Israeli musicians plan to bring community spirit to stage

Life in San Francisco isn’t all that different from life on a kibbutz. That’s how singer-songwriter Ziva Hadar sees it.

“They’re both communal ways of living. Everybody rides bikes, produces community events together,” the 29-year-old Israeli explains.

Hadar is one of three Israeli-led acts set to perform at Israel in the Gardens on June 5, along with the Peatot and Lior Tsarfaty.

Hadar knows a thing or two about living on kibbutz — before making her way to San Francisco, she worked on a dairy farm on Kibbutz Mizra in northern Israel with her twin brother (now a music producer) and the rest of the extended family.

The Peatot will return to the Israel in the Gardens stage for the third year. photo/miri ekshtein photos

While she sings and plays keyboard and guitar in her own band now, her first foray into music began at age 9 with the cello, which led to saxophone, choir and vocal jazz. She spent a few years studying vocal jazz at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and then established an entertainment group for the Israel Defense Forces. After performing at a number of IDF graduation ceremonies, she re-formed her high school band, Groovatron.

In 2007 Hadar moved to San Francisco to pursue music stateside. These days, she works during the day and composes songs at night.

“Every day I live here, it’s because I choose to be here — I’m crazy about San Francisco, crazy about the people, crazy about this music community.”

In 2009, she joined up with Kipp Glass on bass and vocals, Jon Jimmerson on guitar, Chad Sylva on drums and Julia Jurkiewicz on cello. The band, which combines jazz, R&B and rock music, takes some of its musical cues from American singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple and Tori Amos.

Lior Tsarfaty calls his Prayer Songs Project “music with the intention of healing.”

Hadar wrote her first song in Hebrew at 17 and called it “Yom” (Day); she’ll play it and other tunes in English during Israel in the Gardens.

“It’s a huge event, and I’m so honored to be a part of it,” Hadar says. “It was cool because I was the one who was asked to do this, I didn’t approach them and say, ‘Hey, I’m this cool Israeli!’ They already knew about me.”

The Israel in the Gardens organizers also approached local Israeli Lior Tsarfaty about performing the Prayer Songs Project, an ensemble of musicians and mishmash of cultures and languages. It weaves together traditional and modern sounds, with musicians from Brazil, Morocco, the U.S. and Israel. Lyrics are in Hebrew, Arabic and Hindi. There’s even a booming bossa nova undertone.

“I study music therapy and healing, shamanic music,” says Tsarfaty, who moved to the U.S. in 2008 to attend college. “I look at the therapy and spirit of music and look for musicians that bring that.”

He graduated from the California Institute of Integral Studies with a certificate in sound, voice and music healing. He says the Prayer Songs Project is music with the intention of healing. At shows he’s seen people meditate, smile throughout and even cry.

“I hope the music will open people to a feeling of togetherness,” he adds. “These are not just pop songs that someone made to have a best-selling CD!”

Tsarfaty, who lives in Berkeley, says he’s happy to perform at Israel in the Gardens because he feels he’s going right to the heart of the local Israeli-Jewish community.

While Tsarfaty and Hadar are new to the Israel in the Gardens lineup, the Peatot members are pros by now: They performed in 2009 and 2010.

Ziva Hadar performs on keyboard with her band. photo/niall david photography

The group, whose name means pita breads, is made up of Israeli transplants who work in technology. They started the Peatot as an after-work hobby, but the response was so positive they kept it up.

The band, led by singer Yoram Zarfaty, includes Shay Shmeltzer on bass, Tomer Dichterman on drums, Ofir Zwebner on guitar, flute and vocals and Guy Livneh on keyboard. They also have a few “regular guest stars”: Rooly Eliezerov and Erez Levi on saxophone.

The musicians see themselves as ambassadors of Israeli music, which is why performing at Israel in the Gardens makes perfect sense.