The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with acclaimed composer and musician Shye Ben-Tzur. Each week, SkirBlog will feature a preview of the upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about the band, view photos and videos … then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Shye Ben-Tzur, this Thursday, August 1, at 8:00 p.m.
Among my music-loving, concert-going friends, we can trace our fanaticism to a handful of shared seminal moments in our youth: going to impromptu garage shows in high school, waiting in line at a venue to secure a good view of the stage, staying out late to talk to bands. Yet rarely do these moments add up to a life’s calling, much less a cultural and spiritual journey that literally takes you thousands of miles away from home—such as in the case of Shye Ben-Tzur.
Ben-Tzur’s origin story reads like a modern retelling of an ancient epic: after watching a particularly inspired classical Indian performance at the age of nineteen, the American-born, Israeli-raised former rocker went on a quest to India, where he lived and studied music in the dhrupad and qawwali (Hindustani and Sufi devotional song, respectively) traditions for over a decade. He eventually began to compose his own qawwalis in his native Hebrew tongue.
Yet for all of its mysticism steeped in tradition, what I find most striking about Ben-Tzur’s music is just how catchy and accessible it is, transcending borders and cultures. It’s hard to deny his talent as he masterfully blends longstanding traditions with modern elements of American blues, funk, and Spanish flamenco. (Just ask Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, who’s a fan of Ben-Tzur’s eclectic mix.) Ben-Tzur and his story remind me of what I love most about live music—the sense of discovery upon hearing something new to you, and the ability to be transported to multiple worlds and cultures in the span of a four-minute song.
Watch the official video for Shye Ben-Tzur’s “Dawn”: