Best of the Blues Music Across Israel
BY Lee Saunders DATE 29/03/2018
“Blues is hard to play but easy to feel,” claimed music legend Jimi Hendrix. It is hard to imagine, yet also easy to see why blues music has started to come of age in Israel. Typically, when you think of the blues, you might think of Muddy Waters or Etta James or the music’s 19th century origins in the plantations around the Mississippi Delta. Possibly not a small country in the Middle East. However, with its themes of overcoming adversity and enjoying life, it is not all surprising that blues music has been enjoying a growing popularity in Israel.
Veteran fans may recall when blues legend, the late B.B. King visited Israel in the 1970s but even as recently as two years ago renowned guitarist Buddy Guy received a rapturous welcome in Caesarea when he performed as part of the Tel Aviv Blues Festival. Celebrating its fifth anniversary last November, the festival showcases gifted performances by Israeli artists, including SOBO, a Jerusalem-based international rock and blues band that has helped fuel the growing Israeli blues scene. The warmth, honesty and magic of this festival continues to draw in thousands of visitors each year to attend live music and workshops in more than 20 locations around Tel Aviv and Jaffa.
As venues hosting local talent have blossomed, the northern tip of the Tel Aviv promenade has become a go-to area. The hangars at the Tel Aviv Port transform into one of the city’s trendiest and liveliest nightlife scenes. The Black Coffee Blues Exchange (“Exchange”) can be seen at the Port every February, with the renowned Yaron Ben-Ami bringing the blues – from ragtime to Chicago, and Boogie to shuffle – to the public for more than 20 years. Another seasoned professional and Exchange regular is Dov Hammer, who has been playing the harmonica, singing and writing the blues for over 25 years.
You don’t need to wait for once a year, though, to experience the blues in Israel. The Port’s Hangar 13 is home to the cosy Shablul Jazz Club, where you can listen to relaxing and melodic sessions by bands, such as the Blues Generation, as the waves of the Mediterranean lap gently against the sea walls. If you wish to enjoy a luxurious cocktail, head down to the southern end of the promenade, in Jaffa, where the energetic and youthful Akbar pub hosts popular weekly blues nights amid the lively atmosphere of the Jaffa flea market. On the way, as you pass the Dan Tel Aviv, you’ll come across American pub Mike’s Place, also a popular choice for live blues music in the afternoons and evenings, while an evening stroll past the iconic Arte Glideria in Nachalat Binyamin allows you to enjoy live performances in the street outside, while tasting the store’s delicious ice creams. Around the corner, next to Carmel Market, is Beit Haamudim, another quieter and quirky venue to take a coffee and listen to some quality jazz and blues.
While the eclectic diversity of Tel Aviv may be an expected magnet for blues music, Jerusalem does not lag behind at all. In the Talpiot area of the city, its premier venue – Yellow Submarine – is a major hotspot for all live music aficionados, and one where blues fans can enjoy performances from local blues and jazz stars. Meanwhile, close to the King David Hotel and the Dan Panorama Jerusalem, the unique and old school restaurant and piano bar, Birman, is a vibrant cauldron of hot talent where musicians gather for impromptu jam sessions, and to polish their acts in a fun and supportive atmosphere. Enjoy a cocktail and bite to eat in this world of blues, funk and soul connoisseurs.
From the hilly streets of Jerusalem to the steeper hills around Haifa, the timeless sounds of the blues know no limits. In the downtown area of this northern city, the warm neighborly Eli’s Pub is one of Haifa’s stalwarts on the live blues circuit. A short drive from the Dan Carmel Haifa and the Dan Panorama Haifa, the pub opens its doors to both entertaining jam sessions and live concerts, a beacon for Haifa’s budding musicians and their loyal fans.
While blues is often associated with an older fanbase, the upcoming next generation of aspiring musicians are realizing and appreciating one of the oldest musical styles around. And, while once upon a time, the blues was largely imported to Israel by immigrants and travelers, today, Israel has blues both on its flag and increasingly in its soul.
Written by Lee Saunders