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.
The Jerusalem Post once called you the grandfather of Jerusalem MCs. Do you feel that title is appropriate? What have you personally added over the years to a city not widely known for its hip-hop scene? Is there a distinctly Jerusalem hip hop style? I've been here and seen the city over the past nine years - how it's changed and grown. Theres always going to be a crowd for hip-hop. I feel like hip-hop has established itself as a genre as a class of music. There are artists that are redefining it right now. I wouldn't call myself a grandfather, maybe like a witness.
You were finally granted citizenship last year following years of battling with the Ministry of Interior, an issue which was pushed to public prominence by your community of fans. Have you made peace with the Israeli government, or will there always a wound there? Do you feel like dissidence gives power to your music? I think it was a testimony to the power of the community and what people can do together in a good spirit. I'm just glad that I have the opportunity to move as I do.
You have said that you have encountered blatant racism here in Israel. Is that still the case now that you are a relative star, and does the election of Barack Obama (and wide Israeli support of him) give you hope that the world may turn a corner toward more tolerance? I think that the most and the greatest oppression has nothing to do with color but financial status. And I think now to play one eye to color and not another eye to those that are struggling to make it everyday is wrong.
You come from Baltimore, a town not exactly known as a safe place. Rappers hailing from there have capitalized on the city's edginess both for material and cred. Because of the terror attacks we have sustained here over the years, Jerusalem is also considered by some to be unsafe. Do you feel the danger here also lends the same kind of impetus for music and other types of artistic expression? I think that from my experiences that I've had here and in America, sometimes I say I traveled so far just to be in the same place, but Jerusalem is a special place just beyond that. Everywhere people are the same and going through the same things. They may be on opposite ends of the spectrum but going through the same thing. I believe it was the French ambassador [to Britain] a couple years back said Israel was a "shitty little country" that will bring us to verge of World War III. If this is what this world is, then so be it.
Does the local flavor of Jerusalem influence your writing? Does the Coolooloosh sound find inspiration in Jerusalem? Of course - even though a lot of us now have moved to Tel Aviv. We are all Jerusalem to the core. Jerusalem is home and there's no way you're going to be able to separate that from us.
Photos of Coolooloosh and Rebel Sun courtesy of Coolooloosh.