It is no secret that this country is one of the world’s great multicultural melting pots.
If you have a half-decent background in the history of the region, you will probably know that over the centuries, umpteen civilizations have ridden, tramped, pillaged and battled their way through this end of the Mediterranean Sea, which served as the crossroads for all manner of war-mongering leaders as they made their way from Europe to Asia or Africa, or vice versa. In so doing, they not only caused mayhem, but quite a few of them set up their stalls here and left their imprints on the local culture and way of life, leaving plenty for modern-day archaeologists to dig into.
That meandering multi-stratified evolutionary progression continues to this day, as waves and intermittent trickles of aliyah from around the globe have made their way over here. That, naturally, enriches our artistic pickings and the spread of entertainment fare available to local culture consumers.
Effie Benaya, CEO and artistic director of Confederation House, has for some time been well aware of the added value to be had by offering a stage or two to artists from the Ethiopian-Israeli community. And so the Hullegeb Israeli-Ethiopian Arts Festival came to be in 2010. The bar mitzvah edition is almost upon us, with a broad range of music, dance and theater shows lined up at the host venue and the Yellow Submarine, from December 7-14.
What's happening at the 13th Hullegeb Israeli-Ethiopian Arts Festival in Jerusalem?
Benaya has clearly done his best to make sure the festival goes off with a bang – a groove-suffused bang – with Ethiopian-born Tamar Rada center stage, backed by her four-piece band, and with seasoned rock star Hemi Rudner playing bass guitar and enriching the vocal textures in the closing event at the Yellow Submarine.
In case the singer’s surname sounds familiar, she is the cousin of Ester Rada, who has gained international fame over the past decade or so.
RADA WILL use her Hullegeb booking to unveil several tracks from her forthcoming album – the third to date – which is due out in full in April, with the odd single expected to be aired in the not too distant future. The new album will go by the name of Ertevé, which, it so happens, makes it something of an eponymous offering.
“Ertevé is the name I was born with,” Rada explains, adding that she made aliyah with her family at the age of four.
Putting on my amateur psychologist’s hat for a moment, I suggest that now, at the age of 35, after recording two Hebrew-language albums, Rada is finally ready to put herself out there to the public as is, in all her bio regalia.
If that were the case, she would not be the first to eventually get around to rediscovering her roots after initially shunting them to one side to make herself more amenable to local audiences. Now-67-year-old violinist and oud player Yair Dalal is a prime example. Dalal, who has been touring the world with his Arabic music-based material for over three decades, began by shunning his Iraqi parental background, opting to play blues and blues-seasoned rock on electrical guitar.
“Nothing of the sort,” Rada sets me right. “That’s just part of me. That’s my beginning.”
Her current Israeli given name was down to her, too. “When I came to Israel, I was called Ilana. That’s the name they gave me. But when I was around eight, I chose Tamar.”
Rada is clearly someone who knows her own mind and is not easily deflected from her chosen path.
She comes across as a highly energized character both on and off the stage, full of the joys of spring and blessed with an abundance of bonhomie.
Seems Rada’s parents had an inkling of how her personality might pan out.
“Ertevé means ‘happiness’ and also ‘riches,’” she explains.
While she may not be quite in the jet set league yet, she certainly exudes a sense of walking the sunny side of the street.
“My parents and my older relatives always called me that,” she notes.
In fact, Rada never lost sight of her roots. “There was always something of the Amharic culture at home. Yes, you would feel a Western presence, but the base character of our home resonated simplicity. It was as if we were still living in an Ethiopian village – the tradition, the dialogue and the energies. We mostly spoke Hebrew but also Amharic.”
That was at home, but the world around Rada was a very different story.
“It wasn’t a matter of wanting to be Israeli and being accepted by Israeli society. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood full of people from the Ethiopian community. We lived in downtown Rishon Lezion, and we were surrounded by Western, Ashkenazi people.”Tamar Rada
“It wasn’t a matter of wanting to be Israeli and being accepted by Israeli society. I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood full of people from the Ethiopian community. We lived in downtown Rishon Lezion, and we were surrounded by Western, Ashkenazi people.”
That cultural integration was augmented by a family from Beit Shemesh who had made aliyah from the States. “They were our adoptive family,” Rada explains. “We were sort of taken under their wing, to help with our absorption into Israel.”
That, and the youngster’s social interface with others from way beyond the Ethiopian cultural pale, as well as radio and TV, led her along all kinds of musical highways and byways. “I was exposed to all sorts of music – [American singer-songwriter] Tracy Chapman, [Mizrachi singers] Yoav Yitzhak and Haim Moshe, [vocalist] Sarit Hadad. That sort of thing.”
