemite phenomenon, with the likes of the Jerusalem Street Orchestra and internationally renowned marching troupe Marsh Dondurma all emanating from the capital’s unique ethnic-cultural human tapestry. 

Most of all, for Haim et al, it is about sharing their love for their music and spreading the good joie de vivre word. “There will be a lot of happiness and merriment around,” Haim laughs. “Music on the street and Ein Kerem. What else do you need?”

ELSEWHERE ACROSS the three days, DJ Miri Fattal will keep the beats coming in a sunset slot; singer and radio personality Livnat Ben-Hamo will present a cozy show with traditional and contemporary material, and original charts, with singer-songwriter Orian Shukrun guesting; and the Brasstet troupe will bring more than a touch of high octane swing-style jazz to the proceedings. 

There will also be rich and varied ethnic musical pickings to be had, with the likes of Georgian folk music-based Chveneburebi on the roster, along with flutist Niv Klil Hahoresh and Mediterranean-Balkan group Gute Gute, while Black Samba will bring the colors and unbridled joy of Brazilian percussion to Ein Kerem. 

Add that to open house opportunities, tete-a-tetes with local artists, guided tours and children’s theater, not to mention plenty in the way of delectable comestibles, and you’ll have plenty of reasons to be cheerful in Ein Kerem on Sukkot.

For more information: https://einkeremfestival.co.il/

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