Much is made of the youth exodus plaguing Jerusalem, a cascade of bright young people squeezed out every year by skyrocketing rents, poor municipal management and sometime intolerance by more conservative sectors of the population, but were a Jerusalem visitor to situate themselves in the slice of downtown between the HaNeviim Street and Hillel Street, they would find a youth culture more culturally vibrant, artistically engaged and politically aware than any in a city three times the size of Jerusalem. What Jerusalem's underground community lacks in numbers, it makes up for in enthusiasm and the sort of civic pride peculiar to groups who buck the dominant culture. The pierced, tattooed Anarchist Against the Wall radical, the heretically-inclined but still devoutly faithful ultra-Orthodox Jew, the Russian-born lady electro DJ and the Palestinian drag queen may not fit the stereotype of a Jerusalem resident, but the city is theirs too - and they would be the first to tell you so.
So where can you meet the ambassadors of the Other Jerusalem? Let Jerusalemite show you the way with our list of the top five underground performance spaces in Jerusalem.
Uganda The British government once floated the idea of establishing the Jewish state in Uganda rather than politically volatile Ottoman Palestine. It came to naught, but a century or so later Uganda established itself in the Jewish state...or at least a hip cafe/bar/record store/comics shop calledUganda did. Located on a downtown side street near the fortress-like headquarters of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the shuttered Russian Compound, Uganda is ground zero for Jerusalem's young, secular and radical crowd, a cozy space where disaffected local youth and earnest foreign activists alike can gather to discuss art and politics, flip through local zines and comics, sample and purchase the latest in European underground electronica and hear Jerusalem's best indie DJs, all while nursing a bottle of Taybeh (the Palestinian beer). Performances by both DJs and bands take place almost nightly, although you'll have to make your entertainment choices carefully, because come nightfall the urban secular demographic is split by...
Sira ...Jerusalem's other underground watering hole and incubator for local avant-garde and independent talent. Sira is the successor to D1, AKA Diwan, a bar in the same extremely dark, somewhat grotty and most decidedly seedy nook off of Ben Sira Street. D1 in its heyday served as the de facto headquarters of young Jerusalemites dissatisfied with the status quo, whether Jewish, Arab or otherwise, and huge crowds gathered nightly to share pints, shots of whiskey and not-so-well-concealed hashish joints while dancing to (or aloofly appreciating) local bands and DJs - some of whom (like Hadag Nachash's Shaanan Street, former D1 bartender) went on to big things. Sira continues that noble tradition to the letter. From punk to reggae to electronica to hip-hop, local talent lights up the tiny floor every night, and you never know if the guy rapping might turn out to be the next Rebel Sun (another Sira success). Hunting down the performance schedule might take some work, though: Sira is so thoroughly underground that their schedule is distributed solely in postcard form. But the club will have to scramble a little harder for fresh DJ talent due to...
Bass ...the newest arrival on the underground local music scene, a nightclub devoted to the cult of the DJ. Affiliated with heavy-hitting local turntablists like Pacotek, DJ Dina, Markey Funk and Walter Einstein Frog, Bass, as its name might imply, throbs nightly with the sub-tonal thumps of electro, house, breakbeats, electronica, hip-hop, dancehall, reggae and other things that go bump in the night. A weekly dancehall and roots reggae show is a godsend (Jahsend?) for lovers of reggae in Zion, and Bass is your best bet for catching big-name local and foreign DJs spinning their booty-shaking (or hyper-minimalist) best.
HaTaklit Things are a little less aggressively trendy over at HaTaklit ("The Record"), a tribute to the beloved vinyl record in bar/performance space form. While nostalgia for the record may not be entirely justified, seeing as the performers and clientele of places like HaTaklit have kept the medium alive and spinning, any excuse to open a bar with plenty of beer on tap, English footie on the TV screens, record sleeves on the walls and independent performers from at home and abroad on the stage is good enough. And best of all, HaTaklit is a labor of love, founded by three local boys working in various sectors of the music industry who wanted a place where they could show off their collections and hire all their friends and favorite bands. Awwwww.
Chet-7 The Beit Avi Chai organization, a private foundation dedicated to fostering Jewish culture in Israel, may have a bit too much money for true indie cred, but they don't screw around when it comes to their underground music venue, Chet-7: the only underground space in Jerusalem that is literally underground (in Beit Avi Chai's parking garage, to be precise). Chet-7 scored big by getting Yerushalmi golden boy Shaanan Street of Hadag Nachash to serve as consulting curator, helping to choose promising artists (both up-and-coming and well-established) and organize shows. Chet-7 is most notable for its Saturday night concerts, affordable and intimate performances by some of Israeli music's biggest non-pop names aimed solely at the hometown crowd.
Lots of underground artists also appear at the Yellow Submarine, but as a Municipality-funded affair, its cred is suspect - even if its music, which encompasses otherwise overlooked underground musical forms like jazz, is excellent. And of course, no mention of underground venues would be complete without the late, lamented Daila, a one-time Shlomtzion landmark that served as salon, gallery and cafe for Jerusalem's proud radicals, artists, poets and weirdoes. Jerusalemite pours out this Taybeh in its memory.
