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15 mai 2008

Israeli band mixes a 'chopped salad' of world music

YouTube, with its millions of video snippets, contains only one entry from the Jewish/Israeli band Esta, featuring shots from its 2004 European tour. Yet if you can track it down, you'll probably find it most unusual: One man plucks a banjo, while another blows on bagpipes.

Later, he plays what sounds like belly dance or snake charmer music, while the female singer undulates wordlessly, as though this were a Bollywood film. You might wonder what any of that has to do with either Jews or Israelis, until the band moves seamlessly into a Middle Eastern-tinged klezmer tune and ends with a version of the Sephardic Sabbath hymn "Dror Yikra."

Clearly, this is a new generation of Israeli musicians, moving to a multicultural beat, and not impressed by the stirring dogma behind the stereotypical Israeli folk of the '50s and '60s (Theodore Bikel or "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena"). Esta don't play your grandfather's favorite folk songs. And part of the reason is this group of good-looking Sabras (first-generation Israelis) grew up in the '70s listening to British art rock, such as Genesis and Yes.


With such an impressive musical arsenal, it's no wonder Esta has been received favorably at worldwide festivals, including the granddaddy "world beat" gathering of them all -- WOMAD. The band's CD releases have trickled out -- only three in almost 20 years, including 2002's "Home Made World," but it's halfway through working on a new one, and wouldn't mind changing its do-it-yourself tactics if a formidable label such as Peter Gabriel's RealWorld stepped up to the plate. "There were always talks to be signed, and they were one of the names that popped up," says Deshet. "We could really fit well into their catalog, so that door is still open."

Indeed, there's a common thread between Esta and other bands that deal with a range of international influences, such as Afro-Celtic Sound System. But Deshet stresses that Esta has found a way to retain their uniqueness.

"Since we've played together for so many years, it's a real band, not a production," he says, "and it's also in our roots. Our music is like a really good chopped salad, where you taste all the ingredients together and it becomes one new taste, rather than just [tasting] the tomato. It's a little bit like gourmet cooking."

And in a year when the band's homeland is celebrating a momentous 60th anniversary, too many musical cooks can't spoil the broth.

"We are all very proud to be Israeli, and we think that Israel has a lot to offer the world," Deshet continues. "Through the music, we deliver many messages but underneath the surface -- we don't lecture or get into politics. I think the fact that we play music from Islamic, Christian, Jewish and Western sources, and that it all comes together for us, proves that there is more in common between people than what separates them.

"If it can happen between instruments, then it should be able to happen between people."

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