Last night was enlightening, and I saw a truly different side of Tel Aviv during a local blues festival. The sort of avant garde underground scene you only hear about in documentaries and see in movies, yet rarely have the opportunity to experience in real life. The kind of time and setting people attempt to recreate worldwide, but fail miserably to recapture the authenticity of the moment.
You had to be there in that instant to truly understand.
Since you weren’t, I’ll help paint a mental picture. Imagine: a pub, large enough to comfortably fit 30, filled with easily over 50 individuals from around the world. The walls, covered with countless gaudy Andy Warhol-esque paintings, the wall’s paint badly chipped and in typical Middle Eastern fashion, painted in a near unidentifiable shade of “blue.” The bartender / sound man contributed to the oversaturated smell of cigarettes that littered the space so badly, every breath taken was a fight ready to be lost.
As I stood there, taking it all in, it hit me: everyone was gathered together for one purpose, to hear the Blues. One of America’s oldest and blackest exports had penetrated the heart of the Middle East, and I couldn’t have been more elated.
This is ‘Tsuzamen’ – a local venue and staple of success for indie musicians throughout the country, located in heart of southern (or downtown) Tel Aviv.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, Blues isn’t very Israeli, and that’s where you’re wrong. That night, I had the pleasure of playing with some of the finest musicians from all over Israel. The band filled the front end of the pub ready to play for its glassy-eyed audience members.
Oded Weiss & Peripherya was the featured band at the festival that night, which takes place twice a year, once in the winter and another in summer with a different lineup each time, combining 40 local bands with a number of world-class performers from abroad. The band is comprised of an amazing array of musicians made up of keyboard, acoustic guitar, voice, drums, electric guitar and myself, as guest violinist. The group’s lead singer captivated the audience with his protest-style Rock’n’Roll, with heavy influences of Blues and Blue-Collar Rock spanning all topics from social issues, to anti-fascism and even exploring the band’s inner-demons. Weiss belted out everything from Bob Dylan to his own and guitarist Adam Uriel Burstein’s original tunes. Oded, with his stick-it-to-the-man-like personality roused the semi-inebriated crowd with his eccentric anecdotes in between songs.
As a violinist, I often have the chance to play with bands, I had not, however, ever played the Blues with a finer set of musicians until that night. The grasp of American-style blues is not only something that is catching on here in Israel, but I’d even go as far as to say it’s thriving. From the streets of Hadar in Haifa, where everyone’s smoking, and it’s not always tobacco, to the wild and reckless streets of Tel Aviv, Blues music is gaining some traction throughout the country. If you’ve yet to check out Israel’s Blues scene, I suggest you head out and find where these guys and other bands like them are playing next.
As for me, I’ll be playing another set with Oded and the boys in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. For now, I will leave you with this blues tune performed by Oded & Peripherya.