Interview'If there's rhythm and good harmonies, I'm telling a story'

Belgian-Israeli singer Hagar Levy finds her voice, and audience

Soulful Tel Aviv musician performs original music for an appreciative crowd

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

Hagar Levy doesn’t expect you to know who she is. You should, though.

The Israeli singer, songwriter and pianist writes music that’s soulful and deeply melodic, with hints of rock, rhythm and blues, and even a underlying tone of jazz. It’s also in English.

She’ll be performing from her new album, “Live at Pluto,” on Wednesday, March 22, at the Tmuna Theater in Tel Aviv.

But Levy, who is Israeli-born and spent her childhood in Belgium before returning to Israel as a teen, is fine with the fact that she’s playing and performing for a niche audience. For now.

“It’s a sub- sub- sub-group,” said Levy, 33, whose English is smoothly fluent and tinged with the slightest of Belgian accents.

“You have to accept that your big dreams of breaking out, which are important, as they drive you and motivate you, are not going to happen in quite the way you dreamed of,” said Levy, who has a shock of rocker-esque bleached-and-black hair above her dark eyebrows. “I’m in Israel, I make music in English and with specific themes, it’s very feminine music.”

Her favorite singers were, and still are, Toni Amos and Fiona Apple, as well as Erykah Badu, Sade, Jill Scott and Alicia Keys, and there are clear echoes of all those female voices in Levy’s own works.

It’s music that lingers, long after Levy’s clear, soulful voice and piano notes, broadened by her accompanying bass guitarists, drummer and keyboardist — several of them longtime friends from Levy’s days at the Rimon School of Music — have transitioned into the next song.

Levy’s career as a musician has developed over the last decade, as she slowly discovered that her long-time hobby of playing piano and composing music was what she wanted to do for a living.

She began playing piano as a child and found it therapeutic as a teen, when she would play for hours and write music that offered her an outlet to “say things I couldn’t say in real life,” said Levy. “I was 17 and had just returned to Israel, and was shocked by reality and didn’t know you could share those feelings with anyone.”

‘I’m getting something across to the boutique audience’

When she began writing her own music, however, she discovered that “this internal reality of mine, for the first time, had a connection outside,” said Levy.

Levy is introspective in her music and in her conversation, “a muscle,” she said, that she’s not lazy about using, although she is naturally sensitive and shy, despite her chosen vocation that forces her onstage and into the public eye.

She’s also fine with making music that isn’t easily classified.

“I’m not jazzy, but I’m influenced by jazz singing,” she said. “I’m not a complete pianist. I try to be comfortable with where I am, which is a combination of things that I manage to do and nowadays I know it’s the passion that you bring. If there’s rhythm and good harmonies, I’m telling a story, I’m getting something across to the boutique audience.”

Levy didn’t follow her passions at first, opting first for a media degree at Hebrew University and then working in advertising at the Tel Aviv office of global firm McCann Erickson. She feels grateful that it wasn’t the right fit for her, for it was after that experience that she decided to try out life as a musician.

She ended up studying at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, where she had applied two times previously and been accepted.

Her first album, “Hagar Levy (2015),” was produced by an old friend who urged her to push herself and her music into the public eye.

Now she’s getting more comfortable with the idea of being a performing musician, and finding her audience.

‘It’s like basic training, you have to market yourself all the time’

“It’s like basic training, you have to market yourself all the time,” she said. “You do bigger and bigger shows, you build this space where people come back every few months for your shows.”

Emerging musicians with niche audiences also have to battle with technology, as more people prefer to stay home and listen to snippets of songs rather than entire songs or albums.

And despite reality TV formats like “The Voice,” which many Israeli musicians have used as a platform to introduce themselves to a wider audience, Levy would rather work for ten or 15 years to become better known and have people come to hear her and really listen.

“That’s my script, if I get to choose it,” she said.

“I used to get bummed out that Ynet doesn’t interview me, that it’s difficult to get a big audience,” she said. “Festivals don’t necessarily take me. But if you stay long enough in this industry, you understand that there’s a lot of quality people who want to keep listening and you slowly find them. It’s a long-term process.”

Hagar Levy, Wednesday, March 22, 9:30 p.m., Tmuna Theater, 8 Shonzino Street, Tel Aviv. Tickets at 03-561-1211, or

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