Israeli singer-songwriter Dudu Tassa has stepped out of his traditional role of rock star and is bridging the gap between traditional Arabic music and modern melodies.
His latest album, 2011’s “Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis,” explores the music of his Iraqi grandfather Daoud Al-Kuwaiti and great-uncle Saleh Al-Kuwaiti, both well-known musicians
in 1930s Baghdad. After immigrating to Israel in the early ’50s, they fell into relative obscurity, leaving the world of music and opening a small market in Tel Aviv.
Tassa and his band the Kuwaitis, along with special guest Israeli violinist Yair Dalal, will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 20, at Yoshi’s in San Francisco as part of the 29th annual Jewish Music Festival.
Tassa and his band will also play at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, at Rooster T. Feathers in Sunnyvale.
Tassa recently talked with J. about his album and other topics.
J.: “Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis” was an extremely personal venture exploring music that has long been silent. What was the process like of digging and wading through musical archives?
Dudu Tassa: The process of making the album was a very long one — many years actually. I listened to hundreds of songs and chose 11 out of about 300. I listened to many of the songs as a child but never listened to them in the same way as an adult.
It was truly a personal venture entering the world of my grandfather Daoud Al-Kuwaiti, because I never got to meet him (he died when my mom was pregnant with me). During the process of making the music, adding the songs to the computer and sampling, looping and using the tracks within the new music was exciting for me. And looking for ways to get familiar with the music was as if I got to know my family.
J.: Did you leave the songs the way your uncle and grandfather sang them?
DT: In general, the basic melody and lyrics are original, but I chose songs that I could find ways to add harmony to them. I added drums, bass and electronics.
J.: How is this album different from your other music?
DT: My other albums do have some Oriental orientation, but are mainly rock-centric. The presence of the ethnic instruments (for example, the oud) on this album is stronger and there’s something about the energy — it’s very high with full production on each of the songs.
J.: What was the most surprising part of producing it?
DT: The reaction from the audience. I am a singer-songwriter of Hebrew rock. I released six albums before the Kuwaiti album. The entire album is in Arabic and the Israeli audience loved it and embraced it. Even Galei Zahal Israel Defense Forces radio had songs from it on their playlist.
J.: You didn’t have a chance to meet your grandfather, but if he could listen to this album now, what do you think his reaction would be?
DT: I think my grandfather would be proud. He would probably not want me to be a musician, but I am sure we would be able to connect.
J.: How does it feel having completed this project? Is it part of a larger project?
DT: It feels great. I don’t know if I will do it again. But I am certainly happy I did it.
Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis play at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, at Rooster T. Feathers, 157 W. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale. $50-$60. www.tinyurl.com/kwhmt8s; also 8 p.m. Thursday, March 20 at Yoshi’s, 1330 Fillmore St., S.F. $30-$68. www.yoshis.com