+972 Magazine » Yuval Ben-Ami http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Fri, 27 Mar 2015 11:38:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 15: The love club http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-15-the-love-club/103454/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-15-the-love-club/103454/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 10:38:59 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=103454 The final chapter, in which we make music.

Part 15 of 15. To read the rest of the series, click here.

The Israel Palestine Lorde Diaries 29

“Yuval, what is your time limit?” Khader asked me online.

There was a time limit. The spring’s succession of guided tours was supposed kick off in two weeks. Once that happened, I would have no more time. ”Why?”

“Because Rasha only comes back on March 23rd, and she really wants in.”

“Where is she now?”

“In the U.S., making friends with Uncle Sam”.

“Okay,” I wrote, “I’m going to talk to Yaron. Our deadline is March 7th, but I think we’ll stretch it for her. Listen,” I added, “I am really, really, really moved that you made contact with her and that she agreed to participate. She’s an amazing artist.”

Yaron was fine waiting. He is easy to appease. Ruthie and I walked over to his house that Wednesday for Shira’s session. She arrived with her husband, Alon, and his accordion. Together, they form the Yiddish duo “The Technicalities.” When the two of them entered, I realized that I had not seen Shira since the whole thing began, more than three months back, and who knows how much longer before that. She has been working the entire time on her countless endeavors.

“I have totally fallen in love with this song,” said the former Lorde-skeptic, which was nice to hear. She even kept referring to “Team” as “the song we all love.” “In essence, it’s an eighties song,” she said, “that’s why we all love it.”

This turned out to be untrue. Not everyone in the room loved “Team,” because not everyone knew it. Yaron staunchly refused to listen to any of the original tracks, put together by Lorde and Joel Little, so that he won’t be tempted to emulate them. It occurred to me that his first encounter with “Team” would be in Yiddish, the so-called dying language of European Jewry, the tongue of my grandparents and their gassed-to-death family members. Yiddish, the thick and sweet German brogue of folk tales and secret modern masterpieces, the tongue of Meah Shearim’s children, who seem to grow up in another era. Team, by Lorde, in Yiddish. This was kind of cool.

The following night was cooler still. Diana Gert, the Russian soprano, came to record “Yellow Flicker Beat”. I love all things Russian that are not politicians. Russian-Israelis were always the local subgroup with which I most easily connected. Over the years, my former-USSR chums have showed me “Hedgehog in the Fog“, fed me shuba and lent me “Moscow-Petushki.” They turned me into a proper Russophile. The nearest to the Lorde madness I experienced in recent years was losing it over Tchaikovsky.

Diana came with a delightful problem that is telling of Russian temperament. The title line, “red, orange yellow flicker beat / starting up my heart” was too beautiful in her eyes. She felt that the word “ognia” (“fire”, chosen by Vladi to stand in for “flicker”), deserved more room and asked if we would stretch the line to emphasize it. I preferred staying faithful to the original, and assured her that her natural passion would deliver all the beauty.

I got to play the guitar. I haven’t written much about the musical side of jamming with Yaron, but he is a bit of a Mr. Miagi. He will throw a mandolin at you and make you play it, or throw a word like “fermata” at you, forcing you to figure out what it means. I am so much more of a musician now than I was when we had that Malawach in November.

Final fence

Having turned off the mic, Yaron drove Diana and myself to the city center. I fell asleep content and woke up thrilled, caught up on all the writing and illustrating, then took a walk to the beach.

Part of the sand was dug out, for renovations of the promenade. That portion of the beach was fenced. Here was the westernmost fence of a land full of fences, walls and invisible boundaries. Some separate physical spaces, others seperate people, some are imposed on us, other we simply adopt. Some can be climbed, others bypassed. Some are impenetrable, but we never knows which, until we try, right?

Beyond this final barrier were the Holy Land’s final few steps, then the vast sea, and beyond it: Rasha, chatting with Uncle Sam. It would be an honor to wait for her, though I never expected a wait. In the end, nothing played out as I expected. Two Mizrahi girls contributed the project’s most European track. The one Palestinian-spirited song turned into a Russian ballad, while our Arabic track was an easygoing stoner hum.

If I learned anything about my country on this journey, it’s that it is never what we think it should be. We want for it to be Israel, and it isn’t quite that — or only that. We wish for it to be Palestine, and it isn’t quite that either. People come here with a certain god in mind, and are overwhelmed with the shrines of other faiths, or accidentally wind up at a BDSM club, or hope for the beach and get trapped in the snow.

When we realize things aren’t as we hoped, we come to the beach and look away, to the world, often to the west, hoping for good tidings that might stir change. It’s our natural position, and a good place to end this tale. But I cannot conclude without turning south-east, (though it is nearly the same distance facing south-west, by a wide arc) and sharing a few words.

Echo

Dear Ella,

Israelis are not best known for being polite. We often make fun of our own disregard for the words “please,” “sorry” and “thank you.”

Even now I will not use them all. There is nothing I could ask of you, so “please” is out. “Sorry”, on the other hand, you probably deserve. People around the world flaunt your name for whatever their weird causes are. It’s part of stardom, yet surely isn’t always fun. If I caused you any discomfort, I apologize.

Now the “thank you.” At its best, art makes us conscious of what was there to begin with. Yours made me conscious of your generation’s experience, of your native land, and of many less-easily articulated notions involving rhythm, rhyme and dance.

Poking my head into contemporary fandom, I also grew conscious of gossip and pettiness. I found great writing about your work, but so much talk of appearance and other trivial matters. I guess I hoped to counter that with some substance. My land is full of substance. All I needed to do was aim the loudspeaker to its hills and press play.

The hills returned an echo. I became more conscious also of what was here to begin with. Staying focused on this country’s realities and fighting the good wars (rather than the deadly ones), is impossible to do without good, authentic art. The art you and your creative partners bring the world is such. It helped me and my friends see all of it afresh, and perked all of us up a bit for what is yet to come. Thank you. We needed that.

Sincerely,

Yuval

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I’m also grateful to the brave editors of this series in its English form, Mike Schaeffer Omer-Man and Edo Konrad, and to everyone who gave a hand in any way, whether by playing the cello or suggesting Tamer. As for you, dearest readers: Thank you so much for coming along on this strange ride. The first songs are being mixed by Yaron as I write this, and more will pour in later. I’ll post here each one once it’s ready, starting with Royals in French. Enjoy, and may peace and music reign wherever you are.

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 14: Not alone http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-14-not-alone/102191/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-14-not-alone/102191/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 12:50:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=102191 What can bring hope in times of weak spirit? How about a teardrop, a social network, a Russian soprano and a faithful ex-lover.

Part 14 of 15. To read the rest of the series, click here.

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The war never broke out in earnest, but my mood was not quick to recover. One thing did brighten things up, however: I was invited to speak on Radio New Zealand. Attentive producer Jeremy Rose caught sight of the very first post in this series and wrote me instantly. On the last night of January 31, 2015, which in New Zealand was the first morning of February, I spoke on air with host Wallace Chapman, scrambling for a way to describe my project. I was no longer sure what it was or where it was headed, if anywhere.

Kiwi radio turned out to offer a winning combination of British courteousness and South Pacific relaxation. The interview lasted a full half hour, which allowed us to discuss plenty of issues and complexities. It wasn’t enough, though; my spirit had not recovered. I fell behind on writing the posts, gave up on looking for a Yiddish translator, and ceased bugging Shai-li Jamchid about her mother’s French translation of Royals. I was exhausted. Can you blame me? The Lorde Project isn’t my first frustrating attempt at shaking things up in this land of perpetual struggle.

Take central Hebron. For ten years now I have been active in trying to open its streets to Palestinian pedestrians, some of whom live on those streets, and may only leave their homes through the rooftops. I offered free tours of the city’s settler-dominated center, and wrote and published pieces on the issue anywhere I could. Nothing changed. Over that same decade, my friends and  I have marched against imprisonment without trial, against deportation of children and arrest of children and in solidarity with all the groups dehumanized by the state, not to mention economic injustice. We have written posts and op-eds, tweets and banners, songs and theater plays.

In literally every field that matters to us, things have only deteriorated. With the waning of democracy in Israel, we are now framed as traitors. Hate speech is so out of control that we have become used to receiving death threats, garnished with wild references to sexual violence. We are used to it — but we’re exhausted.

