Soul Sisters for a Night

Saturday night, Holon will look a little bit like Detroit, in a good way. The Holon International Women's Festival is planning on staging a tribute to the Midwestern U.S. city's legendary Motown records on the occasion of it's 50th birthday.

The legendary record company is best known for exposing the world to the blues and rock infused soul sound that became its hallmark with artists like Stevie Wonder (who signed with Motown in its glory years and has never released a record with any other company), Marvin Gaye, the Jackson Five and Diana Ross leading the way. But the American music mainstay was also a leading force in the fight against racial segregation in the United States in the 1960s, bringing black music and culture into white homes across the nation.

The Holon show is the brainchild of producer Chaim Shemesh, who no doubt considered the fact that the mythical musicians recorded by Motown would be hard acts to follow. Some of the songs are so closely identified with their original Motown renditions (and Motown singers) that it seems almost impossible to add something new without ruining them completely.

Faced with this challenge is the band Funk'n'stein, which will accompany all the acts, and six singers: Ninet Tayeb, Gal de Paz, Mika Sadeh, Efrat Gosh, Rona Kenan and Yael Deckelbaum. Kenan will perform just one song, and the others three songs each from the enormous repertoire of Motown artists, including Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Wonder's "Superstition," the Four Tops' "Reach Out" and the Supremes' "Baby Love."

Last year Funk'n'stein performed a Motown tribute at the Eilat Jazz Festival.

"We swim in the material, we feel at home in it," lead singer Elran Dekel said. "After all, we're a funk band that's been playing this style for a long time; we're the authority on it here."

In Holon, Funk'n'stein will portray the legendary Motown back-up group the Funk Brothers, which was a rather large studio ensemble that backed up most of the Motown acts. Although they were less well-known than the soloists they accompanied, the Funk Brothers had more number one hits in America than Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys combined.

Dekel admits that in the past it was hard for him to approach these living legends. "If four-five years ago you would have asked me if I was ready to perform a Stevie Wonder song, I would have said, no way, because of the respect I have for the man. But today the machine called Funk'n'stein sounds much better, the best it has ever sounded," he said.

Gosh said Funk'n'stein has been around long enough that about the band that "they are unified and together. It's almost like going to rehearsal and just pressing 'play.'"

For the show, Dekel will give up the microphone and play take up the tambourine, whose sound is deeply identified with Motown's musical innovations. Working with the singers was a pleasure for Dekel and he mentions Ninet Tayeb, who will perform Gaye's "What's Going On," in particular.

"It surprised me. When Ninet opens her mouth and sings, you understand that [the song] can be done another way," he said.

The women who agreed to the challenge sound excited by the opportunity to step into the giant shoes of Motown artists. Most of them have never sung these songs before and during rehearsal they deepened their knowledge of musical structure and vocal presentation. "These songs are so huge, they require a lot of thought," de Paz said. "I saw there was genius in them; they wrote the best songs in the world. I was very jealous that I wasn't there and I didn't write them."

The great respect she has for these songs did not make performing them more difficult for her, however. She takes a somewhat Zen approach:

"There are no difficult things," she said. "There are wonderful things. There is no difficulty; there is only growth."