The walls have ears

The annual Sounds of the Old City festival opens this week.

The annual Sounds of the Old City festival. (photo credit: PR)
The annual Sounds of the Old City festival.
(photo credit: PR)
When it comes to evocative locations for holding music festivals, there can’t be many better places anywhere in the world than the Old City of Jerusalem. That provides the organizers of the Tzlilim Ba’ir Ha’atika (Sounds of the Old City) festival with a marketing head start from the word go.
The fourth annual festival will take place on March 9 to 12, and musical adviser and veteran rock and pop radio DJ Yoav Kutner has helped to line up a heavyweight roster of acts for the fourday program. And we’re not only talking quality entertainment here. The groups and artists cover a wide range of genres, ethnic origins and styles, as befitting a place that has been home to a wide range of communities over the millennia.
For Kutner, who has championed local artistic endeavor for several decades, the festival offers an ideal vehicle for getting the best this country has to offer out there.
“This festival accurately represents contemporary Israeli music,” he says. “In two words, I could put that as Shai Tzabari.”
It is not difficult to get Kutner’s drift. The vocalist in question encompasses a multitude of musical directions, from rock to electronica and funk to Eastern-infused intent.
“There is an unprecedented phenomenon in Israel, where everything mingles together,” says the musical adviser.
“Take, for example, [veteran rocker] Beri Sacharoff. He’s one of the artists who sparked this change. If you turned up in the middle of one of his gigs, you wouldn’t know what kind of show you’ve come to. He has bits that are pure rock, and there’s stuff with rock and electronica together, and then there’s trance.
And he also plays music based on liturgical material.”
While Sacharoff is not in this year’s lineup, the sonic and stylistic spread stretches far and wide. Since Arik Einstein’s passing some 15 months ago, the iconic pop-rock singer’s oeuvre has been the subject of umpteen tribute shows, and the festival program duly includes one such venture to be performed by the Transistor band.
There’s more in the way of Israeli pop-rock nostalgia in the form of the Shlosharot female threesome, and there is a slew of veteran acts in the program, including rocker vocalist Nurit Galron, former Kaveret band members Alon Olearchik and Ephraim Shamir, and Shlomo Gronich. US-born bluesman Lazer Lloyd will bring some down and dirty sentiments to the festival proceedings, and stellar pianistvocalist Shlomi Shaban and singer-songwriter Alma Zohar are also in the four-day mix.
Kutner is all in favor of the cross-cultural evolution that has infiltrated the local rock scene in recent years.
“Israeli music has become sort of multi-layered and has opened up a lot. You get rock musicians today who are very much influenced by Eastern music. The Arabic sound was once very alien to rock music from here – there was an Eastern influence but not an Arabic one,” he says.
Kutner cites one of the newer members of the local rock scene with right sort of genes.
“Dudu Tasa brought out an album that was based on music written by [Tasa’s Iraqi grandfather] Daoud El-Kuwaiti and [Daoud’s brother] Sallach El-Kuwaiti. The next record Dudu released was rock music, which incorporated Arabic elements,” he says.
That, for Kutner, is what the festival location is all about.
“Jerusalem is a mix of all sorts of things. I see it as a symbol of West and East, Jews and Arabs, and religious and secular Jews. I don’t know if that was what the festival organizers meant to achieve, but that is what happens with the festival. There is something new happening, and this is just the beginning. You even get musicians singing in Arabic – people like Shimon Buskila, with his song “Ya Mama” [which Buskila sings in the Moroccan dialect of Arabic], and there’s [Arab Israeli singersongwriter] Luna Abu Nassar, who sings in Hebrew and in Arabic,” he says.
It was the cross-cultural factor that drew Kutner to the festival in the first place.
“That’s why I came on board,” he declares. “I was intrigued by the idea of fusing these two worlds.”
The musical adviser takes the cultural interface a step further, albeit somewhat tongue in cheek.
“I don’t know if you can use this term freely these days, but I feel that this approach to music brings people together. You walk past [the festival shows] and you hear something that sounds Armenian, and then something that sounds typically Israeli, and then something Christian. It all blends together. To my mind, that is a wonderful thing,” he asserts.
The Ministry for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs is enthused by the festival’s continuing success.
“These activities highlight the importance and relevance of the Old City,” says ministry director general Dvir Kahana, “not just as a historic and spiritual center but also as the beating heart of Jerusalem. The Sounds of the Old City festival is an integral part of all that.”
And there’s more than a richly varied range of musical entertainment on offer over the four days.
Beit Shmuel, for instance, will operate various highly affordable guided tours in the Old City, starting daily at 7 p.m. The Singing to You Jerusalem tour will take in the sounds of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian Quarters, while the This Is an Old Song walk will take the participants through the Muslim and Christian Quarters and take a look at the variety of artisans and professionals who lived within the city’s walls during the 20th century and will pass through ancient residences.
The Beit Shmuel peripatetic program also includes a family walk along the alleyways of the Old City, as well as some spectacular rooftop views.
For more information about the Beit Shmuel activities: (02) 620-3461/606 and
For more information about the Sounds of the Old City festival:, http:// and the municipality information helpline 106.