New Yossi Banai Album Comes Six Years After His Death

First single of unpublished material to be released on Wednesday. 'As if his band waited for him on stage and he never came'.

Uri Zer Aviv
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Uri Zer Aviv

Nearly six years after his death at the age of 73, the multitalented performer Yossi Banai remains an icon of Israeli culture. Next month will see the release of the album the writer, actor, singer and dramatist was working on when he died, in May 2006.

The album, "Old Songs," consists of Banai's words, set to music composed and performed by some of Israel's best-known musicians. The first single, performed by Berry Sakharof, will reach radio stations on Wednesday.

Yossi Banai accepting an award in 2005.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

Banai's collaborators on the album included a son, Yuval Banai, and a nephew, Ehud Banai. "Old Songs" was completed after Banai's family, including his widow, Aviva, gave their blessing to the Helicon recording company.

"Yossi's presence is felt in the album," Aviva told Haaretz, adding "I hope he would have liked the result."

Musicians who contributed to the album, with compositions or performances, included Arkadi Duchin, Maor Cohen, Micha Shitrit, Idan Raichel, Peter Roth, Corinne Alal and Shlomi Shaban. Rea Mochiach, the album's musical producer, said "with his lyrics Banai single-handedly created a new Israeli, drawing on French, Italian and American culture." Mochiach said he tried to create an album that Yossi Banai fans would want to hear, while allowing the artists musical freedom.

"It would be similar to a situation where his band is waiting for him onstage, but he doesn't show up," Mochiach said, "so other singers get onstage to sing his songs. Shlomi Shaban composed and perfomed a Banai lyric called "In the Next Reincarnation".

"We started working on it together," Shaban told Haaretz, "it's a song about all the things Banai didn't succeed in doing this time around. My original composition was very dramatic, but Yossi said, 'you didn't understand the deceased's intention. You have to give it a lightweight melody, so that the audience can swallow the difficult lyrics," that's the French way of doing it." Meanwhile, Israel's Channel 8 documentary channel and the Yehoshua Rabinovitz fund have begun preparations for the production of a film about Yossi Banai's life and his last months, due to be ready by February 2013. The film will portray Banai, as he appeared to the artists who barely knew him in his prime but spent the last months of his life with him.

During his lifetime Banai received the Israel Prize in theater, in part for his collaboration with playwright Nissim Aloni and the successful comic trio, Hagashash Hahiver, which included his brother Gavri. Banai recorded an album of George Brassens songs in Hebrew, and several Jacque Brel songs. His last album, "Slowly," was released in 2001.

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