Real life was too much. I picked up the guitar and played my extra melancholic version of Lorde’s “World Alone.” Then I went to the one place where I had any control: Facebook. In the inbox was a letter from a stranger, someone named Dana.

“Dear Yuval”

She wrote,

“We don’t know each other, but I follow you on Facebook, especially the Lorde in Israel-Palestine project, so I wanted to thank you for enormously improving my playlist. You enriched it not only with Lorde, but with Mira Awad, Mashrou Leila, and “Veha’er Eininu” done by a woman choir.”

I replied and we chatted. Then I got goosebumps. “Just so you know,” she wrote, “when I first heard your version of ‘Team,’ I cried.”

“Wow, thank you.” I replied, “You just made my day.”

“It was the day of the bus accident in Hura, and I was so sad. It was a catharsis and a reminder that others here believe in coexistence, so thank you.”

Hura is a Bedouin town in the south of Israel. I will refrain from depressing you with the details of that deadly manifestation of institutionalized racism. Just imagine the worst.

I thanked Dana again, and went to bed.

Biting down

We despair when we think we are alone. I was not alone. I was working with Yaron, and while I let go, he kept looking for translators. His friend Vladi converted “Yellow Flicker Beat” to Russian, the native language of over a million Israelis. Yaron even found a Russian singer. She warned that she is an opera soprano, and won’t be able to emulate Lorde’s warm alto. “It’s not about emulating,” Yaron told her.

I was not alone. Yael Levi, a scholar of Hassidic Judaism, took on the Yiddish “Team.” Yael is married to my friend Mikhael Manekin, the man who first showed me Hebron and its current, cruel state. The struggles combine.

I was not alone. The Jamchid sisters arrived at Yaron’s place one day, and recorded a resplendent version of “Royals.” It was only the second song we have recorded so far, and we were over three months into the project. But there was promise in all of this, and so much encouragement in Dana’s words. Back from the recording, I logged into to Facebook to reread them, and was suddenly hit with the realization that I am a nincompoop.

Facebook! I have all kinds of friends on Facebook, Georgian-Israeli, Swedish-Israeli, Brazilian-Israeli, Filipino migrant workers, friends who work with the African asylum seeker community and even one or two who belong to it. Why did I not publish the call for help here? Instead of deliberately picking the identities and languages, let’s throw the dice and see who volunteers.

So I posted, and within two minutes a response arrived: “I’ll do it,” wrote Deem Dar.

Deem! The Marmite girl!

I already learned that Deem was a Palestinian, and that her name was Deema. She offered to translate a song into Arabic. Arabic! Shame on me for being such a pessimist. Things kept coming together. Deema asked me to pick a song for her.

Too bad Vladi already took “Yellow Flicker Beat.” Mira Awad liked that song, and if I could just present her with a translation of that, she might change her mind. I could see why Mira would like the song, why anyone in tune with Palestinian realities would. It was composed for the third Hunger Games movie, a film that deals with the dilemmas that arise when resisting corrupt power. Many have compared images of destroyed District 12 to footage taken in Gaza last summer.

Let’s do it in both Russian and Arabic, I thought. If two nations can share a land, two languages can share a song. I sent it to Deema. She toyed with it, then wrote that it was too complicated. I sent her “White Teeth Teens,” one of my favorites, but that was complicated too. “Fine,” I wrote, “take this one, ‘Biting Down’ — it is only made up of six lines that repeat.”

“Biting Down” is structured in the fashion of a “cotton field ditty.” The line “it feels better biting down” repeats throughout it. Deema asked what it meant. I looked up interpretations online. “Someone suggests that it is about biting down to minimize pain,” I wrote her, “like when a soldier is given a strap of leather to bite on during a field amputation.”

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Deema’s world of associations was a tad less sinister. The following day she sent me a translation of the song with a focus on the virtues of cannabis. “الشعور احلى وانت مسطوله”. My Arabic, though atrocious, was good enough for this one: “It feels better being stoned.” I laughed, and asked her which professional singer would sing that on tape.

Deema referred me to Khader, her well connected co-translator. Khader said he would ask around, on the condition that I support a musical project launched by his Jewish ex. I thought back to my version of “Team,” and how the whole thing began with protest against Lehava and their attack on mixed relationships. I thought back to the Beyonce tribute, to singing “Irreplaceable” with Osnat and realizing how well angry ex-lovers can create together.

If that’s so, Israelis and Palestinians surely can. I promised Khader I would help. He got back to me in 20 minutes, saying that he got a “yes” from a great musician. He sent a clip, in which a young woman with long, dark curls, sings a beautiful sad song about a beautiful, sad land. I have heard that gritty voice before. She was Rasha, “The Arab Lorde.”

(Part 14 of 15. For more, click here, or join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde diaries, chapter 13: Overwhelmed http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-13-overwhelmed/102143/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-13-overwhelmed/102143/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 17:09:11 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=102143 In this country, looking at things differently can really get your head spinning.

Part 13 of 15. To read the rest of the series, click here.

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And so the project took a real conceptual shift. There was no denying it: this was the same shift my own political views took in recent years. Once I strongly believed in the dichotomy, and consequently in a two-state solution. Here is how I saw the map: west of the Green line, folks should sing Lorde in Hebrew. East of it: in Arabic. By now, however, and due to more developments and learning than I could dream to list here, I was more in the mindset of giving up lines and making sure every individual between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is well off.

I began to dream of a single democratic system, wherein any individual could raise whichever flag they wanted, but where that flag would not override principle human rights and the value of equality. The problem is one of dominance. One society maintains violent dominance over the other. Encouraging both societies to embrace their myriad identities is one way to promote equality. Once they would no longer conceive of themselves as a pair of boxers in a ring, once the identities are legion rather than two, no single one would have the right or power to override others.

This sort of thinking is seen as subversive in today’s Israel, but here is what I learned from Mira Awad on that long ride north: in order for the Lorde tribute to succeed, it has to be subversive. The most subversive act is to not think the way we are told to think. My life I was told to think about “us” and “them.” Even in the hopeful 90s, when “they” were potential partners for peace, they were still “them.” The Lorde Project finally allowed me to decisively get past this paradigm. I stopped thinking about collaborating with the other. We were all “us” and we were all “others” — an idea that undermines both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. I loved it.

The easy part’s over now

Ruthie had a meeting in a part of the city where meetings aren’t often held. She was going to the Hatikva neighborhood, a working class quarter just east of the highway that marks the boundary of Tel Aviv’s downtown. I opted to accompany her. The final days of January were spring-like and the sunny streets were a delight.

We skirted the central bus station, passing the one block where Mizrahi music was once available on cassettes. The music playing there today caught my ear; the rhythm was distinctly East African, yet more relaxed than that of the Ethiopian music I know. The language was Arabic. Streets around the old station are now home to thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. This would be the Sudanese groove.

We walked down Neve Sha’anan Street. This used to be the city’s cobbler district — old shoe shops, often owned by Persian Jews, still line the street. In between them are Eritrean restaurants, a Filipino grocery, a Romanian watering hole and an Indian store displaying strange balms at its window. The state seldom reads asylum petitions and locks up asylum seekers for long periods without trial. It often deports migrant workers along with their Israeli-born children. These people are seldom considered part of the social fabric, yet they, too, figure into the country’s identity puzzle. Lorde would have to be more prolific than Bach to provide all these languages with songs.

East of the highway, the mix remains overwhelming. We sat down for lunch at a Yemenite spot in Hatikva’s fabulous market ally. The food was much the same as what we had at Nehama’s on the day this whole ordeal began. I now looked at things differently. I had to do it justice. It urged me to find someone who sings in Yemenite Arabic.

“I dream of living in a world where the green schoog is as spicy as the red schoog” said Ruthie.

“Such simple worries you have.”

“Why, what do you worry about?”

“Listen to the music,” I implored, “Listen to the song that’s playing in the background. Do you hear it?”