So, no Red Hot Chili Peppers in the mix? No 1990s grunge rock?
“What’s grunge?” she fires back. “I was too young in the nineties. I got into that sort of thing later, in the noughties.”
There was musical inspiration at home, too.
“My father sang in Amharic, and he played an Ethiopian instrument called a masenko,” she recounts.
Rada’s parents may have been well rooted in the sounds of their country of birth, but there was no ghetto mentality in the Rada household.
“My father always told me to stick to our traditions at home but to learn from the world outside, too. He said I shouldn’t forget where I came from, but he said it was important to learn new things as well.”
The youngster duly kept her eyes and ears open and worked on her vocal cords.
“I always sang,” she recalls. “I had a good voice. I had a gift, but I never planned on becoming a musician.”
She had to travel to the other side of the world to take her performance bow.
“I went to Mexico with a friend, a post-army vacation, and I somehow found myself on a stage,” she chuckles without going into too much detail. “I sang ‘Valerie’ by [late British singer] Amy Winehouse. I didn’t do it too well, but the audience clapped at the end.”
The applause continued resonating with Rada, although it gestated for a while before delivering on the professional front. Like many a post-IDF youngster, she found herself at loose ends on her return to Israel. “I didn’t really know what to do with myself, so I registered at Rimon [School of Music in Ramat Hasharon]. I thought I’d try music studies just for the fun of it. I thought I’d do something in education. That’s what I did in the army.”
And so four years of pretty intensive music education passed at Rimon, with Rada performing five numbers for her final diploma project.
“One of the songs was an ethnic number,” she says. “It was an Ethiopian song.” That was an epiphanous moment, which eventually led to the forthcoming album. “I realized that Amharic is in my veins.”
Once out of the cloistered surroundings of the school, Rada began to make her way in the music business, performing here, there and everywhere.
That was until she played before a huge audience as part of the annual salute to iconic singer-songwriter Meir Ariel, who died in 1999 and has been, fittingly, celebrated by some of the Israeli rock and pop sector’s biggest names ever since. In 2019, Rada found herself on the bill alongside her more senior and far better-known professional colleagues.
“A musician friend of mine and I did a cover version of a song called ‘Kutonet Passim’ [Coat of Many Colors]. Meir Ariel wrote the lyrics. It talks about Mizrachim and Ashkenazim and all that.”
Things began to snowball. “We made a video of it, and Shiraz, Meir Ariel’s daughter, saw it and sent it to [radio music show host] Yoav Kutner, and he showed it to [veteran rocker] Yehuda Eder.”
Eder taught at Rimon and knew of Rada, and both he and Kutner have been involved in producing the Ariel tributes over the years. Hence, Rada’s surprise inclusion in the 2019 edition.
“It was amazing. There I was with all these famous musicians. And I performed for 15,000 people!” she exclaims. “I was used to playing to 200 or less.”
Kutner and Eder also thought that Hemi Rudner would be a good musical fit for Rada. The two duly performed together in the Ariel tribute, became friends and occasional artistic sparring partners, and will join forces at the Yellow Submarine on December 14 as Rada performs her own material, including a sneak preview of some of the numbers that will eventually make their way onto her new album.
I wondered whether sharing her surname with her far better-known cousin had been a deterrent or a help.
“I never really made much of that, and neither did Ester,” she says. “But she has always encouraged me and supported me. If I call her up and say I need her, she will always be there for me.”
Meanwhile, Rada continues to make her way in the music world and is looking forward to nurturing Ertevé into full public fruition. It is a coming-of-age development for her. “I wanted to make peace with myself, or something like that. It is like joining my parts together. At home I would be more in the Ethiopian tradition, and outside I would be something else.”
It is time to put herself, all of herself, out there and to embrace her past and put all her personal baggage into her professional mix. “I have connected my different parts together now. This record is entirely in Amharic. There are songs I learned from my late father, from video clips he showed me.”
There will also be some traditional songs and a couple of Rada originals based on traditional lyrics.
Presumably, however, Ertevé won’t be pure Ethiopian, and all the sounds, rhythms and colors she has accrued in her 35 years on terra firma will come through.
“There are blues in my music and also jazzy things. I don’t really know how to categorize myself,” she says with a laugh. “Maybe Israeli, Ethiopian, Afro-Caribbean groove.” That should do it. ❖
For tickets and information: *6226, tickets.bimot.co.il, www.confederationhouse.org and (02) 539-9360 ext. 5