An Israeli Band Heads to Paris Coexistence Festival to 'Conquer' Palestinian Hearts

Departures / Arrivals: A group of musicians takes its message of freedom to an art and music festival created by a Muslim-Jewish duo; Coldplay groupies talk about their against-the-clock marriage proposal in Cologne.

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Omer Lutzky, Udi Krauss, Aylon Tushiner and Nir Poliker of Electric Desert.
Omer Lutzky, Udi Krauss, Aylon Tushiner and Nir Poliker of Electric Desert.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Omer Lutzky, 28, lives in Tel Aviv, plays the bass; Udi Krauss, 40, drums; Aylon Tushiner, 30, lives in Tel Aviv, saxophone; Nir Poliker, 37, lives in Givatayim, guitar and vocals; flying to Paris, France

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Paris?

Nir: We have three gigs in France, two in Paris and one in Lille, at a festival in which Israeli and Palestinian artists cooperate, and it’s all in the spirit of common work from the heart.

Udi: A festival for Haaretz readers!

Nir: It’s the third time the festival is happening, and we’re excited to be part of it. It’s produced by two French women, one a French-Moroccan Muslim, the other Jewish. They established the festival as an independent project and funded it via Headstart. They bring artists from North Africa and Palestine, and it’s not just a music festival, there are also painters and other artists who give master classes. The festival is called “Off the Wall” – in French, “Pelerinage en decalage.” 

What’s your group called?

Nir: Electric Desert.

Udi: We do Middle Eastern rock: a rock sound based on lots of North African groove.

Nir: Groove rock.

Udi: To be precise, "groove-driven rock with a hidden Eastern tonality."

Omer: We recorded our debut album two years ago. 

Udi: And a second one is coming out in a few months. Now we’re going to “conquer” the Palestinians.

Nir: We are not conquerors. Don’t say that.

Udi: Conquering feelings, as in conquering hearts.

Nir: Say “drawing closer.”

Does it still pay to put out albums?

Nir: People still buy albums at shows.

Udi: When a gig ends, people are excited and buy. It’s true that they can download the music from YouTube, but the experience of leaving with plastic in your hand still thrills people. Besides, as artists, an album is a package. It’s like, a book can’t have one chapter, a story needs a beginning, a middle and an end; an album is a point in time, a collection of things, even if each song stands on its own.

Omer: But albums are becoming extinct. Singers today put out singles. Today’s kids don’t know what an album is. Lots of them also don’t know what it is to work in a group, the interaction with other people. They feel they have to be on reality shows like “Pop Idol.”

Nir: Kids are not our target audience. Besides which, I teach at the Tel Aviv School of the Arts, and it’s amazing how many of them listen to jazz, for example. They’re at a level where I learn from them.

Udi: I see an incredible difference between the way youth is presented in the media and the nuances that exist in reality. There’s “Pop Idol” and there are those who devour jazz and progressive rock, who listen to ‘70s rock, King Crimson, Pink Floyd.

Omer: Maybe it has to do with accessibility to the Internet.

How many years have you been together?

Udi: We’ve been playing together for four years.

Nir: He just whipped that out. Nice. I would have had to think about it.

Omer: I met Nir when we were teaching together in “cons.”

What’s that?

Omer: Musicians’ shorthand for “music conservatory.” I teach sax there. Nir brought me into the band. I met Nir and Udi a few years ago through a friend from Rimon [School of Jazz].

Udi: Musicians’ networking.

How do you work on the songs?

Udi: Nir brings lyrics and music, and then our shared work takes the song to Electric Desert’s worlds of groove and sound.

Let’s have a song, Nir.

Nir: “My friend I know you are / But sometimes you go too far / And like this I cross the line / But we are in this together.”

Udi: Now the punch line.

Nir: “For 70 years or so / We fight our governors’ war / But our children deserve much more / Let’s talk about freedom.” “Let’s Talk About Freedom” is the album’s title song.

Udi: It’s also the name of the state we will establish.

Omer: Let’s hope Avigdor Lieberman doesn’t disqualify the song.

Is all your material in English?

Nir: Mostly in English, but there’s also a song in Hebrew.

Ohad and Tal Mitrani.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Ohad Mitrani, 28, and Tal Mitrani, 28; live in Moshav Tzur Moshe, near Netanya; arriving from Berlin

Hello, did you see Coldplay in Germany, or just buy T-shirts?

Ohad: We went to the concert, of course. We both love Coldplay. Tal just graduated and it was also her birthday, so we decided to go.

Tal: I celebrated my birthday at the concert itself.

Is this the first time you’ve seen Coldplay live?

Ohad: The second. The first time was in Cologne, two years ago. That was an intimate performance – about 1,000 people. Yesterday there were 80,000. Incredible.

Tal: Our T-shirts have all the colors of the rainbow, and it was the same at the concert. Everything was tremendously colorful, even the instruments were decorated. Really happy. Insane energy, a serious show, video art

Ohad: Fireworks, big colorful balls that were thrown into the air and landed on the audience. They threw confetti during the first song. They balk at nothing.

Tal: As far as I’m concerned, they can throw confetti during the whole show. They also gave LED bracelets to everyone and then controlled when the bracelets lit up, in what colors and at what pace. It was awesome when all the bracelets lit up in the dark.

Where were your seats?

Tal: We were in a kind of golden ring, a few meters from the stage. We arrived four hours early to get a good spot. We didn’t even drink beer, so we wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom and lose our places.

Did they sing your favorite songs?

Tal: The truth is that we are pretty much groupies, we’re happy with all the songs. They sang the hits from the new CD and occasionally the classics. And they sang “Vida la Vida,” our favorite. The last song was “Up&Up.” The one with the clip made by the two Israelis

Ohad: The first song was “A Head Full of Dreams,” which is also the title of the album.

Which performance did you like better?

Ohad: There’s no basis for comparison: 1,000 people is an intimate experience; you almost touch the artist. Besides, I was a lot more excited then, because it was when I proposed! There weren’t many tickets and they were hard to get. I stayed on the web for a week: The performance was the following Friday and they started to sell tickets on Saturday. I waited, with three computers. The sale began, and within three seconds all the tickets were gone! Sold out. I wanted to propose to Tal, and didn’t have a ring, a hotel, a plane ticket or a ticket to the show. Bad start. I started to look for bids on eBay Germany. A ticket via the official site cost 90 euros that morning, and by the evening on eBay, it was 1,800 euros. Totally insane. The week was moving along and I was still trying to get tickets. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, nothing in hand. On Wednesday I got plane tickets for a laughable price, and told myself that I could raise the eBay bar. I got to a stage where I won a bid on eBay and then the seller canceled, because the tickets were in the buyer’s name and not transferable. He started to offer me all kinds of fishy deals and I told him no. Thursday morning. I get up, totally down, we’re flying that evening to a town in Germany where there’s nothing to do except Coldplay. The flight is at 9 P.M., and at 3 P.M. I do another “refresh” on the concert site, like I’ve been doing all along – and suddenly there’s a green light! More tickets on sale. I scream to Tal to bring my credit card

Tal: He screamed so loud that I burnt the food, because I ran to see what happened. I get there and see him trembling in front of the screen.

Ohad: The tickets are only held for 12 minutes, not a lot of time to fill out all the details. I had to buy her a ring. I told her I was going out to see a friend who wanted to give me money to bring him back some whiskey.

Tal: This was a few hours before the flight, but I told him to go. I couldn’t take the pressure.

Ohad: I bought a ring, and proposed in the hotel in Germany. I was on an adrenaline high.

By the way, Tal, what field is your degree in?

Tal: Industrial engineering and management. Now what do you do with that?

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