I hummed along:

The easy part’s over now
We’ve come to the end
The easy part’s over now
And the hard part begins…

“That’s Charlie Pride! It’s vintage country! This is what they’re playing at a jachnoon joint! Once you open your eyes to really look at this country, it’s absolutely insane. How am I ever going to sort the right five or six languages for the project? What would they be? So far we have Yiddish and French, and that is such a bloody random combination, that they don’t even seem totally relevant, but then again everything is so random, and what is relevant? And how would I find the right people to sing in the right languages? It’s just too much. This entire place is too much.”

Kurdish horizon

I needed help. I needed a supportive community. Uptown, in a pleasant cafe on Dizengoff Square, I met up a few days later with DJ, attorney and Mizrahi activist Ophir Toubul. He is editor of Cafe Gibraltar music blog, where the diverse sounds of this country are discussed in terms of identity and social politics.

I asked Ophir if he would publish a call for musicians to participate in my project on the site. He said they had just put out a similar call for an anthology of Israeli female vocalists. He didn’t wish to confuse readers with another. Not just yet.

“But Ophir,” I pleaded, “What am I going to do? I don’t know where to start!”

“Try Ilana Eliya,” he suggested. “She’s into hip hop.”

“Ilana Eliya, the Kurdish singer?” Now, there was a name I knew and admired. “Hip hop? Really?”

“Uh oh,” Ophir glanced at his phone, “Looks like a war just broke out.”

I quickly pulled out my own. Two Israeli soldiers were killed by Hezbollah on the Lebanese border, clearly in retaliation for a recent Israeli attack on a convoy in Syria.

Dizengoff Square kept buzzing around two disheartened guys. Why should a war not erupt? The timing, seven weeks ahead of the elections, was convenient, we both agreed. A neat outburst of violence on the northern frontier would scare the voters into Netanyahu’s arms and assure his victory. What would become of his female vocalists’ project in the case of a war? What would become of my Lorde project? How is art possible in such a place?

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War is frightening, not only for its violence. It drowns out any alternative thinking in a tide of “us vs. them” politics, a phenomenon I like to call “invasion of the body snatchers.” It always does that. Everyone talks the same. It is so terrifying and depressing, that it simply consumes all creativity. I bade Ophir farewell and grimly walked up Dizengoff. I had no energy. I was not about to call Ilana Eliya, despite how eclectic her taste was. The threat of war alone has killed my will. Less than six months passed since the most recent one, the one that left nearly 600 children dead in Gaza. This bloody reality. Could anyone blame me for being obsessed with Lorde? With New Zealand?

I remembered translating “Buzzcut Season” and realizing how poignant her lyrics sounded in Hebrew:

Explosions on TV
And all the girls with heads inside a dream
So now we live beside the pool
Where everything is good.

This was where I needed to be. I was reaching for somewhere simpler, trying to fly there on wings of song. One day I’ll reach it, I’ll just go there and I’ll never go home again. I can’t deal with home. Fuck home. Fuck home!

(Part 13 of 15. For more, click here, or join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 12: Never be Royals? http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-12-never-be-royals/101794/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-12-never-be-royals/101794/#comments Mon, 23 Feb 2015 09:39:43 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101794 When the going gets tough, the only way to move forward is to think differently. Following the disheartening drive from the South, the Lorde tribute project picks a new direction.

Part 12 of 15. To read the rest of the series, click here.

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Friday was the last day of the rainy spell. The brave editor of this series, Mike Schaeffer Omer-Man, and Emily, his human rights lawyer wife, had us over for a hummus brunch in Jaffa. Beyond their apartment’s large French windows were the comely, winter-gray Mediterranean and something even grayer: a concrete ruin, an abandoned high rise that used to house offices of the customs authority.

I stood by those windows with a glass of Jaffa coffee, gazing at both grays with a spirit that wasn’t much more rainbow-like. “I’m giving up on the project,” I told Mike, “I rode all the way from the desert last night with Mira Awad. She convinced me that this isn’t a time for collaborations, not of this sort, at least. The situation has deteriorated too far. Anyone with any sense just wants to scream, and my project doesn’t qualify as a scream.”

He gave an understanding nod.

“I’m up to chapter 11 in the written account. Chapter 12 will be the last. I recorded one song with Yaron. We’ll find something to do with it.”

He nodded again. Did I want him to argue? To cause me to change my mind?

“Tomorrow I have a meeting with this vocal duo in Jerusalem, ‘The Djamchid Sisters.’ Yaron likes them. I’ll go and rehearse with them, but I’m not sure we’ll even record it. We’ll never be royals,” I coughed a bitter, pea-sized laugh, “we’ll never be on each other’s team, not until we reduce a little bit of the injustice here and calm some of the anger.” Mike knew all about that. You see a lot of it when you edit for +972. At times I even wondered whether he himself was somewhat offended by my jolly musical flight of fancy. “I mean, dude, I knew this was weird all along. I knew it. I just wanted to be the change I’d like to see in the world. Get it? Little acts of togetherness enable progress, but then, only progress enables them, but then, only they enable progress. It’s a chicken and egg thing. I just wanted to lay an egg.”

Mike is a softly spoken, contemplative guy. He contemplated, then said softly: “Okay, if that’s what you feel is right.”

Sum of its parts

It did feel right to me, but someone else disagreed, someone who has been following this project from the start, quietly but intently, someone whose need to scream these days is huge, who hurts at the sight of injustice perhaps worse than any of us. It was Ruthie, and on the way home, as we hopped over Herzl Street’s puddles, she convinced me not to give up. A crisis, she reminded me, is a crisis, and what leads out of crisis is a change of paradigm.

On the way to meet the Djamshid Sisters in Jerusalem, I strained my brain. How could I change my paradigm? What was wrong with my current paradigm? All I wanted was collaboration, friendship, union!

The sherut minibus began winding through the valleys, puffing its way up to the celestial city. I let go of my private brainstorm and checked my Facebook feed. Someone posted a picture of Shira onstage, wearing what looked like a dress my late Polish grandmother might own. I read the caption. The photo was taken at a concert featuring female Israeli singers who sang in the tongue of their ancestors. I’ve heard of such events before. They reflect the current identity explorations of the Israeli Left: showcasing the diversity of cultures brought here from the Jewish diasporas, and the failure of the crucible that was meant to melt them into one. Shira and her ‘Hazelnuts’ did an original Yiddish rendition of “Bie Mir Bist du Schein.”

Hold on.

I gave her a call. “Listen, I said. “The project is in flux. Mira Awad is out. Luna Abu Nassar is out. This Palestinian girl who is Lorde’s spitting image is out.”

“Really? Why?”

“Too complicated to explain, but I’m thinking of diversifying, of breaking the dichotomy and exploring identity on a different level. Let’s do that, and see if the Palestinians join in. Would you do ‘Team’ in Yiddish?”

Hers was the warmest “yes” I have heard since the whole journey began. Fantastic. In an hour I would be with the Djamchid Sisters. When we first met, at some Jerusalem event that Shira organized, I asked about their last name. They explained that is Iranian. Hebrew, Yiddish, Farsi… This could yet turn into something. I stepped off the Sherut in the center of West Jerusalem feeling fresh, and headed on foot to the Djamchids’ home, though it was a fair distance to the south, and east.

La Colonie

When I first suggested the project to Yaron, he proposed we record in the house of a friend who owned a piano. The house and the piano were both in the West Bank settlement of Alphe Menashe. “You are out of your mind!” I told him, “We are not recording a bi-national project in a settlement!”

Now here I was walking to one. Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood is probably the most soft-core settlement of them all. It was built on what used to be a UN held enclave before the Six Day War. Nonetheless, according to international law it is just as illegal as any other. Its residents are Israeli citizens, unlike the Palestinians living on the surrounding hills, and their living conditions superior.

So be it, I thought. I was now out to meet the Israelis, and so many Israelis were drawn across the Green Line over the years, most often by the unthinkable cost of living. The Djamshid sisters may not even be aware of their neighborhood’s status. I grew up in a north-east Jerusalem settlement, and only came to realize that as a grown-up.

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Armon Hanatziv is a peaceful puzzle of cookie-cutter developments tiled in Jerusalem stone, parking lots and pleasant public playgrounds. Shai-li and Eden Djamchid are in their early twenties and still live at home. An entire family welcomed me in its cute abode, and I got to taste two homemade cakes: a Hungarian yeast cake and a Napoleon. The sisters strained to listen as I explained the new concept with my mouth full. “So each artist will sing a song in a language that reflects their family’s history. You, for example, could sing in – ”

“French!” they both cheered.

