Jewish Journal

Israel to rock the Kodak but hoping for more glam

by Dikla Kadosh

Posted on May. 8, 2008 at 6:00 pm

Rami Kleinstein music video 'Winds of War' ( Hebrew)

In planning the May 10 celebratory "Israel at 60" megaconcert for Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, the producers went down the A-list of Jewish celebrities, requesting their presence at what is hoped to be the grandest celebration in Los Angeles of Israel's 60th year of independence.

So far they've managed to confirm appearances by Kirk Douglas and Larry King -- two titan Jewish entertainers, but not exactly the hoped-for vibrant faces of an Israel-embracing Hollywood. As of press time, rumors were still swirling about a possible performance by Stevie Wonder.

To be sure, much of Hollywood has never wrapped its arms around Israel with much enthusiasm, but on this unabashedly celebratory occasion, it would have seemed that at least some of the Jewish big leaguers -- Steven Spielberg, Natalie Portman, Sarah Silverman, Brett Ratner -- might have come out for this event to support the Jewish homeland.

"We did not get a great response," said Genie Benson, executive director of the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble and one of four producers of the Kodak concert. "I was very surprised. I thought more people would want to jump on board."

Benson attributes the lack of participation to the very nature of Los Angeles, a fragmented, sprawling city where many events commemorating the anniversary are taking place across the city throughout the month, with everyone inviting the same famous Jews.

"Every synagogue, every organization is doing their own thing," lamented Benson, who has been producing Israeli and Jewish events in Los Angeles for decades. "In New York, the whole community has come together."

Danielle Berrin spoke with Idan Raichel late last year

Radio City Music Hall's version of "Israel at 60," organized by the same collaboration of producers, has already sold out tickets priced at $36 to $60. The May 7 New York gala is being sponsored by more than 100 Jewish organizations and will feature Matisyahu, Paul Shaffer, John Zorn, Idan Raichel, Rami Kleinstein, David Broza, Habanot Nechama and Yael Naim. The show will include remarks from New York Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

California's governor and Los Angeles' mayor will not attend the L.A. concert. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did not respond to the invitation to attend, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, usually eager to be seen in the Jewish community, cited a conflict, Benson said.

Nevertheless, the show will go on, and with gusto, according to organizers: "I'm going to celebrate the people who are coming," said Craig Taubman of Craig 'N Co., whose annual "Let My People Sing" event has as its theme "60-4-60" -- lining up 60 hours of programming toasting Israel's 60th -- of which the Kodak show will be the centerpiece.

"There's far more to celebrate and look forward to in the positive realm," Taubman said.

The lineup at the Kodak includes renowned Israeli artists Noa and the Idan Raichel Project; a new dance, "Shuva Israel," by the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble; a short film made by Jeremy Goldscheider, especially for the occasion; and other hinted-at surprises.

Noa, live, circa 1995

"I meditated on the old Hebrew and Yemenite lyrics, full of love and longing, of dreams unfulfilled, of pain, heat, dust and wind. I wrote new English lyrics and music, and wrapped them around the old songs like a long coat in winter," writes Tel Aviv-born songstress Noa in the liner notes of her new album, "Genes and Jeans," which will be released May 13. Known in Israel by her more exotic given name, Achinoam Nini, she is the daughter of Yemenite Jews, grew up in New York and has been performing internationally since 1991. Her appearance at the Kodak is one of seven U.S. stops to promote her new album.

At the age of 17, Noa moved to Israel alone and served two years in the Israeli army. Her music career began soon after, when she met her musical soul mate -- her collaborator, co-writer, producer, guitarist and arranger Gil Dor.

Over the past 18 years, the dark-haired beauty has recorded a live album with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; shared a stage with Sting; was the first Israeli artist formally invited to perform in Morocco; sang in front of Pope John Paul II; had a song written specifically for her by Nicola Piovani; performed John Lennon's "Imagine" with Arab singer Khaled in Hebrew, English and Arabic; and was the headliner for the Nov. 4, 1995, peace rally in Tel Aviv moments before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

The Idan Raichel Project is enormously popular in Israel. The group includes some 70 artists and nearly as many strands of musical influences: Jewish liturgy, reggae, Ethiopian village songs, Arabic folk, Caribbean rhythms, hip-hop, Yemenite music, modern Israeli love ballads and others.

The name and dreadlock-framed face of the Project belong to Israeli Idan Raichel, who nevertheless says that the group actually has no front man. The 31-year-old sabra is quoted on the Project's Web site, "I wrote the songs, and I arranged and produced them, but I perform them together with other vocalists and musicians. On the other hand, we are not a group. It's something in between."

These collaborative recordings have produced three hit albums and numerous sold-out concerts in Israel, the United States, Europe and Africa. The Project's last visit to Los Angeles was in November 2007, when seven of the multifacited musicians performed to a wildly enthusiastic crowd at UCLA Live.

Raichel and four members of the gang will tour the United States this spring for a series of Israel celebrations, including an Israel solidarity day in Chicago, the concert at Radio City Music Hall and the Kodak show, and they can be expected to perform emotive hits such as "Bo'ee" (Come With Me), "Mi'Ma'amakim" (Out of the Depths) and "Im Telech" (If You Go).

Although no Israeli could utter Rami Kleinstein's name without conjuring thoughts of his recently estranged wife, Rita, the prolific composer and singer is also a megastar in Israel in his own right.Kleinstein's charming front-tooth gap is not the primary reason he's been called "the Elton John of Israel." Both pianist and spirited performer, Kleinstein, like John, is likewise known for his timeless love songs -- sans the kooky wigs and eyewear. For more than 20 years, songs like "Tapuchim U'Tmarim" (Apples and Dates), "Kol Ma She Tirtzi" (Everything You Would Want) and "Harbe Panim" (Many Faces) have become iconic ballads across Israel.

Before their split in September 2007, Kleinstein and Rita, both immigrants to Israel at a young age, he from the United States and she from Iran, combined their talents to produce numerous triple-platinum albums. Their 2001 joint tour and subsequent double-disk compilation, "Rita and Rami Live on Stage," were enormously popular. Now on his own, Kleinstein continues to write and produce his own music and will be performing his romantic hits for the crowd at the Kodak.

Incorporating the cultures of Iran, Yemen, the United States, Ethiopia and other countries into their music, the artists chosen to represent Israel at this celebration are a reflection of the musical diversity that has developed in Israel since the country's birth in 1948. This thriving cultural scene is one of many achievements of the Jewish homeland that will be toasted at the Kodak Theatre on Saturday. The Los Angeles community will be gathering to say l'chaim to the very existence of a country that every Jewish person in the world can call home.

Israel's 60th Independence Day Celebration. Saturday, May 10 at 8:45 p.m. $60-$1,000. Kodak Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (818) 986-7332. For more information, visit http://www.60at60.org.

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