Craig Taubman has always surrounded himself with amazing musicians, and his recent performance at Jerusalem's Beit Avi Chai center was no exception. The former Disney songwriter came in support of his new Chanukah album and brought with him some talented and diverse musicians.
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The most well known of Taubman’s backup band, at least in Israel, was Roi Levi of the now defunct band Shotei HaNevua. The group's mix of Israeli ethnic sounds, reggae, and groovy hippies vibes earned them commercial and critical acclaim. Now Levi has become religious, sporting a large knit kippah.
Roi Levi and Craig Taubman
Also on stage was RebbeSoul, a virtuoso guitar player who recently made aliyah. RebbeSoul performed on a tumbalalaika, a traditional string instrument. On piano was Nomi Teplow, a singer based in the Ginot Shomron and Kedumim area who has released a solo album as Nomi and an album with the Shir El choir, a group of girls from the Shomron area.
RebbeSoul and Craig Taubman
The bass player was Daniel Strauss of the local wedding band Simchat Olam, which also dabbles in reggae. The guitarist was Josh Nelson, an American-Jewish performer who also is one of the main musicians on the new Lights album. By the end of the show this mix of musicians were all performing together on stage.
Backstage, Taubman took the time to talk about his new CD with IsraelNationalRadio.com‘s Ben Bresky.
Question: What is your new Chanukah album about?
Craig Taubman: Lights is a live Chanukah special we produced for PBS. It features me, Josh Nelson, the Klezmatics, Dave Koz, Alberto Mizrachi, Michelle Citron, and others. It will air nationally viewed by probably 10 million people this Chanukah, the first national Chanukah special in America. The concert was already filmed for television in August.
Question: That's a diverse group of people. You have klezmer and folk and everything. What was it like?
Craig Taubman: It was heaven. These are all friends of mine. When I perform, it's not really a performance. It’s shir b'tzibur, communal singing. It's people coming together from all walks of life, just like an audience coming together. I try to create the same energy and dynamics on the stage, and move the audience as messengers of hope, song and spirit.
Question: What is Friday Night Live?
Craig Taubman: Friday Night Live is a kabbalat Shabbat service that I was asked to do 12 years ago by a rabbi in Los Angeles named David Wolpe. The concept was to attract young people to a service, which in Los Angeles, doesn't happen very often. In New York, there was a service at B'nai Jeshurun, which was very popular. But in Los Angeles, if you can get a third of a minyan, you're in good shape. The first time we did it, there were 200 or 300 people. The second time there was 600 people. Currently there are 1,500 to 2,000 people who come to this Shabbat service every month. It's a big party in honor of Shabbat.
Question: That's interesting because synagogue can be boring to some people and it sounds like you're making it not boring.
Craig Taubman: That's the goal. But boredom is a funny thing. I don't know if things are boring. I think people are boring. There are moments that you get exciting people to engage other people to create excitement in a spirit of energy and Shabbat. It's a wonderful thing.
Question: What about your other albums like Celebrate Passover?
Craig Taubman: For many years I was with Disney records. For about 6 years I produced albums. We sold hundreds of thousands of albums. I realized why isn't this kind of distribution in the Jewish world? I came up with this concept called the Celebrate series which are compilation CDs. I thought there's no way that people would be attracted to just my music like that but perhaps if we could get a minyan of people together on a CD with various styles of music we would be able to create more of a momentum and get more people to buy the CDs and more people to be aware.
Question: Who else is on them that we might recognize?
Craig Taubman: Moshav Band, Theodore Bikel, Debbie Friedman, Safam, pretty much a who's who of Jewish music in America.
Question: What's your take on the Jewish music business? Today there's Matisyahu, the Klezmatics won a Grammy award. Maybe in the future CDs wont exist anymore. What are your thoughts?
Craig Taubman: I think that Rabbi Kook said it the best. What's life all about? How you make the old new and how you make the new holy. You have to take the old and make it new. Whether it's on disc or on CDs or whether it's on 8 track or cassette. Music is music and music will transcend any medium. Music resonates and vibrates and touches people's souls. Whatever it is, music will be there. Don't worry about it. Shir Hadash. Sing a new song.
Question: Any final words you want to say?
Craig Taubman: We live in a glorious age. Celebrate life. L'chaim.
Ben Bresky is a music journalist and host of The Beat, a weekly podcast on Arutz Sheva - IsraelNationalRadio.com. For his show archive and blog, click here.