How could I forget? The sisters may be half Persian, by they are French-Israeli on their mother’s side and total Francophiles. I was suddenly unsure. French is great, but is it as much a local language as Yiddish and Farsi are? Yiddish is uniquely Jewish, Farsi is Middle Eastern. French is… well… a lot of Israelis speak French, French Jews, and Moroccans, and fans of Godard from all backgrounds. It’s legit, yes, but is it legit enough for Royals? The biggest hit? I can’t hand Royals to the French!

I opened my mouth, about to bring up Farsi, then shut it. Here is one lesson my chain of disappointments has taught me: don’t decide people’s identity for them. I faintly raised the question of whether French was local or foreign, but soon brushed it away. Stop thinking you know better than anyone what this country is about, I told myself, and for the love of God, stop being so dominant and controlling. Fate had it that these two amazing musicians will sing Royals in French. For once, let fate have its way.

“Can you think of a translator?” I asked.

“Our mom,” Shai-li pointed to the living room sofa, where their mother’s eyes rose over her book, curious.

“There’s this singer,” I began, “from New Zealand…”

“No need for introductions,” Eden smiled, “Royals is her ring tone.”

(Part 12 of 15. For more, click here, or join us on Facebook! First clip is of the The Hazelnuts singing “Bie mir bistu schein”, in the second: the Djamchid sisters pay a tribute.)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 11: The lift http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-11-the-lift/101464/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-11-the-lift/101464/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 13:04:48 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101464 It’s cease or desist for the Lorde project, as Yuval gets a rare opportunity for a long nocturnal drive with a great musician.

Part 11 of 15. For more, click here.

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We all packed up into a seven-seater Suburban: Mira Awad, three other actors and myself. Yigal Ezrati, Jaffa Theater’s director, was the driver. Clearly I couldn’t bring up the project right way, so I was quiet, which brought about an uneasy silence. We pulled into a gas station by the adjacent kibbutz. Yigal left the car to fuel. Mira hummed something, she was in a lovely mood.

“So why are you here?” Einat Weizman, the actress sitting shotgun, turned back and asked me.

“I came for the poetry festival,” I lied, but this little white lie warmed up the quiet car with some well needed, lively chat about the current state of Hebrew poetry. Einat was well versed in the scene. We found that we both admire a group of Mizrahi poets that have recently made a powerful political and poetic stand. “Tehila Hakimi! Adi Keissar!” Einat named two, “I’m crazy about them.”

“You should turn back now, then. They’ll both be reading at the festival tomorrow. I wish I could, too. I’m a fan, a real fan, the same way I am with Lorde,” and I turned my eyes to Mira, who was sitting to my left.

She smiled and said, “We have to talk about this.”

Yigal returned and we resumed our northbound journey. The darkness about us was interrupted first by the bright lights of military installments, then by the far fainter ones of Bedouin shanty towns. Mira spoke: “If you were to say to me, let’s take this great poetry, say, Adi Keissar’s poetry, and do a project with it. I would say yes right away. It’s Hebrew stuff, it’s poetry, we could combine it with Arabic poetry and do something local and special. I would love this, but Lorde, why Lorde?”

“Because that’s what makes it interesting! You bring in something foreign and see how things stir. Look, Lorde’s stuff is political in its own way, but in the context of this country it appears neutral. I’m trying to demonstrate how political things get here even when the subject matter is neutral.”

“Everything is political,” Mira decreed.

“Sure, everything is.”

“When you approached me, it was political. It was because I’m an Arab.”

“Well, yes, but also because you are Mira Awad, and you’re amazing, but hey, that’s exactly what I’m saying. This project may seem apolitical, but it is very political.” Still a bit unsure whether Mira was wary of the “political” or whether she sought it. I decided to err on the latter. “I promise you that it does not belittle things. Here’s where it comes from: I work with Palestinians and I have come to realize that there are two legitimate societies living here. If I want my tribute to Lorde to be honest, it must reflect that. Now, the more I work on it, the more issues pop up, so I’m writing it all down, to show those issues. It’s an educational project!”

I knew this would not do the trick. My online diary may be dense with charged themes, but the recording would just be a bilingual pop-fest. Mira has already been there, she went to the Eurovision with Noa. She later got stung by anti-normalization, and her point of view changed. She didn’t want to be part of something like that and she was perfectly right.

The actor sitting to my right now coughed to grab our attention: “What’s Lorde?” he asked.

She’s a bridger

I had brought a bottle of whiskey to drink with the poets. We broke it out, The actor, Durad Lidawi, pulled out his phone, and the YouTube party began. Mira surprised me with her Lorde song of Choice: Yellow Flicker Beat, from the latest “Hunger Games” soundtrack. “The way she dances in the clip!” she exclaimed, “It’s crazy. You have to see that.” I surprised her in turn by revealing Lorde’s age to her. She found it hard to believe.

“Eighteen?”

“She was sixteen when she broke big. She is a bridger, Mira! the fact that you and I can love her stuff means that she bridges generations! This is political! Be in my project! It’s political!” I was already joking. I have accepted the verdict. Mira was out.

Soon we moved on from Lorde. First to other contemporary pop, particularly Stromae, then to Fiona Apple, which Mira and I both love. Durad was revealed to be a lover of Chanson, and Einat contributed something weird in Afrikaans with a clip we all found disturbing. Eventually, however, Arabic took over. Durad played us a tune by Haifa singer Therese Sliman. Mira liked her, but complained about her use of Lebanese dialect. “Everyone sings in Lebanese or Egyptian dialect, in order to make it big,” she explained.

Finally we all cracked up to a song by Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar. It was entitled: “Scarlet Johansson Has Gas.” The context was clear to us all. Johansson has been acting as presenter for Soda Stream, an Israeli company that manufactures in the West Bank. Activists with the BDS movement, which seeks to use Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as a tool against the Occupation (not to be confused with anti-normalization) targeted her, hoping to make her ditch the campaign. Johansson remained faithful to Soda Stream’s home carbonation devices, and won Nafar’s musical offering.

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I tend to support BDS. We have been stuck in a sick, violent status-quo for too long. I think of sanctions as a powerful non-violent weapon. I have been impressed when BDS activists warded international artists from performing in Israel. The outrage among fans in such events provides rare instants in which overly cushioned Israelis become uncomfortable with the reality here. Chatting about BDS in the theater troupe’s Suburban under Tel Aviv’s lights as they grew denser, I found myself confronted with a troubling thought, and not for the first time: what if Lorde was to come? Would I support the efforts to dissuade her?

No, I decreed. There must be an exception, and Lorde must be it! I decided I would offer her and her entourage a free tour with Husam and I. We will provide the political spice. No worries. Hell, I deserved some musical compensation for having lost my chance with Mira.

And that was when I knew that it wasn’t only Mira. That’s when I knew that I was not about to make that breakthrough, with anyone. The project was just wrong. It did not present any meaningful statement, at least not clearly enough. I have come far enough. I have told the story in a way that allowed for several ideas to float. That was good enough. Yaron and I will improve our version of “Buzzcut Season,” pair it to my own songs, the Jara tune and Nancy Griffith’s as a bonus track, and call it a day.

Yigal pulled up before Mira’s house in an eastern neighborhood. Her husband was outside. I offered him the leftover whisky but he said they had enough at home. She waved to me through the car door. We will stay in touch.

Einat’s apartment was walking distance from home, so I jumped off with her and strolled on from there through the rainy, dormant city. Losing can be liberating, so they say. It did feel a bit liberating at two in the morning, after crossing the entire country twice in the same day. I started off with too much hope; that’s my problem. I took my inspiration from a teenager, someone who hopes. Silly mistake, never to be repeated.

(Part 11 of 15. For more, click hereor join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde diaries, chapter 10: Law of desire http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-10-love-story/101407/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-10-love-story/101407/#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 12:22:46 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101407 The story takes a southern turn, as Yuval heads into the desert for a possible rendezvous with an elusive star, and has disturbing thoughts on the way.

Click here to read the previous chapters of the ‘Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries’

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And so I was left with no choice. I had to travel to a freezing desert plateau, where I would chase Mira Awad and try to make her change her mind.

