Friday, November 20, 2009

The Tractor meets Sephardi poet Moshe Ibn Ezra

How did a rock group with the unlikely name of The Tractor's Revenge find inspiration in the writings of the 11th century Sephardi rabbi and poet Moshe ibn Ezra? Barry Davis of The Jerusalem Post explains:

There's obviously more to Nikmat Hatractor (The Tractor's Revenge) than initially meets the eye, or the ear. Over the last 20 or so years the veteran rock outfit has built up a solid following for its earthy sound, the odd rough balladic offering notwithstanding, and is best known for tracks like "Mis'hak Shel Dmaot" (The Crying Game), from its eponymous 1990 debut album. However, although it may not be immediately apparent, the in-your-face stuff is heavily laced with some ethnic chestnuts.

Nikmat Hatractor.

Nikmat Hatractor (Photo: Roi Berkovitz)

Nikmat Hatractor frontman Avi Balili is delighted to have the opportunity to delve into the writings of 11th century rabbi and poet Moshe Ibn Ezra, a relative of Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra and one of the literary giants of the Golden Age in Spain. Balili and the rest of the band, with sonar and visual enhancement from oud player Eliyahu Dagmi and video artist Shira Misanik, will present their own eminently contemporary take on Ibn Ezra texts at the Jerusalem Theater on Thursday, as the opening slot of this year's Jerusalem International Oud Festival.

In fact, Balili and ethnic and liturgical material are old pals. "We put selihot (penitential poems) to music 20 years ago, and we also recorded Ibn Ezra's 'El Nora Alila' back then. I've been into his writings for a long time. We're marking the band's 20th anniversary and the Oud Festival is 10 years old, so it's nice to come full circle musically as well."

The 46-year-old vocalist-bassist fed off a rich and varied musical pallet from the word go. "My family has Greek roots and my dad came from Egypt," he explains. "We also heard a lot of Italian pop at home, guys like Marino Marini, but my first musical love was [legendary Egyptian singer] Oum Kalthoum. My mother told me that‚ when I was very small, I'd fall asleep listening to music on an Arab radio station."

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