Rock guitars clash with klezmer violins, clarinets and sometimes middle eastern darboukas when Chasidica, a new Israeli rock group takes the stage. Sagi and Idan Givol, two brothers raised as secular Israelis in Ramat Gan are using what they call Chutzpahdik Kedusha to help themselves and others identify with Jewish tradition.
Their new concert series, Yehudi Alternativi is proving that they are not alone as music lovers who crave both serious kabbalah study and blazing guitar solos. Sagi became religious while spending eight years in Australia. He and Idan spoke to Israel National Radio's The Beat about their desire to be true to themselves while sharing their new found light.
Question: How do you describe your music?
Sagi: I think Idan puts it best. It's spiritual meets material music. We do a lot from the Jewish sources and connect to the sources that we grew up on.
Question: What music did you grow up with? Hassidic or heavy metal?
Sagi: Heavy metal and a lot of different experimental music. We are trying to use the honesty and strength and good things that are in this music -- a lot of soul and power -- and use that and not loose it, but use it as a platform to bring kedusha into our lives and others. According to the Lubavitch way, you can take the strength of this world and use it to bring a lot of light. Maybe they need to hear it in the same way that we connected. We're not trying to be something that we're not.
Idan: I think we're just trying to bring a new form of Jewish music. A more experimental form. Shed a new light on the genre, in our way, the way we grew up with it.
Question: You also have violins and clarinets. I think that's unique.
Sagi: We're really trying to use Yiddishkeit. When I became baal teshuva about seven years ago, I thought, wow, now I have to start listening to chasidic music? I wasn't connected to it naturally. When I started learning more Torah and Chassidut, I found it to be the exact opposite. If Hashem sends you to Australia or sends you to grow up in a very secular way, it's not just because you have to now forget everything in your past. You have get yourself and your environment and people around you and take them with you on the journey. Use who you are. Use the tools you took from the other
side of the world. We used to call it chutzpahdik kedusha.
Question: Chutzpahdik kedusha?
Sagi: That's not from me. The Lubavitcher Rebbe talks about it a lot. Not to become something you're not because it's not the real mission you were sent for. It won't work anyway. You have to be honest.
Question: What is Yehudi Alternativi?
Idan: It's a new concert series we're producing with alterative Jewish music bands including Chasidica. We're trying to spread it all over Israel and pick up bands from all over the country who have the same perspective as us. We want to take traditional Jewish music and turn it into something new and fresh. We played the Caanan Pub in Jerusalem with Yood, a band that plays Jewish blues rock. We try to update the shows each time with electronic and dub music, any kind of music influenced by Jewish tradition.
Question: What kind of people come to your shows? Who are your fans?
Idan: We were asked that question many times. Who is your crowd? I am surprised every time. All kinds of people. The grunge music crowd and religious Jews and just regular people with nothing too obvious about them. They come from all kinds of places.
Sagi: It's usually people that love music. Not people who just listen occasionally while they work. I think that's the biggest compliment for us because we are musicians and we want to make quality music. And the people that come to shows and buy CDs are music lovers.
Idan: It proves that music has the power to unite people. No matter where you come from or your opinions, everybody loves music. Eventually, in a deep way, behind all the ways you try to describe yourself, it just gets to you.
Question: Speaking of different types of people, in your videos it seems that not all of you guys are religious. I assume you two are the ones with the big beards.
Sagi: Well, I have a big beard. I became religious about seven years ago. Idan and our drummer are becoming a bit stronger, but something that chassidus reveals is that every Jewish person is close to Hashem and it doesn't matter how he looks on the outside. Because we all have the G-dly soul. Once you light your own spark, then you can spread it out. We are all coming from a very secular attitude.
I lived in Australia for eight years. I was the leader of a heavy metal band called Demona. It was very dark heavy metal rock. The drummer is now almost finished converting to Judaism. But except for me, the other three were non-Jews. Two Australian kiwis and one was from Malta. We all united because we enjoyed quality music. When I started becoming strong in the faith, they didn't treat me differently. Before, I was just another person with long hair and piercing. All of the sudden they see me change. It wasn't just on the outside. It was also on the inside and they said, wow, it's real.
I was surprised when I came back to Israel a couple years ago. I thought that people would be turned off by my beard and say that I'm too religious. But everyone thinks it's like ZZ Top [an American rock band whose members have long beards]. It's a secret we have in the Judaism that maybe you think that Jewish customs will be a turn-off. But then you realize because there's something very true in it. The people who go with black clothes and stuff can't put their finger on it but they think it's cool. All of the sudden you come to a gig and see these religious people make good music. They may
be prejudiced about religion, but they see a concert and see it's good music. Clothes mean nothing. If artists do it from the heart, it comes out.
Idan: I don't think we're trying to please anyone with our music or turn on a certain type of music lover. We're just doing our thing and people like the simple truth. We are not trying to twist our sound to please someone.
Question: What are your lyrics about? I understand they are mostly original.
Sagi: Yes. I just realized that looking back at the fifteen years I made music, that my lyrics were all about a search. What is added now is it's from a perspective that I don't know everything. I am not the center of the universe. It's a wiser and more positive perspective. I write about the struggle of the soul in the world and how things truly are. There are a few songs from G-d's point of view, you could say. Lot's of Kabbalah ideas. It's not just anti-establishment and the heck-with
-the-system. It's about how to live life now that you've wised up. How you affect others and how Hashem is involved. I realize now that the struggle is beautiful. You become stronger and wiser and full of love. Not just preachy love, but real love that comes from a search.
Question: What do you parents think of Chasidica?
Instead of the using 666, we use 770.
Idan: Our mom loves it and loves the lyrics. Our father appreciates it too in his own way. He's not much of a music man. He's a carpenter. But he likes the concept and wants to see us make it and bring music to the people.
Question: My final question, is that you don't really sound like Metallica and I was expecting that. On your MySpace page you listed as musical influences HaKadosh Baruch Hu [the Holy One Blessed is He], hassidic music and the Israeli band FortiSacharoff. But Metallica is not listed.
Sagi: Well, if you listen to Metallica these days, you wouldn't want us to sound like them anyway. But I think the point of referencing Metallica was that they always symbolized power and seriousness and no compromise. That's what we took from it. But instead of the using the number 666 [a reference to the devil] we use the number 770 [the street address of Chabad-Lubavitch in New York] which means preferring the light instead of the darkness. The light is full of amazing power. That's really the transformation of this music.
Ben Bresky is a music critic from Jerusalem and the host of The Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast on Israel National Radio.