The way to Sde Boker by public transportation begins with a 70-minute train ride to Be’er Sheva. At Tel Aviv’s Hahagana station I bumped into another traveler headed for the same poetry festival. It was quirky Israeli electro-pop musician Yael Birenbaum, the bespectacled leader of the uber hipstery band Jack in the Box. I described my mission to her.

“So you’re going to make a move on Mira Awad?” she giggled.

“I guess you could say so, but I also brought some olives, and good Turkish cheese and a bottle of whiskey.”

“Why?” she snickered, “so you can seduce Mira Awad?”

“No, stupid! So you and I and the other poetry people can sit around late at night and shoot the shit.”

I have been attending the festival religiously for years. Yael is always there and I have learned to take her humor with a grain of desert sand. Still, while watching the rainy suburbs thin away through the train window, I couldn’t help but muse over a concept I have hitherto kept out of my thoughts, for obvious reasons. It was the concept of eroticizing.

The awkward situation at the Willy Brandt center played out much like a failed date. It was enough to make one wonder: what was the role of Eros in this story? Was I eroticizing Lorde? Now, there was a disturbing thought. She was so young! I supposed she was a fantasy, though less my own than of my frequently-infatuated high-school self. Glorifying her was a sort of emotional and intellectual time travel.

What concerned me more was the idea that I was eroticizing Palestine. To me, the power structure in the country reads a lot like a severely abusive relationship. Both spouses are violent, but Israel is the physically superior, controlling one — the one with the key to the basement. This is traditionally a masculine role. I did not identify with my nation’s behavior, I fought against it, I sought to rescue the damsel in distress. In other words: I have internalized the gender code.

All the Palestinians we have approached so far — Hanin, Luna, Mira and Rasha — were women. Husam advised me to involve a man named Tamer. That same Tamer was present at the Wily Brandt center event. He turned out to be involved with Heartbeat. I gave him a big hug but mentioned nothing of the project. I love Palestinian men, I love Husam as well as Aziz, who started the dual narrative tours. I love Tamer too, but for this creative project I was seeking women, so that we may give birth to the album together. I was trying to make this into a love story, in which I am the man.

This was dangerous. I have read enough post-colonialist theory to know how sad this attitude is, and how ill are its roots. For centuries the West has objectified the Arab world, feminizing it to fit a fantasy of control.  ‫I would have to somehow snap out of this paradigm and go through some sort of political gender reassignment procedure. But how in the world is that done?

Oh, you’ll meet her

At dusk we stepped off the bus at a lonesome intersection, engulfed by the dark wasteland, and made our way towards the lights of the Sde Boker boarding school. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, is buried here next his wife Pola. Their headstones jut out from a clifftop above a stunning canyon, and the rest of the school’s structures huddle only a few steps away from the ravine.

It was too dark already for us to enjoy the splendor, yet too quiet to feel at home. Everybody was at some poetry reading in the main conference hall, so we went and checked into the guest house. On the wall facing reception was a photo of Ben-Gurion, gray-haired and iconic, a desert landscape behind him. “What a stud,” Yael remarked.

I rushed to the auditorium ahead of Mira Awad’s performance. I was tense. I would have a fleeting opportunity to present myself to the star of the evening and renew the offer. I walked among the sleepy dormitories toward the well-lit auditorium. A crowd began to gather inside. Outside, leaning on a post and smoking a cigarette, was a woman who greeted me with the warmest smile. It was Ravid Sevil, who works as the show manager of Jaffa theater. I’ve known her for years, both because I use to write theater reviews, and because she’s just straight up cool.

Then it hit me. The play about Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was a Jaffa theater production. “I need your help,” I told Ravid, “I need to meet Mira Awad.”

“Oh, you’ll meet her,” she smiled, pulling out a cigarette to share with me.

Incredible. This meant that within two hours my job will be done and I will run out of things to do in Sde Boker. I had no patience for the poetry; I was here for Lorde. “Are you driving home tonight?” I asked.

“There’s no room in my car, but you can take a lift with the cast.”

Right then the cast arrived, bearing their musical instruments. Ravid introduced me to the cheerful, fair-haired Mira Awad. I told her I was Yuval from the Lorde project. There was no time for any more chat, as they were all a bit late, but there would be so much time later, two hours at least.

I had just sworn to avoid any thought that hints at objectifying, but simply could not ignore the beautiful symbolism: Ravid was the daughter of Turkish Jews, and hence a Mizrahi. Faithful to her community’s bridging potential, she allowed the Ashkenazi Jew and the Palestinian to meet.

Between Rita and my eyes

Having sucked on the cigarette, I ran back to the guest house to fetch my bag before returning to the auditorium, where a silver-haired professor was analyzing Darwish’s poetry in Hebrew, as a prelude to the play. He talked about Rita, the subject of many Darwish poems. ”The Palestinians describe Rita as a metaphor for Palestine, but this is of course untrue,” he said, “Rita was a real woman, a fair-haired Israeli kibbutznik. Darwish would make great coffee in his Haifa apartment, and many women would come up to enjoy his coffee. Rita was one of them. This reminds me of how rabbis describe the ‘Song of Songs’ as an allegory about the Jewish people and the torah. Of course the Song of Songs is not about the torah — it’s a collection of erotic poetry.”

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I believed that Rita was a real woman, but that did not mean that she couldn’t also be a metaphor. When her name came up again and again during the performance, at times sung to Mira Awad’s guitar, I kept thinking that she could be a metaphor to either Palestine and Israel, or both. “Between Rita and my eyes is a gun”, Darwish wrote. I knew that gun.

If Rita was Israeli, and especially if she represents Israel in some of the the poems, then Darwish succeeded at reversing the gender roles. This was more than I ever expected of poetry. This festival has been a smash. I was ready for the ride back home.

(Part 10 of 15. For more, click hereor join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 9: The Arab Lorde http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-9-the-arab-lorde/101337/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-9-the-arab-lorde/101337/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 12:39:31 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101337  Two nights in Jerusalem bring many a new acquaintance, and make things seem so much simpler— or complicated.

Click here to read the previous chapters of the ‘Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries’

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Winter was only getting more severe, which presented a dilemma. Being a poetry lover, I head south each year for a poetry festival held in the heart of the desert, at the Sde Boker boarding school. This year I contemplated skipping. Sde Boker is perched atop a steep mesa, overlooking a dramatic canyon and is perfectly exposed to desert winds that can be vicious when winter is earnest. The poets are put up in rooms that often lack windows and where the heating rarely functions. Why would I do this to myself?

On the other hand, I heard that Mira Awad was due to perform there, in a theater play based on the poems of Mahmoud Darwish. I could brave the cold and try and have a word with her. This could prove a very false step. I may never reach her there. I could end up traveling hours into the frozen desert for an awkward moment that would result in nothing. Was the gamble worth it?

I had a whole week to contemplate, and it was a busy one. On Monday I attended a Jerusalem Kiwi gathering. Michelle (the guest on our New Zealand radio program) invited me to meet a group of school teachers who came for a program at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. I also got to meet her super-sweet, Wellington-born mother, Sue, who is aware of my obsessions and brought me some Marmite from the old country. “Keep the ziplock bag, too,” she offered with a wink, “It’s also from New Zealand.”

While we waited for the teachers around a table at “Mike’s Place,” Michelle told of the annual gathering of New Zealand expatriates in Israel. It takes place at Kibbutz Yizrael, up north. “You haven’t seen anything,” she said, “until you’ve seen a bunch of Polish and Hungarian Jews whose families left Europe before the war standing in the heart of the Middle East, which is where they ended up, doing a Haka in piupiu skirts.”

The teachers were exceedingly sweet and very curious about the living politics of the region. I ended up playing the radical outsider to Yad Vashem’s Zionist narrative. We had a few pints and then headed for an after-hours walk in the Old City. At the Wailing Wall I told them, among other things, that they may see people stepping backwards from the wall, so as not to turn their backs on it. A Maori member of the group told me that Maoris treat the ocean with the same token of respect.

She sucks

I left Jerusalem even further enchanted with New Zealand. Those kind people from the poem by Dalia Rabikovitch — I actually met them! I was proud to show them my country. Peaceful or not, Jerusalem is ravishing at night. It will yet appear in dreams had far, far away.

