Aviv Bahar and Hadas Kleinman. Zohar Ron

Israeli Musical Duo Search for God in Their Nostalgic Sound

After crisscrossing Israel with intimate home gigs and getting over a million views on YouTube, musical duo Hadas Kleinman and Aviv Bahar are about to release their long-awaited second album and planning to conquer the upcoming InDNegev festival

At first glance, the musical duo of Hadas Kleinman and Aviv Bahar seem like a couple. There’s something incredibly intimate about their music. Their voices blend in perfect harmony, and they even have pet names for each other (“Cello,” “Vivo”). In fact, Kleinman has been married for five years – but not to Bahar. Still, a moment of awkward silence ensued when I asked them how they view relations between them.

“Cello, will you answer? Or me?” asked Bahar. “Maybe you answer first?” Kleinman urged him.

Bahar coughed. (He said he was sick). “Very well. We see each other a great deal; we are very, very good friends. You know, it’s already become family. What else is there to say?”

Kleinman: “Or couplehood, Vivo.”

Bahar: “Yes. A type of. Far-out couplehood.”

Quarrels and everything?

Kleinman: “The whole shebang.”

Bahar: “Everything you can imagine. We have tons of love, so we’re both adults in the face of every situation, like in a good relationship. We’re always going through a lot together. I believe every group of creative artists, every band, every ensemble, will tell you that so much passes between them. At bottom, I can say we go through so many experiences and so many good things together, and we’re very much connected to each other.”

Kleinman: “I think we both feel the connection between us is really a sort of, I don’t know, destiny, luck, a blessing for the two of us. Our musical creation already has a life of its own. There aren’t all that many fights, but even when there are, the feeling is mainly that we have to safeguard what we do – that’s what’s most important.”

A home in music

Destiny brought them together after Kleinman, a cellist, heard Bahar’s song “Matos” (“Plane”) on YouTube and sent him a message via Facebook. At the time, Bahar was on a tour in India with the Galilee-based Diwan Saz band. When he got back to Israel, a mutual friend suggested that he and Kleinman meet. This was just after Asaf Avidan’s band The Mojos – of which Kleinman was a member – broke up, around 2011. She and Bahar began working together. The result was their debut album, “Me’at Pashtut” (“A Little Simplicity”), released in late 2014, a quiet, gentle album with lyrics leaning toward the spiritual.

To check out what’s happening with the duo now, I met with Kleinman at Papaito, a rehearsal room in south Tel Aviv, where she had just finished up a session with Berry Sakharof and Ehud Banai, ahead of a joint performance with the two headliners. In contrast to her country-girl lookin the promo shots, she was wearing black skinny jeans and a black top. Bahar, who was in Shanghai at the time with the Yamma Ensemble performing in a world music festival, hooked up with us via WhatsApp.

Your 2014 single “Bayamim She’yaavru Aleinu” [“The Days We Will Go Through”] has over 1 million views on YouTube. How did you manage that?

Bahar: “I think that, generally, we did our thing. I mean, even before the song was released, we performed all over the country and also did shows in people’s living rooms. Over the years, that expanded into a lot of gigs and plenty of communication with the audience. I believe there is something in this material that is very sincere and honest, which gives people a home in our music.”

A home in what sense?

Bahar: “What we see from people’s responses is that the songs very much touch the heart. So things slowly gather their own momentum, by word of mouth.”

Your debut album came out three years ago...

Kleinman: “In the two years before we put out the first album we did a lot of shows, so we knew there was an audience base, and we also had a lot of luck. Both ‘Sirat Hamifras’ [‘Sailboat’] and ‘Bayamim’ got a lot of play. For the first 18 months, almost two years, we just did gigs. I also remember that we celebrated the first anniversary of the album in the end-of-summer festival in Jerusalem. There were 1,200 people in the audience, which was totally inconceivable for us. After those 18 to 24 months, we started thinking about the future – and that’s when the second album started to jell.”

What did you envisage for the second album? And why did it take so long?

Bahar: “It’s hard to explain. On the one hand, we have a lot of freedom – by which I mean plenty of room not to get too entangled with the music and to get it across relatively naturally, like it’s supposed to be. On the other hand, given our characters, it’s important for both of us that what we release is very precise and that we stand behind it. But that takes time. We could have released five albums in this period, but we chose to put our soul into creating something focused and precise, however long it would take.”

Kleinman: “We don’t talk about this much, but before we recorded the first album we’d recorded a previous one, which we shelved. And then we met Tzach and started to work with him.”

Tzach who?

Kleinman: “Tzach Drori [a producer]. We did the debut album with him. For the second album, I think we both wanted to find a type of home, to accommodate the next thing.”

You mean a label?

Kleinman: “No, a producer. And it took time until we got our act together and also until the encounter happened with Amir Tzoref, who produced the second album.”

