At Israeli Music Fest, Adjacent Gaza Strip Was on Everyone’s Minds

Passion and politics were at the fore, particularly on the first night of the three-day InDnegev festival

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Revelers enjoy a momentg of tranquility at the 2018 InDnegev festival.
Revelers enjoy a momentg of tranquility at the 2018 InDnegev festival.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

The Israeli rapper Peled was about to perform, and hundreds of people, if not more, raced from the tent city to the main stage.

This mini-migration demonstrated the degree to which InDnegev, the annual festival in southern Israel, is a social event as well as a musical one. Press coverage focuses on the concerts, but at any given moment there are more people in and around the tent city than there are in the performance area. Only when a concert that really interests the masses of young people begins, is the equation reversed, and the encampment moves over to the performance area.

Haze’evot at InDnegev, 2018Credit: youtube

Passion and political involvement were like a motif connecting the various performances on Thursday, the first night of the two-day festival, with the burning border with the nearby Gaza Strip influencing the events most of all.

The political tone was first heard from Haze’evot, an all-female band, in a song protesting rape culture. “I know you wanted because you didn’t shout and you didn’t cry,” sang Yifat Ballasiano with ironic defiance.

InDnegev festival, October 11, 2018
InDnegev festival, October 11, 2018Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

A defiant fist was also raised in the performance of WC, the duo of brothers Aryeh and Avshalom Hasfari. “Where are the people who stopped the demonstrations of Rabbi Kahane with their own bodies,” they sang, shouting out the line that caused the Jerusalem municipality to cancel their concert at the Indie City Festival.

The word “Gaza” was first voiced by Tomer Yeshayahu. “On the Gaza beach there are blue balloons,” he sang in “One Day,” but Yeshayahu’s meaning is naïve. “One Day” is an innocent dream about other times. The diametrical opposite of the Hasafri brothers, and of Hapussy Shel Lucy, which asked us to cheer very loudly, so that people in the Gaza Strip could hear them.

Barak Cohen performs with Hapussy Shel Lucy at InDnegev, 2018
Barak Cohen performs with Hapussy Shel Lucy at InDnegev, 2018Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Not that there was any need to ask; it was a wonderful concert. Until the weekend I thought Hapussy Shel Lucy was just another protest band that launches slogans without backing them up with musical content; its InDnegev concert, whose guests included the social-activist lawyer Barak Cohen, made it clear how wrong I was.

At the start of a tribute to Gabriel Balachsan, a talented musician who died in 2013 at the age of 37, guitarist and musical director Ron Bunker said he and his fellow band members were very excited to be performing Balachsan’s songs so close to the community where the late performer grew up, Talmei Eliyahu. Aviv Guedj (who also sang in the tribute concert) and his brother Shalom Gad also grew up in the moshav, but not too many people know that Azri, the guitarist of Boogie Balagan, lived there for several years in his youth.

Resting between concerts at the 2018 InDnegev festival.
Resting between concerts at the 2018 InDnegev festival.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Luna Abu Nassar at InDnegev 2018
Luna Abu Nassar at InDnegev 2018Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

This biographical background is reflected in one of Boogie Balagan’s outstanding songs, “Lamentation Waloo.” This is a song about Azri’s childhood. “My homeboy Ali” — presumably a boy from the Gaza Strip — “was my sahib” — friend, in Arabic. That’s how it begins. In the next stanza the idyll is disrupted: “My homeboy Ali was my best enemy,” and now he’s buried on the other side. An excellent song, which is a pleasure to hear anywhere, and even more so near the place about which it was written.

Azri left Talmei Eliyahu, and then Israel. For the past 20 years he and Gabri, his partner in Boogie Balagan, have been living in France. For anyone who loves their music, the concert at InDnegev was an opportunity not to be missed. These people are the essence of rock ‘n’ roll, and at the same time they are planted deep inside Mizrahi and Arab music, which lends their music a strong local sound.

InDnegevCredit: Youtube

Extraordinary sounds erupted from the Hipushit stage, the festival’s small stage, on the second night. It was a high and sharp female voice, that sounded like thousands of splinters of sound moving in the same direction but maintaining their splinter-like separation. Who was responsible for this hypnotic phenomenon? She’s called Nico Teen. She has been on the music scene for quite a few years and has performed at InDnegev in previous years, but somehow I had never seen her in action.

Nico Teen. Looked like some kind of contemporary Ishtar.
Nico Teen. Looked like some kind of contemporary Ishtar.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

With sunglasses, and minimal but dramatic and impressive body movements, Nico Teen looked like some kind of contemporary Ishtar, also known as Astarte, the Akkadian goddess of love, fertility, sex and war. This impression may have been a result of the fact that the music itself was bewitching. It contained a dimension of heaviness, which suited the definition of the event, but it was totally different from everything we’re accustomed to hearing at performances of noise and power.

Those vocal splinters! Nico Teen and two band members who accompanied her with vocals, sounded like impossible descendants of monks who sang Gregorian chants in the 14th century. The music also contained some avant-garde hardware, which did not contradict simple, primeval and physical strength.

Shai Tsabari sings at the tribute concert for Gabriel Balachsan at inDnegev
Shai Tsabari sings at the tribute concert for Gabriel Balachsan at inDnegevCredit: Tomer Appelbaum