Photo of accordion antics and thumbnail photo of musicians at Uganda courtesy of ak-duck; photo of a DJ rocking Sira courtesy of dovi under a Creative Commons license; Bass photo courtesy of Bass; photo of Beit Avi Chai by Harry Rubenstein for Jerusalemite.
On June 23, celebrated low-fi jammers Boom Pam, who are signed to Frankfurt's Essay Recordings and often traverse Europe with their concert tours, are scheduled to play downtown Jerusalem party venue Bass.
Many have classified the tight drums-guitar-tuba trio as Balkan groove-based, but guitarist Uri Brauner Kinrot objects. "I don't like that moniker," he recently told The Jerusalem Post's Asi Gal. "Although our music has an asymmetric sound, which resonates Balkan music, we also play rock, oriental, Jewish and surf music. But people hear the tuba and think Balkan."
Essentially, the band plays music to party to. "There are enough doleful songs in Israel, "continues Kinrot. "We just want to bring about a good atmosphere and good vibes."
The band has recorded two albums to date. The eponymous debut, recorded in Germany, was dominated by original compositions and favored a relatively polished Middle Eastern sound. With last year's follow-up, Puerto Rican Nights, Boom Pam went for more edge and more of a wide scope: "the sound and production is much more ours - more kicking and rough," as Kinrot puts it. And the tracks chosen for the album are exclusively covers that the band has been playing live for years. With help from guests like Maor Cohen and members of Groovatron, the disc includes tributes to classic Israeli act the Dudaim, local movie soundtracks from the Sixties and even American proto-surf rocker Dick Dale.
The Puerto Rican Nights tour ought to be a treat, and a Jerusalem appearance for Israeli export talents like these is unfortunately a rarity.
Boom Pam is scheduled to hit the stage on Tuesday at 21:00. Additional events taking place on June 23, and on plenty of other dates, can be checked out via the interactive cultural calendar on our sister website, Jerusalem.com.
Just because this year's Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebrates 61 years of the Zionist state - as opposed to last year's number, which had the advantage of ending with a zero - doesn't mean the celebrations will be meager.
Jerusalemites in particular are known to bite into Yom Ha'atzmaut with remarkable levels of vigor. And this year is no exception. There's plenty going on in terms of celebrations in the city, with events to appeal to every age and taste. Celebrations in the city's main open plazas, complete with folk dancing, rock performances and fireworks? Themed dance parties at pubs and dance clubs? Barbecuing en masse? Check, check and check.
Our full roundup of the most noteworthy events going on in Jerusalem this week - from before the holiday, to during, to even after the holiday - can be found on our sister website, Jerusalem.com.
But that's not all. The event calendar that can be seen on the right-hand side of every page of that site includes still more great events to check out - we're publishing event information there all week long.
Jerusalem is made of many things. Most famously, it's made of gold, but here at Jerusalemite, we've written about a few other ingredients to the city (see the "Related" links below). Beloved, gloriously Jew-fro-ed Seventies singer-songwriter Meir Ariel (pictured), however, had a different vision of the city, writing his own "Jerusalem of Iron," as an iconic rebuttal to the Nami Shemer hit. Ariel's version was written from the perspective of a paratrooper who had actually liberated the Old City in 1967, rather than that of a state-sponsored songstress.
Ariel's catalogue, however, was far more varied than this tune might indicate. His career spanned three decades, coming to an abrupt end that ought to rank among the top strange rocker deaths of all time, when he died of a bacterial infection from a flea bite in 1999.
However, Ariel's work lives on - especially this week, and especially his Rishumei Pacham (Coal Sketches) album, which is being presented as a live concert tribute show by artists including Yossi Babliki, Albert Sofer and Ilan Bergbaum at the Yellow Submarine this Wednesday.
That's right. The harvest moon swells, and soon we'll be singing the Song of Songs. The smells of abrasive detergents and overdone toast waft. The bees are a-buzzing and the ants are a-crawling everywhere.
And hundreds and thousands of pilgrims are ascending to the City of Gold, where the feeling that big things are happening is palpable. Schools are on vacation, tourist season is gaining momentum, and virtually every cultural institution is gearing up to offer the best in springtime high art and lowbrow entertainment.
Over at our sibling website, Jerusalem.com (read more about Jerusalemite's relationship with that site, if you'd like, here), we've got heaps and heaps of unleavened content relating to the holiday....
For our picks of the most tempting kosher restaurants that'll be open on Passover, broken down by cuisine style, check out this article.
For our coverage of City Arts Encounter, an exciting visual art project taking place in unexpected places all over the city all month long, check out this piece.
For comprehensive listings of Jerusalem chol hamoed Passover events, check out the calendar on the right-hand side of every page on the site. It's constantly being updated, too.
It's been a good week for Jerusalem. Sure, it's cold, but Hamshushalaim is in full swing, and in its wake have come 120,000 visitors, 90% occupancy in city hotels, and a 30% increase in weekly takings of restaurants and coffeeshops. The festivities continue this weekend, and as always, there's plenty of other stuff to do as well:
First of all, don't miss your opportunity for more Hamshushalaimery with special discounts and tours throughout the weekend.
Suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with a modernist English-language performance of Hamlet tonight at the Jerusalem Theatre. 'Tis noble.
And in case Hamlet is too much of a downer, you can try your luck at an English performance of the theatrical adaptation of the Diary of Anne Frank at Beit Shmuel, also tonight.
Start the weekend off in style by listening to the Israeli Philharmonic saw through the classics on Friday morning.
Rocker Asaf Avidan and his boys the Mojos are stomping back into town to light the Yellow Submarine on fire Friday night.
Speaking of stomping back into town, dinosaur rocker Rami Fortis, pictured above, is doing just that on Saturday night, also at the Yellow Sub.
Or if you prefer your pop stars younger, try out David D'Or on Saturday night at the Ma'abada.
The Cinematheque's Jewish Film Festival kicks off Sunday for five whole days of celluloid neuroses. Don't miss it.
Lock up your daughters: these puppets mean business.
It's winter, and there's a faint whiff of approaching holidays in the air, even here in Jerusalem...or maybe that's just the delicious, delicious smell of sufganiyot (Hanukkah donuts) in the morning. And it's also festival time. Hamshushalaim madness kicks into full swing this evening, and it's your best (and by that we mean cheapest) chance all year to take in dozens of Jerusalem museums, restaurants and cultural venues. So get to it:
First off, don't forget to check out our full Hamshushalaim listings (so far) to find out what you can expect in terms of discounts and special events this weekend.
Tonight features the final performance of the International Oud Festival, specially marked down for Hamshushalaim.
March along with hometown brass band Marsh Dondurma from Mamilla to the Jaffa Gate - just like in New Orleans, except nobody had to die first.
Joel Covington is not the most exciting name. There's nothing in the name that talks about growing up in Baltimore, moving to Israel and converting to Judaism. There's nothing that talks about a length, possibly racist, battle with the Misrad Hapanim to get citzenship. There's nothing that talks about being a hip-hop personality and poet that has impacted and molded the music scene in Jerusalem.
To get all that you need to get to know Rebel Sun, who deftly handles the mic for Coolooloosh, the Oleh! Records-affiliated Jerusalem party music ensemble. Their new album, Elements of Sound, hit shelves, or computers, this month.Following years of touring in Eastern Europe and Noth America, where they recently wrapped up recording sessions with The Roots producer David Ivory, Coolooloosh visits Hama'abada (The Lab) on December 6 for a launch party.
Please tell us a bit about Coolooloosh, the origins of the name and how you ended up joining the band and arguably defining its sound? First of all, the band had been playing for a year before I had hooked up with everyone - I believe in 2003. I just happened to run into bass player Ori Winokur at a show I was doing, and he told me about the band, which is basically free everything. The concept of the band goes with the name of the band. It’s a sound children make here in Jerusalem when they throw things here in the air. "Coolooloosh." From then on we were playing.
Learn the secrets of the King David and other classics of Jerusalem British architecture
It may be time to bust out the cornucopias and raise a drumstick to Squanto (or...whatever) in America, but in Jerusalem, it's just another week. But don't let that stop you from making the most of it by hitting the town for an only-in-Jerusalem good time:
Gain insight into an inscrutable sector of Israeli society by viewing a documentary on Charedim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) at trendy gallery Barbur tonight.
The festival closes December 4 with a first: a performance of oudacious music from the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, whitch borders on Pakistan and marks the eastern boundary of the instrument's traditional influence. It's no Goa techno, but it should do.
Perhaps the most famous of Middle Eastern instruments, the oud, is that lute-like piece that resembles an overweight guitar with a broken neck. Plucked from Sicily to India and all the provinces in between, the instrument has become emblematic of Arab culture. As it has spread into Israeli hands, and, like falafel and hookah, it has become an easy go-to when looking for a cultural touchstone to talk about ethnic sounds and bridging traditions. Hence the Confederation House-organized festival, which brings harmonious music to the very front lines of our culture clash.
Tradition holds that the origin of the oud isn't so tranquil, though. The Bible attributes the birth of music to Yuval, son of Lamech (the great, great, great grandson of Adam), but Arab legend tells a slightly different story, in which Lamech accidentally kills his other son Tuval-Cain (after accidentally killing the original Cain) and hangs his body to dry in a tree, with the skeleton serving as a model for the first instrument. We don't want to know how they think the tuba was invented.
Even if you don't believe all that jibber-jabber, scholars believe the oud still stands as one of the oldest instruments known to civilization, dating back over 5,000 years. The ones being played today are probably considerably newer, but the sound certainly harkens back to a simpler, clichéd time, as many a Jerusalemite will hear during the festival.
Most of the concerts run between 80 and 120 NIS, but before you go saying the price is oudrageous, remember the famous saying about how oud music isn’t free. Or was that freedom? And If you're Ashkenazi and just not connecting to the flavor, no need to fret. Chanukah is right around the corner.
Photos of mystical composer Samir Mahoul, performing on December 1 (top), and of master hand percussionist Zohar Fresco, performing November 26, courtesy of the Oud Festival.