Singer-songwriter Shlomo Katz has quickly become one of the most sought after wedding musicians in Israel. His catchy version of the previously unknown Shlomo Carlebach song Niggun Neshama has become a standard at Jewish weddings and inspiring cover versions. The Israeli based musician has just released a second solo CD of Hebrew music with lyrics from Psalms and other Biblical texts. He previously released two albums with his brother Eitan and a compilation CD with Chaim David and Aaron Razel of rare, unknown Shlomo Carlebach songs.
Katz spoke to Israel National TV and performed acoustic versions from his new CD. He also talked to Israel National Radio's The Beat about the inspiration for his new CD, his Jewish underground uncle, and developing songs on the cell phone.
Question: I like the new CD. It has a lot of smooth, mellow songs. Tell us all about it.
Shlomo Katz: I'm really happy you pointed that out. I think there's something very unique about the album. There's a lot of room to breath. Usually there's a lot of busyness and a lot of notes. But on this album there's a lot of room in between the notes for self expression and to find yourself in between the niggun. It was consciously done. All ten tracks are really one long prayer. It's an invitation for any listener to join and pray with me.
Question: Any particular reason you wanted it like this?
Shlomo Katz: It's more like there is no other way. It wasn't a matter of choice. It was a matter of hearing what the calling is right now and realizing that if I am privileged -- and I feel it's the most awesome privilege in the world -- for me to have others to hear some of my music then how could I not make it an invitation to join together in strong prayer?
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Question: But you could have came out with ten tracks of rocking dance music...
Shlomo Katz: Others are fulfilling that job perfectly. There is so much good music coming out today. So many friends of ours are doing great things and they are covering that gap. I think that when it comes to music, each person has understand at a certain point in their career not what does the crowd want to hear but what does my soul need to
express in this world? When you look at it like that you might surprise yourself kind of like I did in this latest recording.
Question: Any story from the recording session or at a recent concert?
Shlomo Katz: I had the incredible privilege to have my father Avshalom Katz sing the title track of the album with me, Kvodo. My abba's voice has always been the voice in my heart and in my prayers. They say that when G-d spoke to Yitzchak, it was the sound of his father Avraham's voice. When G-d spoke to Yaakov, it was the sound of his father
Yitzchak's voice. The voice of my own father has been the most penetrating voice in my life. To have him come and sing the title track with me, I just have no idea how lucky I am.
When you listen to the song, just know that my father had just gotten off the plane from a direct flight from Los Angeles back to Israel, jumped in the car and came straight to the studio in Jerusalem and belted it out after a 16 hour trip. That to me is really what album is about. Total submission to a higher will. Something that's much greater than us. To really surprise ourselves with our powers and our limits. Because I'm sure that had you asked my father before the trip if he had been able to do that, he would probably say no. But, thank G-d, it worked out so beautifully and I am so proud of that track.
Question: Speaking of your father, maybe you could tell us about the uncle whom he is named after, Avshalom Haviv, of the Irgun Zvai Leumi (the ETZEL).
Shlomo Katz: That has never come up in any interview until now. It's such a humbling thing to mention. He is a great uncle of my father. He was one of the Olei HaGardom, the gallows martyrs. They were caught and hung by the British in Acco Fortress. They are buried in Tzfat. To have my father have the merit to carry his name is incredible.
Question: So you have some American roots as well as Israeli roots. Does that come out in your music or your father's music?
Shlomo Katz: Well, also, my father was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I think more my brother Eitan Katz has that influence in his music more, but there's definitely a South American soul groove in many of the tracks we do. Our father's musical influence only gets stronger as I personally get older. I'm just trying to keep on learning from everyone around me, from my role models and teachers and best friends and now, thank G-d, I can say from my wife. If I'm on that track we'll have a lot more beauty to share in the world.
Question: And you're a rabbi now too and you've been teaching.
Shlomo Katz: About three years ago I received my ordination from Brovender's Yeshiva in Efrat. I have been teaching at Simchat Shlomo, the yeshiva named after Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach located in the heart of Nachlaot, Jerusalem and a few other places. That's my love. My batteries come from the learning and the teaching. I really have to, please G-d, keep on delving deeper into that because for me personally, I need that in order to do any music.
Question: And you also work as a wedding singer.
Shlomo Katz: Yes, I had the privilege to do some weddings. Just last week I did one by Mount Zion near King David's Tomb.
Question: One of my favorite tracks on the new CD is Ana Avda. It kind of builds up at the end. Any story about that?
Shlomo Katz: The words came down when I was at a funeral of a young man named Yehuda Ben Yosef who unfortunately was killed by an accident from our own soldiers near the southern hills of Hevron when he was doing some guard duty. I knew him a little bit. It was a very tragic story. At the funeral someone summed up his life by saying that
Yehuda lived every day by quoting "Ana avda d'Kudsha Brich Hu, I am simply a servant of the Master of the world." As I was standing there, boom, I just heard, the melody come together with the words.
The next morning in shiur in yeshiva, I guess this is confession time, I was in the middle of class and I heard a second melody. I asked if I could go to the bathroom and ran outside with my cell phone and recorded that second part it into the cell phone. The two parts made perfect sense together. It just demanded a third part and while I was singing it, the third part came out.
Question: There's a couple fast tracks on the CD as well, like Shma Koleinu.
Shlomo Katz: That one came down during Pesach in our apartment in Nachlaot one late at night sitting with a bunch of friends. You hear that vibe in the chorus. Again, the cell phone was around. Sometimes the melody is there but it takes a while for the right words to come down, if ever. But this time it just came down at once. "Please receive with mercy all our words of prayer." The producer, Amit Golan, who did such a beautiful job on the album, heard it and said it needs some rock guitar and a killer bass line, and again something beautiful came out.
Question: Any final words?
Shlomo Katz: I just want to bless everyone that in this new year, you should feel a newness about things. New energy, new dreams, new ideas and new ways of looking at each other. Our words it should feel fresh, like the first time. All of us should become much, much closer to each other and better friends, because this is all we have right now. Please G-d, if this CD can bring that out in just one person, then I'm the luckiest man in the world.
Shlomo Katz will performs at Reshimu in Jerusalem on Sep. 24th. A CD release party will be held Oct. 7th at the Jerusalem Theater with guests Eitan Katz and Chaim David. For more information visit www.shlomokatz.com.
Ben Bresky is the host of the Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast on Israel National Radio and is a music critic living in Jerusalem.