Veteran Israeli singer Shlomo Gronich, who recently performed at the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism Award ceremony in the City of David, has released a new album based on Jewish texts from the Bible and prayer book. He spoke with IsraelNationalRadio this past week.
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Releasing his first album in 1971, Gronich is well known for his 1993 album Shlomo Gronich and The Sheba Choir, which consists of Ethiopian children. He still teaches and performs with the choir and is planning to record new material. Gronich has been touring with the Journey to the Source material throughout Israel and in South America.
His new album, entitled Journey to the Source, guest stars a mix of secular and religious Israeli performers.
INR: Tell us about your new album, Journey to the Source.
Shlomo Gronich: Well, I can't tell you all about it. All the texts are from the Jewish source - from the Bible and from the Siddur. This is something that is very exciting for me. It doesn't remind me of anything I did before. It takes me somewhere very high, very spiritual. It takes my whole soul into it. I started working on this journey three years ago when I received by fax an ancient prayer taken from the Sabbath morning prayer, Ilu Finu: "Even if our mouth would be as full of song like the sea, we could not fully praise You..." When I read it, I was so moved by the purity and meaning of the wise words. Since I am not a religious person, it was my first time reading it. Religious people read it every Shabbat morning, but I was not familiar with this prayer. I took the prayer from the fax. I went to the piano. I turned on the tape, closed my eyes, and the music came as a whole. It was a very exciting experience. I really felt it was the first time it was happening to me like that. So strong. This was the trigger to this journey.
Right after that, wonderful things started to happen to me. I met people who gave me advice as to which psukim [verses] to take from the Bible. I went from one sentence of the Bible to the other with this music. They were very
fruitful days for me. In a week I composed twenty new prayers. I was very moved by it. I think ancient lyrics have so much power just because they are so old. They gather so much power during the thousands of years. It feels so pure and clean and fresh and good to sing these lyrics, especially today when the radio and everything around us seems to go in to fashion music and fragments. I find it a very quality and refreshing experience.
The magic continued in the studio. When I composed the music, as I told you, it came as a whole to me. It came from within me. No mistakes. No erase. As a whole. When I was composing, I knew I should take a string quartet and produce the music with them. We went into the studio with a string quartet and a percussion player. After the first track, I felt I could use other people's voices. I made some phone calls to another great composer, David Broza. On the spot he came to the studio came and gave his voice to another song, A Woman of Valor. He sings a duet with me. Then I pulled another amazing guy, with an amazing voice, Gad Elbaz. And another one and another one. This album is really hosting many good musicians besides me which gives me the great pleasure of listening to it and not only to my own voice but to this wonderful ensemble that was put together.
INR: You went on tour with this material before the album came out. How did the audience receive it?
Shlomo Gronich: They liked it very much. What was very interesting is that the audience is composed of religious people and non-religious people and it's very exciting to see these two types of audience sitting together and going through a spiritual adventure.
INR: I like the song "In Green Pastures" with the guy speaking English in the beginning. What is that one about?
Shlomo Gronich: They are from the Black Hebrew community of Dimona. They have great voices. They sat with me in a few songs. As we started the song, one of them started to recite the words in English. David's Psalms.
INR: So it wasn't planned like that?
Shlomo Gronich: It was not planned. He started to recite it and I made the signal to the man recording. I left it there to start the Hebrew version with an English version. What is interesting here is that The L-rd is My Shepherd is being said by non-Jewish people concerning death. It's very sad in ceremonies of death. My version is very happy and gay. It's the opposite of death. It's very alive. It makes it interesting.
INR: You have been around for a long time. How has your music changed? How have you grown musically?
Shlomo Gronich: I can't be the judge of myself, but I think this project shows that this guy, me, is getting ripe with the years. My hair is becoming white. My voice is becoming deep. My soul is becoming deep. My touch of music is becoming more mature and more meaningful and honest. That's what I feel and I hear it from others as well. Everything that I learned within my short life, almost 60 years, is being put today in my music. Every day I learn something new. That's why it sounds so wide ranging in the styles of music. Classical with pop with jazz with ethnic with world with religious with hasidic. Everything is here. It's really a new language of music.
INR: I saw an old video of you on the internet with [former Israeli singing star] Mati Caspi. Then I saw a video of you two from today and you both look almost exactly the same - except with white hair.
Shlomo Gronich: Besides being older and wiser a little bit, well maybe not wiser, maybe less stupid, the energy is inside. The river is inside. It's the same person. The same soul. The same energy.
INR: Is there anything else you want to say about your music or your new album?
Shlomo Gronich: I am so much into this new project now. Usually I work on so many things together, but this project is taking all of me into it. I hope it gets the chance to be played abroad, because I think that it's not only for the Jewish people, it's really for all of humankind. The Bible is not a thing of only the Jewish people, its really of all mankind. I feel the same about this project, this music and these lyrics, should be heard by so many people not only in Israel. I hope to get the chance to do it.
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Benyamin Bresky is a music journalist and the host of The Beat on Arutz Sheva - Israel National Radio.