Live Wire / A Sleepy City Starts Rocking

Thanks to the Haifolk festival, now in its second year, Haifa is staking a claim in the local indie music scene

A festival being held for the first time is an idea. A festival being held for the second time is already a fact on the ground. Haifolk, Haifa's indie music festival, had its second run this weekend and can, therefore, safely be declared an established festival on the Israeli indie music scene.

Established yet small. Tel Aviv need not fear for its status as the unquestioned Indie City and Jerusalem will continue to don the hat of extreme deputy to the left. But if in recent years Be'er Sheva had laid claim to the title of "Indie's Third City," Haifolk might well be positioning sleepy Haifa as its new rival.

haifa - Moran Maya - Israel news
Moran Mayan

Haifolk is not the first indie festival to incorporate the term "folk" into its title in an attempt to model itself after the Tel Aviv Folkaleh Festival. But about two years ago, the once highly acclaimed Tel Aviv festival started losing momentum, and at the moment, its fate is unknown. There is obviously something ridiculous about using the term "folk," but their decision to append the diminutive suffix "leh" indicates that the Tel Aviv festival organizers were fully aware of this. Neither is it likely that the Haifa festival folks believe the music played there, however acoustic-guitar-based it might be, is actually folk music. The "folk" simply melded well for them with the "f" in Haifa. Had they found a catchy paraphrase of the word "Carmel," they most certainly would have gone with it.

Still, there was a small and wonderful spark of real folk spirit there. It emerged at the performance I believe was the best, on the first night of the festival (which went on for two days ). Yehuda Ledgley arrived in Haifa like a real wandering minstrel. "I'm sorry if this wasn't the most successful rendition," he told the audience after the first song, speaking with a strong American accent. "I came here in two sherut taxis."

But the rendition of the song "American Movie" was excellent, like most of the songs he sang during the performance (in English, his mother tongue ). The song painted an interesting and expansive picture, and Ledgley sang strongly, precisely and deeply. He also played well. There are few singers who can carry a performance, even a short one (each participant in Haifolk was alloted six or seven songs ) with just a guitar, but Ledgley is certainly one of them.

In the middle of his set, he said to the audience: "If anyone is going back to Tel Aviv in a cab, I'd be glad to hitch a ride." He earned this ride honestly. This is the first time I've seen him, and I would gladly see him again in a full-length performance.

The Raw Men Empire band came on right after Ledgley, and the transition from a vocalist singing in English because English is his language to a band singing in English even though English is not its mother tongue turned out to be somewhat problematic in the first numbers.

Also casting a bit of a shadow on the performance were the audience's expectations from the quartet. The Raw Man Empire recently issued a very beautiful EP, with an original and wonderful sound, both casual and precise. Its sound on the stage, however, was less distinct and flowing. Despite these two problems, it was quite a happy, vital and good performance with a rejoicing drum and a dynamic bass that injected rhythm, energy and a dimension of wildness into an indie evening that was almost without bands.

Mega-star Tamar Eisenman

Shirly Kones opened the evening a bit hesitantly but improved as she went along. Or it could be that I just changed my mind about her while she was performing. In her first numbers, the melodies, playing and singing were not all that stable, and the songs did not take on shape. But somewhere in the middle of the short performance, Kones' soft-tough texts drew me in, and suddenly, the hesitant shape of the songs didn't bother me any longer. Kones can also be credited with one of the best lines heard that evening: "We got exactly what we asked for, but we didn't ask for everything we wanted."

"Tzvika, you're perfect!" shouted a girl in the audience in the middle of Tzvika Force's performance. I find it hard to share her overwhelming enthusiasm. To some extent, it's a matter of taste. I have some difficulty with Force's cabaretish drama, never mind that he performed with only a keyboard, which unlike an acoustic guitar, tends not to do good things for solo performances. Force noted that he usually performs with a small band of eight instrumentalists. The sort of format might have highlighted his qualities but the minimalist show at Haifolk was, to my taste, at once both too much and too little.

Compared with the other performers on the first night of the festival, who play accessible music but operate in the byways of indie, Tamar Eisenman was the mega-star of the evening. She also had an open ticket and was therefore able to play for an hour and a quarter, more than twice as much as any of the other musicians. I like Eisenman a lot. It's hard to find such a precise combination of emotion, rhythm, charm, elegance, sensuality and drive in one singer. Her performance - half of it solo with an electric guitar and half of it with bass-player Mickey Washai - was very good, with one reservation: Sometimes she was swept away into overplaying the guitar at the expense of focus on the songs. I didn't find myself smitten with any of the new songs she performed the way I was when I first heard the song "I Know" from her latest album. But this obviously doesn't mean they weren't good.

Eisenman's performance also included a snipe at Haifa's reputation as a city that goes to sleep after the evening news. When she took off the scarf tied around her neck, some of the audience members reacted with cries of encouragement. "You bunch of perverts," said the singer with a smile and then added: "OK, it's Haifa."

The next day of Haifolk included performances by mega-stars like Noam Rotem and Uzi Ramirez, alongside less well-known musicians. If the second evening maintained the level of the first evening, then the audience did get everything it asked for, even if it didn't ask for everything it wanted. See you at Haifafolk 3.