Kleinman and Bahar are set to appear at the upcoming InDNegev festival (October 19-21), together with Tzoref and the ensemble that recorded the new album, “Pa’am Ahat” (“One Time”), with them, in front of what will likely be their biggest-ever Israeli crowd to date.

Kleinman experienced a magical moment in her only previous appearance at the festival, in 2008, with Asaf Avidan. “In the middle of the performance, there was a 15-minute power blackout, maybe more. I’ll never forget it! Johnny, the drummer, kept playing, because that could be heard, and we simply sang with drums. I remember that festival as something very primal and very magical.”

“I can also say, now that I’m doing what I do, that I have great respect and high regard for the people I performed with. I learned a great deal from Asaf and also from Shlomo Artzi, with whom I played for three years.”

Tomer Appelbaum

What did you learn from them?

Kleinman: “From Asaf, I think that I learned what it means to go the whole way. Asaf simply decided that this is what he’s doing, and he went ahead and did it, and he simply succeeded. And from Shlomo I learned, or at least tried to take, his tremendous ability as a performer. There really are not many people in this country who can work an audience like he can. And he also treats what he does with the greatest respect, which is important after so many years.”

The Berlin effect

“Pa’am Ahat” is set for release in November. The pair recorded it in Berlin, together with drummer Gadi Peter, the multi-instrumentalist Yogev Glusman and producer Tzoref, who lives in the German capital. The latter has produced albums by such top industry figures as Assaf Amdursky, Amir Lev and Shalom Hanoch.

“Before doing the album, we went there just to meet with him and play him the songs,” recalls Bahar, “The day before we flew back to Israel, he suggested that maybe we record the album in Berlin, because there’s something in it that liberates you a bit from yourself and from the daily routine at home. We spent 11 days there, and nothing distracted us. ”

What did you do on the new album that’s different from the first?

Kleinman: “Vivo, you know, now that I think about it, we called the first album ‘A Little Simplicity,’ but recording it was far from simple!”

Bahar: “Right.”

Kleinman: “But with the second album, we rehearsed for a week in Israel, flew to Berlin together and recorded it in 10 days. The songs were written, everything was ready for the magic to happen. And it really did happen.”

Where do you locate yourselves on the Israeli musical map? Your vibe is a bit Idan Raichel, but the sound is a bit Jane Bordeaux.

Tomer Appelbaum

Kleinman: “I think that’s because we’re a duo. In Israel, there will always be some sort of nostalgic quality about us. After all, it’s a boy and a girl, and our voices really do harmonize in a way that sometimes makes it feel like one. My wish for us is that everything we do is influenced by the place we’re in now, or by our cooperative efforts. In Berlin, we recorded with Tzoref and it has a completely different hue.”

There’s a spiritual-religious element in your music, with multiple references to God. Do you consider yourself a believer, Aviv?

Bahar: “There’s a lot of that on the first album, and the word itself is uttered many times. It seems to me that God exists in the second album, too, but we’re not so explicit about it. I’m trying to understand why people see something of the spirit and spirituality in music I create from within myself. For me, it’s not something deliberate or something that springs from a religious source – it’s just what comes out. It’s not from any sort of [religious] experience, it’s just what’s there.”

Do you believe in God? Are you religious in any sense?

Bahar: “I’m very much there, but not religiously, if we can call it that.”

What do you mean?

Bahar: “Everything interests me, and I don’t know how to define it. I am not religious in the Jewish way, but I am very much aware, so to speak.”

Very ambivalent.

Kleinman: “Why? That’s not ambivalent.”

It sounds a little neither here nor there.

Kleinman: “We live in a time and an environment and, especially, a country that constantly needs definitions. But I think the lack of definition is not necessarily ‘neither here nor there,’ but precisely a place that, above all, doesn’t negate it. He doesn’t say it’s neither this nor that, which is the easiest way; he recognizes the good aspects of it and takes the intention on himself. And maybe that’s what comes out in the songs, ultimately. Because it’s easy to negate, easy to say what isn’t there, easy to say, ‘This one is religious, that one is secular, she’s pop and she’s something else.’ It seems to me that both Aviv and I are very much trying to be as much ourselves as possible, so that other people will also have a place for themselves, something like that.”

Bahar: “I can say that, on the whole, there’s a place where it’s terribly important for us to ask the questions and face up to them – to search for something that is in our soul, let’s call it. Like Hadas said, we need definitions. And there’s also this matter of religion and of pursuing that affirmation. To follow commandments is also something, but it’s very important for us to ask the behind-the-scene questions. For both of us.”

Aviv Bahar and Hadas Kleinman will appear at InDNegev, Mitzpeh Gvulot, on October 20 at 10 A.M., on the main stage.

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