Koolulam goes unplugged with love song in Jerusalem
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Koolulam goes unplugged with love song in Jerusalem

The social singing enterprise brings its redux of ‘Yesh Bi Ahava’ to the YMCA; founders open up to a crowd of 500

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

The founders of Koolulam, a social singing initiative, tend not to share too much information about themselves.

This crew of musicians, technicians and entrepreneurs have been gathering crowds of hundreds of thousands for the last two years, with an impetus for bringing Israelis together to sing, regardless of politics, backgrounds or affiliations.

Yet at one of several Koolulam Unplugged events on Thursday night at Jerusalem’s YMCA, the group opened up, just a little bit.

“We’re taking questions, any question,” said Ben Yefet, a charismatic and talented singer with a massive man-bun of rasta braids who arranges and conducts most of the sing down gatherings.

Ben Yefet, left, and the audience at Koolulam Unplugged on January 16, 2020 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Most of the questions from the audience of around 500 had been asked — or answered — before, but there were a few new ones, too.

“Is this what you do for a living?” asked a six-year-old.

While Yefet sort of sidestepped the question, he did say that the events, particularly the massive ones that are later made into a professional video, are expensive to produce. The events are generally sponsored by private individuals and foundations, and the Koolulam team produce private events as well, which help cover costs.

In response to a question about how the group picks each song, Yaron Eigenstein, a keyboardist and chief music producer, said: “Picking songs is one of the hardest tasks.” Eigenstein communicated with the audience through handwritten poster board messages. “We focus on the message.”

Thursday evening’s song was a redux of the Koolulam version of Arkadi Duchin’s “Yesh Bi Ahava” (There is Love in Me), which was sung collectively last August for Tu B’Av, or Israel’s Valentine’s Day, in Latrun with 8,000 people. The idea was to include a song about love but also on the stubbornness of love and how to access love, said Eigenstein.

And so it happened on a cold, Thursday night in January and under the domed painted ceiling of the YMCA where 500 people picked up their lavender song sheets. After dividing into two groups, Voice One and Voice Two, the audience spent about 45 minutes learning the song.

“Ah, Ha, Vaaaa…Yesh od tikvah….”

“Ah-ha-va!”

“Ah-ha! Ah-ha-vaaa,”

At times, Yefet took breaks, telling the audience to each turn to a stranger nearby and introduce themselves, certainly by shaking hands and even better with a hug. At another point, he welcomed questions, and led the crowd in a round of “Happy Birthday” to a woman who was planning her 50th in another six months (and hoping she could hire the Koolulam team).

Midway through, Yefet got everyone on their feet to dance and groove in order to elicit more powerful singing.

“You feel that?” he asked.

We certainly did.

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