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JOSE FELICIANO returns to Israel, including a duet with Boaz Sharabi..(Photo by: Courtesy)
Latin American legend José Feliciano returns to Israel
This time around he will be accompanied by local singer-songwriter, Boaz Sharabi. “I’m excited to work together. I’m sure it’ll be fun,”
A whole new generation of filmgoers might be getting their first exposure to José Feliciano for his soulful cover of “California Dreamin’” in Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the guitarist’s immeasurable talent. Whether you know him for writing “Feliz Navidad,” an iconic Christmas song or for his refreshing version of “Light My Fire,” which put him on the musical map in 1968, receiving a rave review from Robby Krieger of The Doors who claimed Feliciano “made their song into what they would have wanted it to be, a standard,” his accomplishments are far from few.

Born blind, Feliciano gravitated to musical instruments at an early age and made his debut performances at age three, playing a tin cracker can in accompaniment to his uncle’s cuatro – a 10-string instrument native to Puerto Rico. Others may trace it back to his affinity for the accordion from such a young age or his immediate infatuation with the guitar at age nine. However, his success cannot be exclusively traced back to a strict love of instruments; Feliciano’s yellow brick road was paved out of his idiosyncratic approach to the music itself.

Despite moving to New York at the ripe age of five, Feliciano’s drive to not merely play the local compositions he heard but rather transform them into something entirely new sprouted from a traditional type of Latin music: the bolero. A local form meant to evoke romance in both music and movement, Feliciano describes the bolero as “our torch ballad.”

“[The Bolero] was losing fans because people didn’t want to hear it being done with these orchestral arrangements,” the 74-year-old master musician told The Jerusalem Post last week, ahead of his return to Israel for two performances at the Haifa International Convention Center on September 9 and The Culture Palace in Tel Aviv on September 10.
Instead, the young Feliciano recorded the same boleros, only with different arrangements and on his guitar.

“People thought it was refreshing, and it spread from there to Columbia, Peru, Venezuela. Everybody started going crazy for the way I played these songs. Suddenly, I became a Latin idol,” he added, still sounding astounded by his success all these years later.

While he started to turn heads in South America, earning such titles as “The Elvis of Argentina,” things really took off after winning over the United States with his cover of “Light My Fire.” Celebrating its 50th anniversary just last year, his version of “Light My Fire” sold millions of copies and solidified the path, paving the way for the rising star.

From there, his unique crossover of American pop-rock-meets-Latin captured audiences across the country, scoring him reputable gigs. For instance, he sang America’s national anthem at the World Series, which generated some controversy as he veered from the usual melody to give “The Star-Spangled Banner” a fresh gospel-soul twist.

Like many obstacles in any musician’s life, Feliciano leapt over that hurdle and has lived out a very long, very fulfilling professional career with 19 Grammy nominations and nine wins under his belt.

He is still jamming at 74 and will be offering “a change from the old” in Israel this September.
“I’ve been playing in Israel since 1971,” he says. Feliciano recalls the rude awakening of performing in the Holy Land one Passover: “I didn’t realize you couldn’t have dairy products and meat in the same places, let alone bread.”
Nonetheless, he had a great time and truly enjoyed paying his respects at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which he plans to revisit.

During Feliciano’s last trip, he was accompanied by the Ra’anana Symphony Orchestra. This time around he will be accompanied by local singer-songwriter, Boaz Sharabi. “I’m excited to work together. I’m sure it’ll be fun,” says Feliciano. “The only thing I can say to the people of Israel is that I love them and I am a strong ally.”
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