The following day I again took the sherut to Jerusalem, again for drinks in international company. This time: Germans and Russians. The first get-together was a farewell to Torge, a friend who was leaving his post as director of Jerusalem’s Willy Brandt Center. It featured live music from a group named “Heartbeat.” It turned out to be made up of Israeli and Palestinian youths, brought together by a peacenik NGO of the same name.

“You see,” I told the guy who was next to me in line at the refreshments table, “It’s so easy getting the kids together, but try and get grownups to do something as simple as record a Lorde cover.”

He suggested that I recruit Heartbeat for the project, but I wasn’t keen. Heartbeat was meaningful, all right. Their songs brought up real issues in a confidant way. One kid even gave a pretty good rap bit about being from a refugee camp, but I was put off by the NGO dimension, by the foreign intervention. My project was grassroots!  The little anti-Normalization activist hiding inside me joined hands with a tiny post-colonialist scholar and both yelled: “enough with bleeding heart Americans and Germans who try to turn the conflict into a Broadway musical!”

“No duets,” I committed to the munching stranger. “There’s a wall between us, and my album must reflect it.”

Proud though I was, during intermission I couldn’t help myself. I stepped over to Ami Yares, an old friend and fine musician who coaches the Heartbeat kids, and asked for his support. “Dude,” I said, “You’re working with a lot of talent, and I am looking for talent.”

“Rasha,” Ami called out, stopping a girl as she made her way down the hall, “I’d like for you to meet my friend Yuval.”

Rasha was young, but evidently not too young to be walking about with a glass of wine. I estimated her age at 18. She had a waterfall of dark hair tied up in several pins over piercing dark eyes. She looked a lot like a Middle Eastern variation of my project’s subject matter.

“Do you know the singer Lorde?” I asked in English.

“I do,” said Rasha. “She sucks.”

A-ha.

Still, I had little to lose, so went ahead and asked: “Would you like to participate in an Israeli -Palestinian tribute to her?”

“Sure.”

“Even though she sucks?”

“Yeah, why not.”

“Can you translate? We need translations of her lyrics into Arabic.”

“You mean, to translate them in sync, so they can be sung?”

Well, hello.

We got talking. I learned that Rasha sings, plays the guitar and composes all her own material. “I’ve been writing up a storm lately,” she told, “10 songs in two months. They’re not all ready yet, but the lyrics are all there. First I come up with lyrics and then I toy with music.”

This was nearly a direct quote of Lorde. “Alright,” I said, “let’s talk after you play. I’ll leave you my information.” If Rasha turned out to be a disaster, I could sneak out and make it on time to the next social function: a house party of Russian Israelis, in celebration of New Year according to the Julian calender.

The grand faux pas

Rasha strummed a chord, and I knew I was going to be late for that party. Vocally, she was more of a female Tom Waits than an Arab Lorde, and that was just fine by me. She rasped small eulogies of our torn land. I loved them. There was no need to stalk Mira Awad in the wasteland. I went into the Center’s kitchen, where I previously plugged my phone to charge, and texted Yaron: “There is a partner.”

Ami gave a set after Rasha and then called on me to play a tune or two on Rasha’s guitar. I played one of my own, then spoke a bit about the project and ventured into “Buzzcut Season,” but something went wrong. Rasha’s guitar went out of tune, and my voice died. I couldn’t hit the high notes. I stopped after one verse, said something about Lorde being more equipped to sing at this scale, and walked offstage.

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And so the fleeting chance was lost. What aspiring young musician would want to cooperate with someone this amateur? We overcame all the political issues, the sensitivities and possible misunderstanding, the language barriers and sick power structures, the hurt and the guilt. Naturally, it was now up to a simple false note to ruin it all. I stopped over to hand Rasha a note with my name, so she could find me on Facebook. She accepted it without breaking another conversation. I waved goodbye cheerfully, but reached the Russian party gravely in need of horseradish vodka. I blew another chance. This was going nowhere, absolutely nowhere.

(Part 9 of 15. For more, click hereor join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 8: Mizrahi vibrations http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-8-mizrahi-vibrations/101208/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-8-mizrahi-vibrations/101208/#comments Mon, 09 Feb 2015 12:58:01 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101208 There’s more to Israeli music than your typical Do-Re-Mi, but as our heroes try to explore new scales, they run into a false note.

Click here to read the previous chapters of the ‘Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries’

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The storm was beating relentlessly at our shutters. It was too cold to go out to Nehama, too rainy to meet up and record. Yaron and I chatted online instead.

“I want one of the Israeli songs we do to be Mizrahi,” he wrote.

This was a good enough and important enough of an idea that it warrants a break from the anyway hibernating storyline to bring you a brief outline of Israeli musical history.

Zionism was born in Russia, and the first Zionist songs were Russian folk songs. Just ahead of the turn of the 20th century, Jewish immigrants began bringing Kalinka Kalinka sounds into a land with a very un-Russian groove, a land of Dabke and Mejana.

Later waves of European immigration brought some new influences and a little more openness. Yemenite Jews, who founded communities in the Holy Land starting in the early 1900s, had their own distinctly Middle Eastern groove. But for the most part, a dichotomy reigned, and at the time of Israel’s establishment Israeli music remained largely Slavic, while Palestinian music was Arab.

Enter the Cold War. The young State of Israel gradually turned into a small outpost of American interests in the Middle East, and with the yearly stipend came cultural baggage. The Russian pathos was largely replaced with American folk strumming. Mainstream Israeli musicians also found inspiration in Latin American “Nueva Cancion,” in French Chanson and eventually in rock. They seldom looked to the region for musical gifts. Arabs were the enemy, and their strange scales and use of quarter tones were a threat.

Meanwhile, a new musical civilization was brewing under the radar. Jews of Middle Eastern origins, most of whom arrived in the country during the ’50s, were making their own music. It was influenced by all sorts of Arabic and Mediterranean styles: from Moroccan and Yemenite to Greek and Turkish.

Mizrahi Jews (a term more comprehensive than “Sepharadic,” since it applies also to the communities of Iran and Arabia) make up at least half of Israel’s Jewish population, yet their music was rejected by the powerful hegemony. During my childhood, Mizrahi music existed neither on the radio nor in record stores. To the best of my knowledge, its recordings were only available it Tel Aviv’s central bus station, on cassette tapes. I grew up with the notion that these cassettes contained nothing but trash. Real music was Western music. Just as real culture was Western culture.

A shift came in the ’90s, caused, among other things, by hope. With the Oslo accords, Israel expressed a short lived will to merge with the rest of the Middle East. Middle Eastern attitudes and aesthetics suddenly appeared less threatening. The various Mizrahi styles finally broke onto the airwaves and the stages of classy arenas, but just as most Mizrahim remained marginalized in society, their music remained unwelcome by most Ashkenazim. I like to say that I enjoy it, but didn’t even think of bringing it into our project.

I’m Ashkenazi. We pretty much all share this blind spot.

I embrace! I embrace!

Not all, though. Yaron, apparently, had Mizrahi sounds on his mind. Here was yet another challenge sure to sober us up. Segregation exists here not only between Jews and Arabs and between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews. I knew no one who made this kind of music, and assumed the same of Yaron, but he surprised me: “I know just the guy,” he said.

“Really, who?”

“It’s Avi Dangor. You know, he used to do this character, Avi the singer.”

Something didn’t sound right. “Wasn’t Avi the Singer a parody on Mizrahi musicians?”

Yaron confirmed, “But at the same time, Avi is the real thing. He came from Qiryat Ata, from the ghetto, and he’s an amazing performer. You should see him at work.”

Who was I to deny “the real thing”? I said okay, but then talked it through with equally rained-in Ruthie, and wrote back to reject. “I understand that Avi is part of that community, and he has every right to make fun of it, but I am not, so I don’t.”

Yaron understood. He sent me a clip of singer named Shimon Buskila. Buskila was Mizrahi by name and by vocal mannerism, but his piano-driven crooning reminded me of Michael Bolton. “I love the way he sings,” Yaron insisted. “It’s very moving.”

We went back to discuss possible Palestinian partners. I brought up a few names, but Yaron cautioned that they wouldn’t fall in musically. “You’re thinking of political value,” he wrote, “I’m thinking about aesthetics, and what would make it interesting to the ear.”

