Opening your doors to total strangers for an impromptu live concert isn’t the norm most of the time in Jerusalem. But during the Jerusalem Season of Culture — the summer-long event that celebrates local musicians, artists, singers, and performers — it’s an endearingly down-home way of showcasing the city’s array of artistic talents.
At the start of JSOC’s In House Festival earlier this month, Moroccan singers Neta Elkayam and Amit Chai Cohen — creative and real-life partners — hosted a concert for about 50 people in their small, quaint Katamon home, inviting all to hear some authentic Moroccan music and talk about the band’s background.
In conversation interspersed with music blaring out for the neighborhood to enjoy, Elkayam, the lead singer, said she and her bandmates have been playing together for about three months. Born and raised in Israel, she was introduced to Moroccan music by her grandmother.
Exposing the sounds, concepts, and inner workings of an artist’s path is all part of the JSOC concept, which this year is examining the “distinctive faces of Jerusalem,” according to its blog.
Funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, as well as the municipality of Jerusalem, the organization has a separate nonprofit that operates the series, which began two years ago. For philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, it’s a way to help create a buzz of positive energy and activity in the city.
Elkayam and her band are among hundreds of artists participating in this year’s Jerusalem Season of Culture, which runs until the end of August.
“Two years ago, I decided to really explore Moroccan music,” Elkayam said. “I couldn’t believe how I missed it all these years. I grew up with it but I never took the time to learn the language and make my ear adapt to a different kind of sound.”
Elkayam taught herself Arabic and got together with a group of people who understood Moroccan music, which infuses Arabic, Hebrew, French, and Spanish styles. She said she often has to remind fellow Israelis that being Jewish and speaking Arabic is not an uncommon thing.
“Moroccan Jews brought this music here; they were writing and composing. And no one knows that,” she said. “No one considers that as being Israeli or Jewish, because it’s not acceptable in people’s brains that there are Jewish people who can speak Arabic.”
Elsewhere in the Jerusalem Season of Culture
Those who want to experience a different kind of music can check out the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival on August 20; tickets are on sale for this night of rooftop chorus singing overlooking the Mount of Olives, which will include the Mickey Hart band, led by the legendary Grateful Dead drummer.
This year’s JSOC also offers a range of free walking tours, including an opportunity to wander around the Israel Museum during the July 25 Contact Point event.
If you’re looking to satisfy your inner foodie, register by email or cellphone for Tasting Jerusalem, a group of chefs with a food truck who are traveling through Jerusalem, beginning July 17, and stopping at various locations to serve up the best and most inventive Israeli foods.
And finally, there’s the Under the Mountain speaker series, where the public can interact with artists and their work.