ELECTRO-REGGAE-ETHNIC band annaRF will perfom at Intimidbar at the end of the month. (photo credit: ZOHAR RON)
ELECTRO-REGGAE-ETHNIC band annaRF will perfom at Intimidbar at the end of the month. (photo credit: ZOHAR RON)
annaRF to perform at Israel's Intimidbar Festival in Mitzpe Ramon

There have been some weird and wonderful band names over the years. There was even a time when insects were the order of the day. One might recall a certain Fab Four from Liverpool, but there were also the likes of The Crickets; a San Diego outfit called Iron Butterfly; and a short-lived impossibly young sibling trio out of Ohio called Gary and The Hornets. 

But annaRF has to be in the running for one of the most quizzical of the lot. True, you have to have a least a smattering of Arabic to get the play on words, but it’s an oft-used expression by many a Jewish Israeli too.

“It’s a bad joke we all love,” chuckles Or Raveh, who produces the eclectically-leaning group’s output, and puts in a pennyworth or two on the writing side. He also does a stint on the bass guitar alongside Roy Smila and Ofir J. Rock who sing and play a motley stretch of eastern and western instruments, such as guitar, kamancheh, clarinet and saz. 

“But it’s also fun to jumble up three languages.” he adds.

A jumble of three languages

“It is, of course, Arabic: annaRF (“I don’t know” or “search me”) is an expression that is in widespread use in Hebrew. And in English, it looks a little mysterious, like it is the name of some woman. It gets people asking questions, like what RF stands for and that sort of thing.”

Hiking in Mitzpe Ramon (credit: EDEN SHARON)Hiking in Mitzpe Ramon (credit: EDEN SHARON)

As marketing ploys go that’s not a bad opener at all. The fact of the matter is that you can be an above-average artist with something of value to say, but if you don’t get the word out there and no one knows you exist, you aren’t going get too far.

annaRF have certainly been places. Since they formed, 10 years ago, in the tiny village of Shacharut in the Arava, they have performed across all four corners of Europe and India, in addition to pounding a steady beat the length and breadth of this country. Next week the trio will strut its multifarious stuff at the 11th edition of the annual Intimidbar which takes place at Mitzpe Ramon May 31-June 2. 

What started out as a left-field venture in a wayside speck on the Israeli map has become a major fixture on the national cultural calendar, with A-lister acts such as Amir Benayoun, Marina Maximilian Blumin and Hadag Nahash all lined up for the desert groove festival at the Spice Quarter district of the Negev town.

Loosely speaking, annaRF answers to the electro-reggae-ethnic genre description but the gang is willing and demonstrably able to mix it with practically anyone, any place, any time. One such musical escapade brought them, along with a bunch of like-minded artists, to a remote spot in the Kaçkar Mountains in northeastern Turkey. 

That was quite an adventure, on which the threesome was joined by several other Israeli instrumentalists and vocalists who contributed to the creative fray. But that, and a lot of the band’s early work around the globe, would not have happened without what Raveh calls their “total commitment” to music making.

“We didn’t care where we played – whether we got paid or not, whether the gig was on the street, or in some bar or a proper hall.”

Raveh joined the band in 2013 a few months after Smila and Rock got it together over at Shacharut. It was literally a matter of snapping up every opportunity to roll out their material. 

“We’d send out messages on Facebook, looking for a place to sleep over, after some gig,” Raveh notes. 

“We had three years of being nomads.” 

The pace began to pick up, and things took on a more concrete form.  “Our second proper gig was in Switzerland,” Raveh laughs. “We began to put up video clips of songs we shot in different places.” Indeed, YouTube is awash with annaRF clips from the Swiss Alps, Turkey and the Arava, to mention but a few locations.

The band members’ eagerness to get their music out there got them to the aforementioned faraway mountain hideaway in Turkey, and to throw caution to the four winds. 

“The clips we uploaded from Turkey created the biggest buzz,” says Raveh. 

“The connection with Turkey happened after we got one our first official invitations to perform, you know, when they paid for the flights and all that. There were a lot of terror attacks [in Turkey] at the time and we were advised not to go. We went and we were so warmly received by the Turks. It was a wonderful experience. Since then we have had a special relationship with Turkey.”

That includes one particular relationship on a very personal basis: “Roy married a Turkish woman,” Raveh adds.

It also helps that Raveh et al tend to keep their musical and stylistic options as open as possible. In simple terms the annaRF oeuvre defies labels. There are ethnic sounds from different cultures, plus a sense of the blues, as well as reggae and electronic seasoning in there. 

“And a bit of pop,” Raveh notes. 

It is, he says, a result of the individual members’ musical tastes and interests. 

“Roy comes from ethnic music, I come from electronic music, and Ofir comes from a background of rock, pop and a bit of folk. He is a sort of singer-songwriter. He actually had a metal band when he was in high school. He comes from a song format: singing and playing guitar.”

Put all of that together and you end up with an inviting heady fusion of sounds, rhythms and colors that appeals to people of all ages and from different cultural and social leanings. It also takes annaRF in the direction of fellow professionals of all types. 

“The group is a synergy of the three of us and a combination of our individual musical interests. And we get to collaborate with all sorts of musicians, from different places. We like that.”

It is a fair bet that the Intimidbar crowd will dig what they get from the band in Mitzpe Ramon next week, as Raveh, Smila and Rock turn on the styles and turn up the volume.

Tickets to the shows are reasonably priced, with free admission to gigs of local artists. For tickets and more information: www.negevtour.co.il

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