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Interview: Jewish Music Legend Chaim David, His New CD

Interview with Chaim David about his new CD, his youth in Africa and his thoughts on music and spirituality.
By Ben Bresky
First Publish: 9/15/2009, 4:19 PM / Last Update: 9/16/2009, 6:09 AM

Jewish singer-songwriter Chaim David (often spelled Chaim Dovid) has released a new CD with a new backing band. Called the Good News Bearers, Chaim David once again presents a mix of upbeat, feel-good songs based on Biblical verses.

Born Chaim David Sarachik in South Africa, the singer moved in Israel in the 1970s where he performed with the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, Shlomo Carlebach and other then-cutting-edge Jewish rock and soul musicians. Now several decades later and with a little more gray in his beard, he is still at it and as usual surrounded by a mix of younger and more veteran performers.

Chaim David and The Good News Bearers

HaMevaser Tov, his new CD, features a backing band including brothers Menachem and Ben Katz of the Jerusalem-based jam band Remedy. The Katz brothers also owned a bar in Jerusalem which catered to American-Israelis called Sugar Hill (now known as Sideways). The bar is still covered from floor to ceiling with classic rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, with Matisyahu and some other famous Jewish musicians thrown in as well. Also in the new band is Chaim's long time keyboardist Natan Rothstein and bassist Avi Hershberg.

It was amongst these young religious musicians and music lovers that Chaim David spoke to Israel National Radio's The Beat, after his performance at the annual Aharit Haymim Festival.


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Question: Tell us all about all about the new CD

Chaim David: In Hebrew it's called HaMevaser Tov and in English we named it Chaim David and the Good News Bearers. The name is a little crazy but that's what my chevra [friends] said. It's cute. Nine of the ten songs are originals. One is by Shlomo Carlebach. Some are very old. They came with me from my early days of teshuvah [return] and some are quite recent, like the Aussie Jig. A couple of years ago we were in Australia with my friend Avi Hershberg who plays bass. I wrote the melody and he helped me and developed it right there in Sydney, Australia.

Question: You're from South Africa, but you don't have an accent, maybe because you've been in Israel for a long time. Does any of your upbringing reflect in your music?

Chaim David: The ethnic music of the Africans was really influential. The beat and harmony and guitar playing. They were such good guitarists. They played with these really funny $10 guitars and they really mastered them. They had no money. I always admired them, how they could get such incredible music out of these really poor instruments. Nebach, we have these fancy Martins and Taylors and expensive $2,000 guitars and they had these little box things that were probably made in China but they played the best music.

It's true that since 1973 I've been away from South Africa so I lost the accent and the way of life. But some of that rhythm and harmony remained with me, I suppose, together with all the Jewish roots that I picked up along the way.

I was in the Diaspora Yeshiva for the first seven years of my teshuvah. I picked up a lot of music from Avraham Rosenblum of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band and Benzion Solomon, Mickey Shur and all those great musicians. And my rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach is probably the biggest influence because he was the one that brought me to Yiddishkeit. I had the deepest connection with him musically. I used to accompany him on stage when I first made teshuvah and play with him at concerts in Jerusalem. Especially watching him just communicating and going to the depths of his heart with the audience. I think that was the biggest influence, trying to emulate those warm and loving utterances in between songs and in stories he told. I picked up a lot from that.

Chaim David and the Good News Bearers live at the 2009 Aharit Hayamim Festival
Photo Credit: Ben Bresky

Question: I notice that you do try and give a little story in between songs. You can also really whip the crowd up. I've seen younger performers with less energy. Where does that comes from?

Chaim David: Well brother, there's only one answer. It comes from the One and Only One. Rebono Shel Olam [the Master of the Universe] gives us what we've got and I try to put myself out of the picture. I don't succeed always but that's the goal. Whatever came down good in this world is from the Rebono Shel Olam. The songs are His songs, the voice is His voice, the body is His body, the ideas are His ideas. I am just a vessel playing the strings and letting loose the chords.

Chaim David performing at the Carlebach Music Festival.
Photo credit: Yishai Fleisher

Question: Do you have any English songs on your new CD?

Chaim David: No. It's all passukim [versus], and tefillah [prayers] from different places. I keep wanting to write old songs like Lema'an Shemo and Open up Your Gates which were beautiful songs, but they were gifts at the time and I just don't have those songs anymore. Once in a while I write an English song but I haven't gotten to the point of recording them. Please G-d, some new stuff will come down one of these days or old stuff that I can renew.

Question: Are there any stories about a particular song?

Chaim David: The song Yerushalayim, which is from a verse, I had a group on my roof. I have a beautiful view overlooking the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. One of the guests asked, "Can you give us a new song?" And I said, "Listen brother, you want a new song? Help me out and give me a verse." And he quoted Psalms 125 "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the L-rd surrounds His people both now and forevermore."

I have been working with this idea a lot with Shlomo Carlebach's Torah teaching about Jerusalem. Shlomo said that whomever G-d loves, He surrounds. Briefly, everything and everybody that G-d loves, He surrounds. So the as the verse says, Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains, it's a sure sign that G-d loves Jerusalem and His people. So with that in mind, the melody came down and while I was playing around with it the idea of the 70 names of Jerusalem came to me. At the end of the song its turns from the verse to the 70 names.

Chaim David live at the Beit Shemesh Music Festival.
Photo credit: Josh Shamsi

Question: You said you have songs you wrote a long time ago and brand new songs. What's the difference between them?

Chaim David: I'll let you make that choice. The last song for instance is a really old song. The old songs are kind of from the inside. I can't really explain. But the last song Yedid Nefesh is very old. Aussie Jig is from the past 6 months. Maybe there's a more modern flair, but I don't know if there's so much of a difference.

Question: Any final words you want to say about you and your music?

Chaim David: Music is the outcome of soul feeling and an inside feeling. I hope it's coming from a good place and for sure it should be going to a good place because all of the Jewish people are good. Everyone is a tzadik. We should merit to speak and sing to holy people.

For more information on Chaim David, email: Chaimdav@netvisison.net.il

Ben Bresky is the host of the Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast on Israel National Radio and a music critic living in Jerusalem.