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Thursday, April 17, 2014

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Israeli music stars to perform at Isrock Festival

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Hadag Nahash

Popular Israeli musicians will bring Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations to Toronto on April 28 as part of the Isrock Festival, a concert designed to bring Israeli music to the masses.

This is the second year for Motek Cultural Initiative, which will be showcasing three musical acts at the one-night-only event at the Sound Academy, designed to emulate Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations in Israel, said organizer Ravid Dahan.

Amidst the event’s carnival-like festivities will be a live concert with a lineup that includes hip-hop and funksters Hadag Nahash and rock veterans Mashina, who will be playing with folk musician Yael Deckelbaum.

It’s a great time to be an Israeli artist, said Sha’anan Streett, lead vocalist of the ever-political Hadag Nahash. “The entire art world is booming. We have more success than ever before in the world charts.”

The band is on tour visiting five North American cities to promote its new album, Time to Wake Up. Streett said the album was largely inspired by the Arab Spring, which he called a time of hope.

“There’s a sense the people were taking their fate into their hands and working together for a better tomorrow,” he said. “We found that very inspiring.”

This album is the band’s seventh, and it has more of a Middle Eastern feel to it than their previous releases, he said. While preparing for the new album, Streett said he bought more than 20 Arabic albums, hoping to “let it into my bloodstream.”

The fact that the band sometimes takes controversial political stances means not everybody is a fan. Streett described it as only half the people liking them, “but we always have our half.”

He recalled one concert in Texas when he found there were protesters demonstrating against their show. The band met with the protesters, and some of them enjoyed the show in the end.

“Our band is for peace. If the people demonstrating are for peace, we have something in common with them,” he said.

Someone uninitiated in the band’s music can expect to find in the live show a very rich sound, unlike many other hip-hop bands, in that there are many instruments on the stage, he said. “We take it to reggae, rock ’n’ roll. It’s very live, and it’s everything but boring.”

Performing in North America poses a challenge Hadag Nahash wouldn’t face in Israel – most of the audience probably doesn’t understand the lyrics to their Hebrew-language songs. That means that they have to emphasize the groove and the beat, Streett said. “As a group, we focus more on making it danceable.”

Michael Benson, bassist and vocalist of co-headliner Mashina, said he’s noticed many Hebrew speakers at their past Canadian concerts, but even those who can’t sing along love to dance and have a good time.

“Usually they have someone who understands explaining to them,” he said, although he admitted the lyrics perhaps wouldn’t be as meaningful when translated from its original language.

Since Mashina was formed in 1983, the band has visited Canada several times. Other than the language differences, Benson said he hasn’t noticed a huge difference performing in Canada versus Israel.

“There are a lot of Israelis everywhere, so we feel exactly how we feel at home – but it’s a little colder,” he joked.

Mashina has been a fixture of the Israeli music scene for decades, releasing their music over 30 years (minus an eight-year hiatus from 1995 to 2003). Dahan said although Mashina isn’t as well-known in the Jewish Diaspora as a band like Hadag Nahash, their music is embedded into Israeli history and culture.

“You can’t understand what is Israeli if you don’t know who is Mashina,” she said.

Benson pointed out that it’s hard to find another band that’s been together as long as Mashina has, without any lineup changes.

He said his band’s music is not political at all. They prefer to sing about love, joy, dancing, death, family and friends, and many of their songs even focus on real people and real situations.

Dahan said Mashina is especially good at portraying these emotions in a way that listeners find the music inextricably attached to their memories.

The band’s sound is not quite rock ’n’ roll, Benson said, since that’s too “hardcore” of a term for their music. It’s more along the lines of pop and ethnic rock, he said.

Over 30 years, the sound has evolved into many new styles, but Benson said these days, the band is returning to its roots.

“We’re finding ourselves going back to the beginning, or in any case, a few years after the beginning,” he said, adding that it’s perhaps an updated version of their early sound that’s making its way into their new songs, which they’ve been recording with hopes they’ll release it in the summer.

Mashina has been performing mostly acoustic sets throughout the winter, but band members are ready to plug in their instruments once again for their spring and summer run, including the Toronto stop.

“Anyone who comes will have a great time. I can guarantee that,” Benson said.

For tickets to the Isrock Festival, visit motekculturalinitiative.com.

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