What was with him? He wanted a Mizrahi singer, but a tongue in cheek one or a cheesy one. He was willing to jam with “the enemy” so long as it fit his musical palette? Where was his gall? The sun went down on our honeymoon stage. We were about to have our first musical fight.

“We need variety,” I wrote. “You are too attached to your musical line. We should present a spectrum.”

“A spectrum is made up of parallel lines,” he noted. “Joining the different and the similar — that is what makes something stick out. I just want us to have a concept.”

“Sure, sure, but try to embrace what doesn’t fall easily into it.”

“I embrace! I embrace!”

“Otherwise it’s what we Ashkenazim always do: define a ‘cultural’ frame into which everything must conform.”

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“What I am talking about transcends Ashkenazi politics,” Yaron insisted. “I’m thinking: if politics are the dividing factor, music must the bonding one. You are busy defining things according to social ideals. I’m looking for a uniting element, an internal language. What we do must succeed on both levels.”

This deserved some thought. “Alright,” I wrote. “The tension between your emphases and mine will yet breed something good. What matters is that we finally find our Fairouz.”

“I’m all for that too.”

A moment of learning

Once the storm calmed a bit, I came over to Ramat Gan and we recorded a “guide” for our first Lorde song: “Buzzcut Season,” the project’s namesake and my favorite of all.

Yaron stubbornly refused to listen to the original, so perfectly put together by Lorde and her producer Joel Little. He had his own vision for the song. We overlaid a couple of guitars and played with some sampled beats, but things didn’t quite click.

Then he picked up an electric guitar and gave a solo, a Middle Eastern solo.

“Amazing!” I exclaimed, “So You’re tying it up going Mizrahi here, too! This is the exact guitar you’d find on Chaim Moshe recordings from the 80s.”

“Not quite,” said Yaron, “this is the softened version. When we mix this with what we already have, we would get Beri Sakharof, we would get Ehud Banai.”

I hoped for this project to be a learning experience, and here was a major moment of learning. Sakharof and Banai are Israeli rock musicians who both hit it big in the 90s. Both share Mizrahi roots, but grew up with occidental folk and rock. Both listened intently to Mizrahi music, as well as to the richness of the Arab world, and were among the first to incorporate those vibes into mainstream Israel’s strange mix of the Russian, American and Brazilian, creating something that is uniquely Israeli. We just did that too, out of necessity, out of loneliness in our still-grounded project. We creatively communed with our country’s most profound trait: its identity crisis.

(Below are five small joys. The first four are Mizrahi: Pe’er Tasi’s ode to a one night stand has been the biggest radio hit in Israel over the period described in the diaries. Chaim Moshe’s song dates back to 1982 and is actually in Arabic, which is rare, but happens. Zehava Ben is always wonderful, and Amir Benayun sings a Mizrahi version of what was originally a Western-styled Israeli tune. The last song is by fusionist Ehud Banai.)

(Part 8 of 15. For more, click hereor join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries, chapter 7: Bus jammin’ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-7-bus-jammin/101024/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-7-bus-jammin/101024/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 01:23:22 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=101024 Ironically, it’s a break from music-making and partner-searching that produces a first duet, and with a very special musician, too.

Read the previous chapters of The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries here.

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On the fifth morning of the tour, after having breakfast at the group’s Jerusalem hotel, I climbed aboard the bus and found that we had a young guest. It was Husam’s 12-year-old daughter, Mayar. He explained that school is still out for the winter holidays. He thought it would be nice to take her to the Israel Museum with us.

At first I was amazed to see Mayar on this side of the wall. Her father, I knew, could travel through freely thanks to his job as a tour guide. He is one of about 5 percent of West Bank Palestinians who have permits to visit Israel. Often he is held up at the checkpoint in the mornings, but usually makes it through. Mayar was no tour guide, however. I soon remembered that she is a “Jerusalem Palestinian,” thanks to her mother, and therefore a bit more legally empowered. Besides, she is too young for travel limitations to apply.

She had never visited the museum before, and the group was about to explore it on its own so I offered myself as private guide. I was thrilled for the chance to show a West Bank kid around this bastion of Israeli culture. Mayar is a history buff, so first Husam and I took her to the archaeology department but we ended up discovering impressionist art as well, and even visiting the historical synagogues that were brought here from around the world.

I remember Husam speaking of his children to one of the groups. “I do all I can to prevent them from hating Israelis,” he said, “I introduce them to my Israeli friends, I show them that they are kind people, but I know that when my kids grow up, all of this will be useless. They will hate Israelis. My daughters see every day how the soldiers treat their mother at the checkpoint. They don’t treat her as a human being.”

My war against this young girl’s disdain was futile, but I was fighting it in style, with the help of Van Gogh.

The demon

We got back to the bus, ready to head out of town to Jericho, the Dead Sea, and beyond, I asked Husam how Mayar was going to make it home. “She isn’t,” he said. “She’s joining us for the rest of the trip.”

I couldn’t dream of better news. There’s only so much Van Gogh can do in one day, but four days could make a difference. It made sense, too. We don’t often have kids along on our tours, but this time two couples brought their children, and both were 12-year-old girls. The girls reared from different backgrounds. One was a West Coast Asian-American, the other, a blonde Georgian with a drawl. I was hoping Mayar would help them bond, and my wish came true. Watching the three girls form a cross-continental friendship, transcending all cultural and linguistic barriers, was beauty incarnate.

One day, while the bus cruised the hills of the Galilee, north of Nazareth, I pulled out my tiny travel guitar and called the girls attention. Interrupting a game of Uno in the back seats, I dedicated a song to them. It was: “We are never ever getting back together,” by Tailor Swift. The three reacted shyly at first, but soon moved to the front seats. Mayar then joined me for a duet of “Royals,” and finally all three taught me a song from “Frozen.”

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Thus, the first Israeli-Palestinian Lorde duet was sung. It did not happen within range of Yaron’s microphones, but it happened, in front of a supportive audience of 25 Americans. Mayar knew about 40 percent of the lyrics, which is a lot in my book, and for the first time in my life I found myself truly grateful for global culture.

Rolling Stone‘s first review of Lorde’s album opens with a comment on zeitgeist: “New artists in 2013 don’t come any ’2013′-ier than Lorde,” wrote critic Jon Dolan, “Ella Yelich-O’Connor is 16, but she could be 25. She sings tough and raps soft. She’s from New Zealand, but she could just as easily be from Tampa or Glasgow or Dubrovnik.” Mayar is from Bethlehem, but she could be from Atlanta or Buenos Aires or Auckland’s north shore.

Globalization, that demon which I vowed to fight to the death when I was Lorde’s age… Now it manifested itself as a promise, at least here. There’s so much that separates us: language, religion, a concrete wall and how we drink coffee. Political dominance makes up the most pronounced difference: I have rights, Mayar and Husam practically don’t. I am a citizen, while they live under military rule. In order to defy the system that categorizes us so cruelly, that seeks to turn us into enemies for its own good, we must focus on what makes us alike, and here is what makes us alike: we can sing Royals.

Storm front

I came home to news, bad news. Mira Awad said no. Following a week of silence, Yaron followed up. She wrote him that she doesn’t have the time.

Ruthie agreed that my emails scare people away, but not because of the phrasing. “They would scare them no matter how you put it. The Palestinian artists hear ‘Lorde’ and are keen. Then then realize that questions of identity and community are involved, and scramble for a way out. These are tense days. No one wants to be on the wrong side politically, and any side is the wrong side.” She suggested that next time I should call the candidate on the phone. A vocal exchange would allow the other side to express doubts, and for me to calm them.

The weather turned. A storm hit the region, bleaching Damascus,  Amman and Jerusalem with snow, and pouring torrents of hail over Tel Aviv. Ruthie came down with a sinus infection. We spent a lot of time at home, listening to jazz — particularly to Ornette Coleman,  playing GeoGuessr and eating soup enhanced with spoonfuls of Marmite. Our friend Daniella dropped by for some of the latter. She heard my story and quickly snickered.

“So basically you’re saying that you and another Israeli are trying to put this thing together, but no Palestinian would cooperate?” she asked.

