Celebrated Israeli musician Dudu Tassa and award-winning Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood have launched a new, joint album and announced a performance on September 14 at Tel Aviv’s Hangar 11.
The album, “Jarak Qaribak,” brings together vocalists and musicians from across the Middle East, creating collaborations for its title that, loosely translated, means “your neighbor is your neighbor,” and includes covers of Arabic songs from throughout the region.
The idea of the album was to have each singer perform a tune from another country, with a focus on classic love songs. This was to avoid political subtexts, explained Tassa and Greenwood in the album liner notes published on YouTube.
“We didn’t want to make out that we’re making any political point, but I do understand that, as soon as you do anything in that part of the world, it becomes political, even if it’s just artistic. Actually, possibly especially if it’s artistic,” wrote Greenwood.
Tassa said he believes it would have been an act of bad faith to make the album any other way.
Israel, he noted, is “a small country between all those countries, so we’re very influenced by those cultures and by that music. And a lot of us in Israel – like my family – are descended from people who came here from elsewhere in the Middle East, so everything gets mixed up.”
The songs for “Jarak Qaribak” were performed by singers from Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Iraq, Syria and Tunisia, with local musicians Itamar Doari, Sefi Zisling, Yonatan Daskel and Neta Elkayam also participating.
A singer from Dubai, Safaa e-Safi, is featured in the music video for the song “Ahibak,” written by Naim Rajwan and composed by Daoud Akram.
Tassa, born to a Mizrahi family from Iraq and Kuwait, has released several albums, including some with Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis, a band that records contemporary renditions of old Iraqi and Kuwaiti songs. He explained in notes accompanying the first song released from the album with Greenwood that each featured singer sang on a track about a country other than their own.
The album is “a letter in a bottle, thrown into the ocean,” Tassa said. “Who will get it, who will hear it, I don’t know. But someone will love it.”
Greenwood and Tassa’s album was produced by Nigel Godrich, the longtime Radiohead producer, and is out with World Circuit Records.
The two artists have long collaborated together. Greenwood, who is married to Israeli visual artist Sharona Katan, has recorded guitar on albums by Tassa, who in turn opened for Radiohead on some of the band’s tour in 2017.
The band members, who have won several Grammy Awards and sold millions of records since the 1990s, have been the targets of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, especially in the lead-up to their 2017 concert in Tel Aviv.
JTA contributed to this report