In his words

Amid protests, Israeli musician offers prescient piece on race

Sagi Zoref began working on series focusing on famous speeches last year; his latest track on MLK’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech comes at a poignant moment

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

From musician Sagi Zoref's electronic music videos using texts of famous speeches, some relating to racism in the 21st century (Courtesy Sagi Zoref)
From musician Sagi Zoref's electronic music videos using texts of famous speeches, some relating to racism in the 21st century (Courtesy Sagi Zoref)

As the US grapples with demonstrations and reactions to the brutality of George Floyd’s May 25 death and the Black Lives Matter protests, one Israeli musician is taking a closer look at the push for equality through the words of civil rights movement icon Martin Luther King Jr.

The musician, Sagi Zoref, began working on a mini album of five electronic tracks based on famous speeches last year. Fortuitously, his latest release, the fourth track titled “Miss Google and MLK I Have A Dream,” comes amid mass US demonstrations on race inequality.

In it Zoref uses the text of Reverend King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

“It comes from a curiosity to look at and tell things about our society,” said Zoref. “It was important to me to say things that mean something.”

Zoref, 45, first played bass in rock and roll bands and then moved into composing his own electronic dance music. He has accompanied and produced songs for well-known Israeli artists including Yehudit Ravitz, Eviatar Banai, Berry Sakharoff, Asaf Amdorsky, Maor Cohen and others.

About 20 years ago, he began creating his own videos to accompany his electronic music; this latest project sets electronic music to famed texts that are “still very relevant,” said Zoref.

“It came from a desire to create art but not to write new songs,” he said, “I wanted to do something that looks at things from a different angle.”

This latest album began with “Churchill 2020” (using text from the British prime minister’s 1940 speech, “We Shall Fight on the Beaches”) followed by “Obama 2020” (from US president Barack Obama’s 2008 victory speech) “Greta 2020” (from Swedish teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg).

The final track will be a Steve Jobs speech about intuition in a duet with Leonard Cohen.

The videos and texts are about finding inspiration to change things, said Zoref.

Electronic artist Sagi Zoref, whose recent electronic music video projects grapple with racism and awareness (Courtesy Guy Koshi and Yariv Fine)

“There’s always someone who will judge you,” he said. “We have to educate people so that everyone will deal with it and talk about it and create art around it. Maybe we’ll be able to do something with all this ugliness.”

While Zoref acknowledged that he generally creates and plays music for local audiences, he’s trying to move beyond that and to speak to different generations through the music and texts.

“It’s a renewed connection and it’s even the kind of thing you can dance to in a club,” said Zoref. “I’m hoping I get to stand on a stage again and play it live, for all kinds of people to dance to it.”

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