Mitzpe Gvulot was one of the first proto-Israeli outposts erected in the Negev. Built in 1943 and tasked with guarding lands purchased by the JNF, the remote desert settlement later became a small kibbutz which remains active to this day.
But for one weekend each October, the quaint desert landscape sheds its secluded nature and is swarmed by thousands of young Israelis who left their jobs, homes and responsibilities behind to take part in what has been dubbed the ‘Mecca’ of Israeli music lovers – the InDnegev Festival.
Running for its 11th consecutive year, InDnegev (pronounced Indie-Negev), which was originally perceived as an alternative, fringe event but which has grown and long since become the definitive “main event” on the Israeli music scene, featuring over 100 different shows, spread across four different stages throughout the course of three days, providing the crowd of thousands with a unique musical experience rarely seen in this part of the world.
The most striking thing about the festival is the fact that if most laymen were to look over the line up, they would recognize very few of the musical acts listed – as an ‘Indie’ (short for independent) festival, InDnegev does not strive for the mainstream consensus achieved by booking big-name acts that typically headline such large-scale productions. Rather, the festival tries to stand at the forefront of the Israeli independent scene by giving stage to acts that are unknown to anyone who is not a Jerusalem- or Tel Aviv-based hipster.
“I’ve never heard of any of these bands,” said Gilad, a police officer working the event. “It feels like I landed in Europe or something. I can’t believe all these people know these bands and know the songs.”
But the sea of fans surrounding each of the festival’s stages knew exactly which bands they were there to see, watching, clapping, waving and singing along as though these were top-ten charting acts.
“It’s not just about seeing the bands you love”, said Daniel (22), a third-time InDnegev attendee. “It’s also about discovering new music.”
And there was plenty of new music to discover – previous names that debuted at InDnegev and have gone on to enjoy mainstream local and international success include Asaf Avidan, Geva Alon and Ester Rada, all of whom performed at the festival before becoming well known but are now among Israel’s most successful musicians. Ester Rada even returned to the festival this year for the central and biggest show of the festival’s second night, with one notable difference from her first appearance here: This time, there was not a single concertgoer who has not already heard of the Ethiopian soul singer.
Besides the central stage, which saw acts by the bigger names in the Israeli independent scene such as Radda, the festival’s other three and smaller stages featured acts playing the festival for the first time, including Monolingua, a Jerusalem-based hip-hop collective consisting of DJ Ramzi along with a rotating roster of Arab rappers, aimed at promoting the local Arabic language and Arabic culture. On stage with Ramzi were rappers Muzi Raps and Raed Bassam, along with producer/rapper Muhammad Mughrabi – who produced and compiled beats for the show.
‘Everyone spoke highly of the show we put on. I’m happy the emphasis was put on the music and not the politics – because the music is really all we have and all we’re trying to do’, Ramzi told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) after the show. ‘We don’t want to come off as a ‘coexistence’ initiative – we’re against the term ‘coexistence’ – we’re simply for existence.”
The festival was indeed multilingual, and aside from the Arabic-language acts, the festival stages saw significant representation for both English and Hebrew speaking bands. Echo Morgenstern, one of Israel’s few female rappers and a member of the duo Echo & Tito, used the festival to kick off a crowdfunding campaign to record her first album in Hebrew to compliment her successful English-speaking career.
Sitting with TPS between her InDnegev performance and a late night flight to Berlin where she was set to perform the following day, she spoke about the decision to make music in Hebrew, as well as the difference between a solo career and her work with the duo.
“There is definitely a difference. With Echo & Tito we were both representing a common statement, but when I’m doing solo shows I’m just being me. Though I have to say, singing in Hebrew is addictive – the crowds here respond to your words and they appreciate that you are talking directly to them,” she said.
The balance between English and Hebrew was notable at the festival – with some acts striving for international success choosing to sing in English, while others stuck to their Israeli roots and made music in Hebrew.
A great representation of this contrast is Yossi Fine – a veteran Israeli-American hip hop producer, best known for producing records by Hadag Nachash, Israel’s most prominent hip-hop band. Fine’s current project – an instrumental act called “Music From The Blue Desert” – is a collaboration between him and drummer Ben Ayalon, consisting of both Middle-Eastern and Western musical themes. The partnership embodies the musical manifestation of the Israeli multicultural mosaic:
“I grew up between Israel and New York, and this is truly special,” Fine told TPS in an interview after his mainstage show. “This is our first time playing InDnegev and it feels like this is the only place in the world that music this special can happen – Israel, the desert – east and west – together.”
By: Yona Schnitzer
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