“I guess so.”

“And doesn’t that mean that, you know, that there is no partner?”

There it was, That old Israeli cliche.  I let Daniella get away with it. She buys her Tahini in Nablus. She was being cynical. “I don’t blame them,” I said, “I wouldn’t play with rich kids who steal my lunch money, especially if I felt that it would make them feel better about themselves.”

“Figures,” said Daniella, “By the way, did you think of writing Lorde about all of this? I think she’d get a kick out of it.”

“Lorde is busy,” I said. ”Plus, this is nothing special. People make translations and covers of her music all over the world.”

“It’s special,” said Daniella, “the scene here is different.”

Maybe too different, I thought. Here is the real reason I was not going to send any of this Lorde’s way: the worst thing anyone could do to another person is to implicate them in the Gordian knot of Middle Eastern politics. Lorde is a real person and her production and publicity team is made up of real people. None of them must ever have to answer to any of this, unless they choose to.

Proper winter is so lovely when it finally gets to Tel Aviv. It helps the spirit forgive the Middle East for its knot. It empowers. I had to win this. I knew exactly why no one wanted to partner with us. I knew how ridiculous we seemed and that this is how ridiculous we actually were, but I was in too deep. We had to find a partner.

(Part 7 of 15. For more, click hereor join us on Facebook!)

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The Israel-Palestine Lorde diaries, Chapter 6: Crossing over http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-6-crossing-over/100649/ http://972mag.com/the-israel-palestine-lorde-diaries-chapter-6-crossing-over/100649/#comments Sun, 01 Feb 2015 06:30:18 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=100649 It’s time for the local Lorde tribute to go over the Line, in more than one way.  

Read the previous chapters of The Israel-Palestine Lorde Diaries here.

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On Boxing Day we traveled down to Bethlehem. We were five: my girlfriend Ruthie, three members of her research team (she is a doctoral student of social psychology) and yours truly. We have all been to Bethlehem before, where Israelis seldom venture, since like other Palestinian cities, it is designated “Area A.” It is illegal for us to be there, and most are scared off by cautionary tales that dehumanize the Palestinians living in these cities, describing them as vicious savages that will tear us to bits.

Ruthie and I choose to ignore both the law and the fears. It is our little act of civil disobedience, and we know which checkpoints are safe for us to use – the ones where being profiled as a Hebrew speaker is enough to get you through. Two of the research partners, Eric and Nevin, are foreign nationals, to whom neither law nor fears apply.

The fifth traveler is Siwar, a cool, sharp-minded Galilee Palestinian. Siwar’s brother, Hassan, was shot by Israeli police in October of 2000 in an outburst of unchecked police violence that left 13 Arab citizens dead in the north of Israel, and was the predecessor to the horrors of the Second Intifada. The story of her loss came up before we even passed Ben-Gurion Airport. This was going to be an interesting day.

Traveling to the West Bank is interesting regardless of the company. We would be caught at the main checkpoint, so we crossed the Green Line on a road paved for settlers and their guests. It boasts an imposing bridge and two tunnels, much like a Swiss highway. Rather than cut through mountain ranges, the tunnels here run below Palestinian neighborhoods and villages, allowing the settlers to avoid them. Outside the tunnels, enormous concrete walls shield the road from stone-throwing. The actual separation barrier is only vaguely visible from this road and the checkpoint is extremely relaxed. The system ensures that settlers should never feel they have left Israel.

We turned into a side road and entered the tiny besieged enclave that is Bethlehem.

I thought that we were traveling into Siwar’s territory, but she turned out to be very much a stranger herself. The occupation ended up separating Palestinians in the motherland into four groups based on legal status: Israeli citizens, West Bank residents, Jerusalem residents and Gazans. The divide produces a feeling of estrangement. Siwar said that Bethlehemites know her to be a citizen of Israel by her accent and attire. To them, she is privileged and potentially a traitor. Her loss is invisible.

Through the hours of sightseeing, feasting and souvenir shopping, I was looking forward to the end of the day when we were to have coffee with my Bethlehemite friend, Husam. I hoped that he would help me recruit a West Bank Palestinian for the project. Hanin, like Siwar, is a citizen, as are Mira Awad and Luna Abu Nassar.  Young Arab citizens of Israel identify nearly always as Palestinians; I learned to think of them as such, defying all the divide-and-conquer propaganda that still defines them “Israeli Arabs.” Still, we are more likely to meet them, and they are so much more likely to sing with us then are their brethren, who live under military occupation in the occupied territories. There was an edge here, a challenge.

Husam is a full man, a beautiful man. Wearing stylish, rectangular glasses, his neatly-cropped French beard circled by carefree gray whiskers. He is my guiding partner on the dual narrative tours, one of which was to begin the following day. He and I were going to regroup within 24 hours and stay together for ten full days, guiding a group for National Geographic Expeditions. But I couldn’t wait. Every day counts on the great Lorde chase. I asked him if he knew someone with a musical spirit who could translate songs from English, and maybe also sing them.

“Why don’t you call Tamer?” he asked.

“Who? Tamer the guide?”

“Yes.”

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Dang. Tamer is a fabulous guy, but a citizen. I hoped Husam would think of one of his fellow Bethlehemites, but could not say so out loud. How can you tell someone: Look, your disenfranchised political status is the sexy je ne sais quoi that I need for my album? That would be profoundly obscene.

Never mind, I decided. Even if everyone on the album is a citizen, it still counts. Enough with this bloody orientalism.

Bravado

The following night, already settled in a Jerusalem hotel ahead of the 10-day tour, I gathered the guts and texted Shira’s Arab contact, Luna Abu Nassar. She texted back and asked that I email her the details. That’s a good start. I spread a slice of bread with a thick layer of New Zealand Marmite on the hotel desk, and wrote her, gingerly selecting my terminology.

Abu Nassar sings beautifully both in her native Arabic and my native Hebrew. Would she be offended if I asked for her help with Arabic songs? Would she consider it tokenism? Was it tokenism? Would it be too political of me to use the word Palestinian? If Abu Nassar projects anything, it is Tel Avivian hispterdom. Should I call the project “Arabic-Hebrew” rather than “Israeli-Palestinian?” But what if she then concludes that I do not recognize Palestinians. So many Jewish Israelis never use the word “Palestinians,” denying their existence as a group and a nation. Would she think me one of them? Would that bother her?

God damn it. God damn this whole identity thing! I can’t write! I can’t speak! God damn!

Eventually, I found my own bravado, put my worries aside, used both “Arab” and “Palestinian” and clarified to Luna that Hebrew and Arabic are both open for her to choose from. I pressed send.

The reply arrived within an hour: she said no, writing that she is too busy. It must have been my phrasing. I must have come on too radical or ignorant. I forwarded my mail to Yaron. He said it looked just fine. I tried to calm down, it wasn’t easy. We got our first rejection letter.

Somehow I fell asleep despite all the second-guessing and woke up early to lead the group up to the Temple Mount. While there, directly at the foot of the splendorous Dome of the Rock, my phone lit up. It was Yaron. He texted that Mira Awad wrote him. She seemed interested. She said she thought Lorde’s songs were “cool.”

Woo!

That night I spoke to Shira. She chose a song. It was “Team.” She wanted to do it with her brass ensemble.

Woo hoo!

Two days later, while the group explored Yad Vashem on their own, I sat down at the museum’s cafeteria, begged forgiveness of Husam for not being social, and wrote Mira Awad a long synopsis of the project. Again, I hesitated. So much could be misunderstood, but a song played in my head, making all the difference and helping me click “send” again. It was the very first song of Lorde’s discography. In it she foresees her fame with striking accuracy, the difficulties it would bring and how worthwhile it would be to put up with them:

It’s a switch flipped
It’s a pill tipped back, it’s a moon eclipsed, whoa
And I can tell you that when the lights come on I’ll be ready for this

It’s in your bloodstream
A collision of atoms that happens before your eyes
It’s a marathon run or a mountain you scale without thinking of size

I was frightened of
every little thing that I thought was out to get me down
To trip me up and laugh at me

But I learnt not to want
The quiet of the room with no one around to find me out
I want the applause, the approval, the things that make me go

Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh

(Part 6 of 15. For more, click hereor join us on Facebook!)

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