Banai Du Jour

Either way you look at it - Forty Thieves or three instrumentalists led by a chef - this rock entity is exciting.

Dafna Arad
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Dafna Arad

Elisha Banai & The Forty Thieves, a rock group formed a year and a half ago, is trying with all its might to crowd into the compact Israeli rock hall of fame. To that end, it is diligently observing all the unofficial regulations for establishing a successful band in Israel.

The ensemble was put together in accordance with the classic formula of two guitars, bass and drums, with the full support of the record company Phonokol; from time to time, there have been brief and intriguing conversations with the media; every few months the group plans to release singles in an organized manner, in Hebrew of course; and everything is done in the straightest possible way, until one encounters the energies of this young group in their wild and exciting performances.

Elisha Banai and the Forty Thieves performing in Tel Aviv this week.Credit: David Bachar

The Forty Thieves are in fact three instrumentalists - bass player Mati Gilad, guitarist Omer "Papa" Naveh and the popular percussionist Itamar Levi - led by a fresh scion of the Banai family. Elisha Banai is the son of Yuval Banai from Mashina and actress Orly Silbersatz. He is a grandson of the late Yossi Banai and a cousin of a thousand songwriters and singers.

Though he evinced a talent for cooking at an early age, with genes like that he simply could not escape the curse of Hebrew song. Like the Banais before him, he too presents songs with a spark that is hard to ignore. But he boasts a look that is less modest and down to earth; the young Elisha, 23, maintains a skinniness that would put Nitzan Horesh of Electra to shame, a heavy beard in the style of the Biluim and entire "sleeves" of tattoos.

Onstage his moves are cobra-like in the style of Iggy Pop, and he plays the guitar at 360 degrees. In short, he has everything necessary for becoming a rock star. At the moment all he lacks is a normal strap for his guitar. For the past 10 years the guitar has been dangling from his scrawny body on the cheapest strap in the shop.

"I bought it a long time ago," he says in his defense, "and I assume it was the cheapest strap in the store. In any case, I'm not trying to look tough, and I don't do poses."

On Sunday The Forty Thieves and their Captain Hook embraced at length on the stage of the Abraxas Club in Tel Aviv, after they launched their new single, "Like Everyone Else" in an intense performance. As they thanked everyone involved, especially their music producer Zuri (Eyal Even Tsur ), flashes from cameras wielded by the press and family members flickered on their perspiring faces. Before the performance, his mother promised him: "We'll make a book for you!" She kept her promise.

Afterward they were euphoric for a very long time and won warm hugs from the audience of friends and family, which included all the members of Mashina, Ari Berman and young groupies with long hair and shorts.

This was the peak moment in the most important month in the history of the band, which has been chosen to warm up for the Jane's Addiction and Blonde Redhead bands a the PIC.NIC festival in Tel Aviv on September 1. Before that, Forty Thieves will perform at Beer City in Haifa and at the Arad Festival.

"We are really strong in the Negev," says Banai, moments after being interviewed for Radio Darom, "but the audience in the north is the strongest. Never mind the audience in the center of the country, which has waited for so long for us to appear here."

A few years ago it seemed as though he was going to become the ultimate Banai. He was the guitarist for the strong punk rock group Got No Shame, outside the mainstream and performing for a young and irritable audience. But his story with them ended, and now he is investing seven days a week in his Forty Thieves. Traces of punk rock convincingly spice the band's Israeli songs and also bolster Banai's protest persona. He is an active participant in the Rothschild tent camp and in contrast to veteran artists he is not afraid to get involved in politics.

"At a time when 300,00 people were marching in protest, Avigodor Lieberman sat down to eat at Herbert Samuel, a restaurant where I worked as a sous-chef and earned NIS 3,000 a month," he says angrily. "I demand social justice. This, as a young person in the State of Israel who has been working very hard in restaurant kitchens since the age of 14."

Today, though he has progressed and is now employed as a senior chef at chef Jonatan Roshfeld's Yavne Montefiore Restaurant, he finds it hard to support himself: "In any job, the level of expenses vis a vis the amount you earn is impossible. We are eating it from the state, and in the end, as an artist, I am paying 50 percent taxes. What's going on?"

Before the performance, Yuval Banai observed: "In this crappy state, it's either underground or [the television program] 'A Star is Born." There aren't any bands any more that are doing good rock and roll." It seems he hopes the son he has raised will succeed in creating a new category, which will combine the extreme and the consensus, the way Mashina once did.

In the meantime, until the clip that has been produced of "Like Everyone Else" comes out, if you want to listen to the new song and write its title in the YouTube search line, you will get to Mashina's "You Aren't Like Everyone Else." The nation is demanding a revolution.



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