Sounds good: Alternative music could be Israel’s next cultural export

Sounds good: Alternative music could be Israel’s next cultural export

A Jerusalem music conference suggests sublime sabra songs could follow Israeli TV and film onto the global market

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Karolina in performance mode (photo credit: Maya Levin/Flash 90)
Karolina in performance mode (photo credit: Maya Levin/Flash 90)

The Israeli alternative music scene, local high-tech industry and Jerusalem. Three subjects that aren’t often mentioned in the same sentence, but which came together for last week’s Jerusalem Music Conference, a first-ever meetup of international music executives, technology entrepreneurs and musicians in the holy city.

The concept, explained Uri Adoni, a partner at Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Media Quarter, the firm hosting the conference, was to develop and export Israeli music to international markets.

“We strongly believe in this kind of combination between technology and creativity; it’s kind of the next phase in Israeli high-tech,” said Adoni, who handles early-stage start-ups for JVP. “When you look at the music industry specifically, the whole ecosystem has been changing in the last few years. You don’t need a studio to make music, you market music through social networks, and the music consumer is changing as well.”

With attendees from all over the world representing some of the largest international music festivals — including Glastonbury, Exit, Primavera, CMJ Music Marathon and Mighty Sounds — much of the talk was about exporting a new, hip, alternative sabra style: the spirited Berry Sakharof & Rea Mochiach song “Red Lipped” (video directly below), crooner Geva Alon, the soulful Karolina (lower down on the page) and funky Boom Pam.

Much of the conference was held at music club Zappa Jerusalem in the Lab, part of the JVP Media Quarter complex. Founded by Jerusalem entrepreneur Erel Margalit, the complex consists of portfolio companies as well as an in-house incubator, a social entrepreneurship program and Zappa, all aiming to bring Jerusalem’s creativity to the world, matching up technological innovations with cultural and artistic trendsetters.

“I listened to so many quality bands in four days, including some that I would like to invite to Serbia,” said Uros Radenkovic, the program manager for GRAD, the European Center for Culture and Debate. “It was great to have the opportunity to be introduced to the alternative scene of another country in just a few days.”

The more than 15 international representatives wanted to meet the musicians and start booking, added Adoni, who pointed to the successful exporting of Israeli films and television shows to the US market in recent years as an encouraging precedent.

The conference was exactly what was needed to put the international spotlight on talent coming out of Israel, said Parag Bhandari from New York’s UG Strategies, who hopes to return next year and speak more about how Israeli bands can “break through in the States.”

Ditto for Barbora Subrtovak, the program coordinator of United Islands Ceské sporitelny, Prague’s international music festival.

“Before we came we already knew some Israeli bands (Boom Pam, Acollective) but I have to say we were surprised by diversity of the local music scene and especially by the effort of the bands and managers involved,” said Subrtovak, who was particularly drawn to singer Ninet Tayeb, Esther Rada, Palestinian rapper SAZ and indie group TV Buddhas. “We had a chance to meet live people we usually only send emails to which gave us great opportunity to make real contacts. ”

Music with a global approach was once called world music, said Adoni, but as long as it’s good music, it can cross borders.

“Israeli cinema is becoming a legitimate player in all the big festivals, and we don’t see any reason why the music scene can’t be just as successful,” he added. “It’s all about the quality of the music and the energy of the artist and the performance. English is not that much of a barrier.”

In fact, smiled Adoni, it was the Chinese rep who commented that as long as a musician isn’t singing in Chinese, “‘it all sounds the same.’”

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