Israeli Musician Haim Laroz Demonstrates What 'Fusion' Should Sound Like

Laroz’s new album intertwines music that is both deeply rooted and contemporary, acoustic and electronic, without falling into a trap.

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Haim Laroz. Talks music, and talks up a storm.
Haim Laroz. Talks music, and talks up a storm.Credit: Goni Riskin

A few weeks ago, the singer Haim Laroz was a guest of the radio station 88 FM. He played cuts from his new album and also sang a few songs with his musical collaborator, Alon Amano Campino. One of the songs played in its recorded version was “Hali Mali,” a meaty cut with a potent beat that rocked the calm night. Afterward, the program’s host asked Laroz, “Would you like to talk about the music or play another cut?” The question generated rollicking laughter: There’s probably no other Israeli musician who displays such a huge disparity between the desire to make music and the need to accompany it with explanations.

Musicians who have done a quarter of what Laroz has done (the Bikini duo, the Raash band, his close collaboration with Beri Saharoff for a few years and his albums in the electronic and reggae realms) have talked about themselves four times as much as he has, and also organized themselves Wikipedia entries, unlike Laroz. At age 48 he’s not about to change. Happily, he talks music, and talks up a storm.

The new album, on which Laroz collaborates with Amano Campino and with the singer Ravid Kahalani, is called “Desert Groove.” The title might sound suspicious to music aficionados who remember the “world beat” fashion of the 1990s. The ascent of electronic music on the one hand, combined with an expanded awareness of world music, gave rise to an ethno-electronic fusion-type genre that possibly contained an iota of superficial, immediate charm, but quickly grew tiresome. Those musical postcard albums tended to have titles like “Desert Groove” or something similar.

Laroz didn’t hang out in those dubious musical regions when they were fashionable; still less is he anywhere near them now. In fact, the greatest virtue of the new album is that it illustrates how it’s possible to intertwine music that’s both deeply rooted and contemporary, acoustic and electronic, authentic and synthetic without falling into the trap of prettified, all-flattening fusion.

How do Laroz and his musical partners accomplish this? The root of their success lies in treating all their raw material in exactly the same way. Folk tunes from the Sahara, synthesized and computerized beats, lines of vintage keyboards, Afro-beat rhythms: It all sounds like it’s coming from the present, and seems to emanate from their natural living spaces. That’s a far more effective and far more productive approach than one that sees the folk-Arab-African materials as the “once” and the “there,” and the Western electronic materials as the “here” and the “now.”

“Desert Groove” is an album that’s aimed first and foremost at people who are enthralled by rhythm-based music. Those listeners will be utterly captivated by the superb sequence that begins with the third cut, “Gamar Bidawi,” and ends with the fifth, “Tuch.” Tucked away between them is “Merim,” performed by the magnificent Saharan singer Mariem Hassan. The way in which Laroz and his collaborators engineered the music around Hassan’s voice suggests that they were bowled over by her singing – and with good reason. The other songs are performed by Kahalani, who does it well, displaying an impressive range of modes of expression. Still, bringing in other singers in addition to Hassan would have made the album even better. And it’s extremely good just as it is.

Karni Postel’s new IP

In the same month in which Laroz released “Desert Groove,” Karni Postel, his former partner in the Bikini duo, also released an IP. Postel, like Laroz, likes to work in small formats, with a preference for duos. In her new IP, titled “Too Far,” she has teamed up with the composer and keyboard artist Roy Yarkoni, who until a few years ago led the Panic Ensemble.

“Too Far” is too short even for the IP format: five songs with a combined play time of 17 minutes. More like an iPhone. The speed at which this album ends stands in something of a contradiction to the slow pace at which the music moves most of the time. There’s nothing crawling about the album, but its basic rhythm is extremely measured. And even though a moderate pace is often a recipe for musical boredom, Yarkoni and Postel manage to bypass the standing-water trap and instead dip their feet gingerly into a pool of genuine loveliness, at least for a few quiet moments.

“A Few Quiet Moments” – the title of the second cut on the IP – is one of the most beautiful Israeli songs I’ve heard recently. “Words float slowly,” Postel sings in the first verse, and Yarkoni seems to have considered that description (the lyrics are by Yehu Yaron) as a guideline for the musical setting. The words that are set to music indeed float by slowly, each in its place within the musical delineation, bound to the other words while remaining separate from them.

Postel offers a marvelous rendition of this languid hovering, in a full-bodied voice that creates an emotional luxuriance to which the listener is drawn back time and again. The four other songs on the IP, at least two of which are very fine indeed, did not generate the same chemical reaction, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In most albums, even if they’re three times as long as “Too Far,” it doesn’t happen even once.