With a feather light touch on the guitar, Erik Paliani opened his set at Beit HaYotzer in Tel Aviv on April 24, 2019; body swaying as he played, music flowing out from under his fingers like tendrils of a vine, reaching out and filling the intimate venue with something alive and blossoming. As the sound grew, Yogev Shetrit entered on drums with a touch of the cymbals, and Menachem Welt came in on bass. Together they went deeper, fuller, and took the listeners on a journey through the night to Africa. An Africa of the imagination, created from sound; the music that was born in Malawi and traveled to South Africa, the music that was born in the moment, on a stage in Tel Aviv.
Composer, guitarist, singer and producer Erik Paliani is known for his work as producer and guitarist for Zamajobe, and trumpeter Hugh Masekela. He released his debut album Chitukutuku in 2013. In Israel for the first time, the show at Beit HaYotzer marked the last performance of his Israeli tour, initiated and produced by Daniela Vita. Daniela told me that the name Chitukutuku (which is also the album’s title track) is a native name in Malawi for the turtur bird, and the song is a Malawian standard, re-envisioned by Erik Paliani. In the song, bird symbolizes home for the writer, a theme which resonated for Erik, working in South Africa and missing his home in Malawi.
I had found my way to Erik’s show at the Cuckoo’s Nest in Jaffa, thanks to my friend Jenny Levin. I was captivated by the music, which created a mellow dreamscape. The rapport between Erik Paliani and the Israeli musicians with whom he performed (after only one rehearsal!) was tight, with a wonderful Middle Eastern twist as guest performer Yossi Fine brought his incredible vibes to the stage. I came out of that performance utterly enchanted and knowing I wanted to hear more.
Imagine my delight as the night at Beit HaYotzer was an entirely new and different experience, revealing more layers and colors of this amazing artist. In that first song, Erik began to sing, the words of an unfamiliar language floating up on his warm, mellifluous voice. Song and music beginning with a soft, small sound that rises and grows, then eases into a groove and diminishes into something very minimal before riding on that groove into a psychedelic guitar riff and drum madness, a surge of energy, an explosion of speed, then Erik takes it all to a quiet place, singing something tender, a song that knows pain and beauty.
Erik opened the second song with a bright and breezy guitar, the innocence of blue skies. I could see the concentration on the faces of Meni and Yogev as they gazed at Erik, intent and ready. A slow song with the warm glow of honey flowed, punctuated by the staccato of drums, and then I heard the words by now familiar to me: Chitukutuku. I heard love and yearning in the guitar riff, and watching the musicians bounce music off each other, I thought: they are having fun up there. A playful bass solo came in, followed by bright sound, then the song grew quiet again, with open spaces between touches of sound, to rise once more, as Erik threw his head back and a feeling of joy was in the air. I couldn’t help but smile as after the song ended, Erik confirmed my silent thoughts, saying to the audience, “I hope you don’t mind; we’re having fun up here.”
Fun was the key word in an evening full of delightful surprises, the energy onstage was playful and bright. There was often a mischievous spark in Erik’s eyes as he took the songs in unexpected directions, as if he were announcing – here I go, are you with me? And they were, all the way, taking the audience with them on an exhilarating ride.
Vocalist Michal Hoter joined this exuberant crew, adding her clear, high voice and sense of adventure to the mix in a fast, jazzy duet with Erik, with the lightness of stones skipping across the surface of a blue lake. The next number took a very surprising turn into a jazz version of My Favorite Things, with Michal giving a very alluring emphasis to the ultimate “so BAD” and the drums going into a very African rhythm, for transformations all around.
On the next song I watched Erik’s fingers as they danced on the guitar strings, releasing colors into the air, light and delicate as flower petals. Each musician on his own path, yet all together, they created a soundscape that grew deeper, wider, higher, with a compelling intensity. Erik sang with eyes closed, as if traveling inward, to hidden, secret, vistas. Meni on the bass, radiating a calm intensity. Yogev drumming under the red lights, like a sorcerer casting a spell. An ecstasy of music at once visceral and spiritual.
Fist bumps all around onstage expressed the feeling of connection felt throughout the room. The last song was a vivacious, joyous invitation to dance, with Michal joining the musicians once more. No one wanted the night to end, and a bright guitar shimmered in the encore. Yet there would be one more song to end the night, and with a smile in his voice, Erik said, “This is a song that the others have never heard before.” Quiet and poignant, he sang with a serene grace. The others joined in a song that flowed with a natural grace, evoking a sense of timeless beauty, as if all the sorrows of the world were wrapped in a soft caress. Transformed in the listening, Erik Paliani’s music took to me to places I have never seen, creating them in my mind, and with each listening, took me somewhere new. Muperphoto was with me on this journey, and his photographs take my breath away as they recreate the magic of the music – Enjoy!