Ilan Green, formerly of the hit Israeli rock group Tractor's Revenge has released a new CD called Kolot HaLeviim, Voices of the Levites. The album uses recreated instruments based on Jewish text's description of instruments used in the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Green was interviewed on Israel National Radio's The Beat about how his concerts bring secular and religious Israelis together and how a walk through the streets of Jerusalem inspired him to build a Temple instrument - the small mysterious tree of bells named 'ayelet hashachar' - the morning star.
Question: Tell us about Voices of the Levites.
Ilan Green: I am not claiming these instruments are the original ones. They are all from my imagination. I found a lot of names of instruments [in the Torah and Mishna]. Nobody can tell what they actually were. They were lost. And I thought, OK, this is where I can come and invent them, or rather, re-invent them. It's just my proposal. It's an artistic project. I believe it has a strong connection to today's times.
Question: How did you and the band get together to do this?
Ilan Green: It took me a lot of time. I had to build the instruments. It took me a year to build 16 instruments. Then I started to look for people to play them. One of them, Guy Sherf, I already played with and is also an instrument builder. The other ones, I was looking for people who could play not only ordinary instruments, but who could try and make sounds from other things. It was a slow process. A few times people came and then left.
Each of us brings our own musical influences from different parts of the world. The drummer for example, Shahar Katchka was living in Africa for a few years learning African drumming. The singer Avital Raz was studying music in India for 6 years. Many influences from around the world combined together here in Jerusalem.
Question: You were in the band Nikmat HaTractor [Tractor's Revenge] which had a string of hits in the 1990s. What is your background? Hard rock?
Ilan Green: I started from rock. I was in Tractor's Revenge for 15 years. But side by side to it, I was always making different projects, for theater, for dance, for film and my own projects. I like building instruments very much. Not only acoustic ones, but also from junk, and things you find in toy shops. I like to take children's toys and change them and put more functions into them.
I like hip hop and rock music but I like also to make things more profound, to investigate, to find different sides of music, not only to make hit songs for the radio. I am between the worlds of experimental on one hand and pop on the other. And that's OK. I love them both.
I like to invent projects and then afterward find the audience for it. My projects don't always fit into the ordinary music venues. But that's OK.
Question: What is it like when you perform Voices of the Levites?
Ilan Green: The reactions are very emotional. I think the Temple is a place that can speak to everybody, every Jew and non-Jew. I found the Temple a place that is important to every Jew. Never mind if he is religious, or not. It can also be a metaphoric place. It's like everybody can be connected. And people who come to our show have great emotion about it. It's like a need to connect themselves to their history. It's a part of my history too. It doesn't matter if I am religious today or not. I know there was a lot of ancient music there in the Temple.
Question: Any particular story from the performances or from the recording of the CD?
Ilan Green: I remember when we just began working on it, I was walking in Jerusalem, near the Har HaBayit in the Musrara neighborhood [Green is founder and teacher of the new Music department at the Musrara School in Jerusalem's Morasha neighborhood.] I was thinking about what the first instrument we would build should be. And then suddenly, I saw on the road a few trees cut down that someone put on the road waiting for the truck to come and collect them. I just looked at them and immediately got the idea to make the first instrument which is ayelet hashachar. It is a tree that I tied a lot of bells to on it's branches. When you touch the tree, all the bells ring together. That idea was just from something I saw on the streets of Jerusalem.
Question: Any final words about your music?
Ilan Green: I see that this project can make a connection between people because after the shows I see religious with non-religious talking about it. For a minute, they forget the present and talk about the past. There is a strong connection between us all and maybe this is the best thing all of us can do.
Voices of the Levites performs next at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem on December 16th. For more information visit http://www.greenet.co.il.
Ben Bresky is the host of the Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast on Israel National Radio.com.