A dance of the body and spirit, the performance of Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express was an exhilarating concert of musical virtuosity, an experience of joyous spirits and community; a multi-cultural community united through music.
The concert at Zappa Tel Aviv on May 11th took place as part of the Celebrating India in Israel Festival, presented by the Embassy of India in Israel and Teamwork productions. Now in its third edition, the festival placed an emphasis this year on creative collaborations between India and Israel, so wonderfully expressed in the art of Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express, who participated in the festival with a series of concerts and master classes from May 1 – 17, 2013. Photographer MuperPHOTO accompanied the performers at the East and West House in Jaffa, and the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv, offering an intimate view of this unique ensemble.
Shye Ben Tzur is an Israeli who found his musical home in the fusion of Indian and Western musical traditions. Making his home in India for the past 15 years, he performs with Rajasthan Express – Chugge Khan (percussion – khartal and more), Nihal Khan (dholak), Zaki Ali Qawwal (vocals) and Zakir Ali Qawwal (vocals). The style of the music, Qawwali, finds its origins in India, it is a form of Sufi devotional music. Yet in addition to the traditional songs they perform Shye Ben Tzur’s original compositions with lyrics in Hebrew, and the arrangements include both traditional Indian instruments and Western instruments, as well as compositional elements, such as harmonic chords, that are not found in traditional Indian music.
The concert was billed as “Devotional Groove,” and if words like “devotional” and “spiritual” conjure up a solemn mood for you, please revise your thinking! Coming into the Zappa, DJ Bush Beats set the tone for the evening with music that had everyone dancing even before the concert began, once Shye Ben Tzur and his band came out – joined by Udi Ben Cnaan on guitar, Yossi Fine on bass and Ran Lev Ari on drums – we were ready to groove, and Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express took us on a mesmerizing journey.
Shye began the first song with a quiet incantation, then took up his flute to play an uplifting tune. Standing close to the stage, I watched Nihal Khan on the dholak, his hands dancing in a flowing rhythm on the drum. The second song was a new one, Shye introduced it by reciting the lyrics in Hebrew: Let’s go to the land where my love lives (my translation to English). It was a joyous song, and while taking its form from Islamic traditions, for this listener the lyrics had a deep connection to the Jewish tradition, as found in the Song of Songs: devotional songs in the form of love songs.
Teacher and troubador, Shye Ben Tzur introduced the songs by reciting the words, giving the words and intention their place and emphasis before we all took flight, soaring with the music. The poetry of his song is simple and beautiful, like a door open wide inviting all, it was easy to sing along and the audience sang and danced all night.
Devotion, dance and music were entwined throughout the evening. Chugge Khan and Yossi Fine danced an exuberant duet of electric guitar and traditional Indian percussion instruments, then were joined by the rest of the ensemble. When they sang Shoshan, one of the most popular songs from the eponymous album, I thought the evening had reached a shimmering peak, yet there were more surprises in store. Shye Ben Tzur invited his young daughter, Uriah Ben Tzur to the stage, and the young girl performed happily, with such natural grace and impressive technique; truly – a celebration of India in Israel.
It was an evening of exquisite beauty, music that makes the feet dance and the spirits soar; sweet ecstasy, no one wanted the night to end. Until Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express return to Israel once more, enjoy MuperPHOTO’s images from this unforgettable night!