There’s the groove, that rhythm that makes you move, the melody that sets your mind free to fly – that’s the feeling I get when I listen to Yossi Fine play. Rebekah Reiko’s documentary Mandala Beats captures the essence of Yossi Fine and his music in an intimate film with a terrific soundtrack, on a musical journey to India. The Israeli bassist and producer is often introduced as someone who has played with the greats – Lou Reed, David Bowie. To me, he is one of the greats and it always amazes me that I can just walk over to one of my favorite venues in Tel Aviv and hear him perform.
Reiko’s film is infused with the Yossi vibe, it’s a world in which music is life and life is music. Scenes of home life, and interviews with Yossi Fine and fellow musicians Gil Ron Shama and Shye Ben Tzur are interspersed with their rehearsals, jams, performances, and scenes of India. It all comes together to create a portrait of a musician who is very grounded, as intense a listener as he is a performer, with an ever-open mind, full of curiosity and wonder. Full and proper disclosure: I’m a huge fan. Here’s the thing: I think that after you see the movie, you will be one too.
Serendipity comes into play as Yossi Fine recounts his recent discovery that one of his great grandmothers came from India, and soon after receives an invitation to perform with Rajasthani musicians at Jodhpur RIFF (Rajasthan International Folk Festival) 2015. For Fine, who has delved deep into African and Reggae music, inspired in part by his mother’s Caribbean roots, it’s an opportunity to explore, as well as connect. Concise and effective, shifts in pace and a montage of images convey the feel of India with an appeal to the senses, evoking scents, flavors and textures through images and sound.
When Fine performs at the festival with the Rajasthani musicians, he is up there doing the Yossi thing on bass, and they are playing their music with its distinctive tones; and it all comes together. These moments are transcendent, uplifting, and Reiko’s film lets the viewer in on the process of creating that feeling. Yossi Fine talks about the differences between Indian and Western musical traditions, and his own approach to the collaboration in an open, direct manner, that acknowledges his place as a visitor to this culture. The reflections of the Israeli musicians – Yossi Fine, Shye Ben Tzur, Gil Ron Shama – are augmented by a conversation with Kasam Khan, a Rajasthani folk musician, and the children that he teaches. In a scene that shows the differences between the two cultures, as the children sing together the multiplication tables in call and response, I am reminded of the film’s opening scenes showing Yossi Fine’s home with musical instruments and children everywhere.
The relationship between music and sustenance is a theme throughout the film, in both the literal and metaphoric senses. Scenes of Yossi picking greens from the garden, then talking about music and his roots as he prepares the food, flow into a family meal around the table. Recalling his journey, Yossi speaks of music in India as having “a very specific spice.” Traveling to Rishikesh in hope of meeting up with Gil Ron Shama, Yossi is sitting in the juice shop just as his friend walks by. Serendipity dances in once more, as Shye Ben Tzur happens to be in Rishikesh too.
As the musicians work together on a joint project, one senses the affinity between them in their approach to music, as well as their individual voices. Reiko conveys the spiritual highs and feelings of connection inspired by the music, the fire of the incandescent moment, and, like the river, the flow of music as daily work and sustenance, always moving on, forming and being transformed by the changing landscape.
Mandala Beats will be screened at The Zone (HaRechev 13) in Tel Aviv on May 1, 2018. The film will be followed by a live performance with Yossi Fine & Ben Aylon – Music from the Blue Desert. Doors open at 20:30, film at 21:30, show at 22:30. Tickets are 65 NIS in advance/80 NIS at the door, and may be ordered online from The Zone.