It's to her credit that Israeli-born composer and double bassist Daphna Sadeh has embraced the vibrant multi-culturalism of the great melting pot of Israel to be the defining character of her music. Her exile is less political than driven by more basic human needs, and her openness to all cultures and a brighter future shines through the beautiful music she creates with The Voyagers.
Now based in the UK, this most original of bass players has led The Voyagers since 2003 and is now touring to promote the release of Reconciliation (2009), the group's third release and first for John Zorn's Tzadik label. It is a fascinating musical blend of all the cultures that have helped shape the modern Israeli identity. The title of the album, as Sadeh explains, stems from her belief in the power of music.
All About Jazz: Tell us about your background.
Daphna Sadeh Neu: I was born in Israel and grew up there. I started studying music seriously at the end of my teenage years but before that the last thing I thought I would be, really the last thing I thought I would be, would be a musician. It's funny how life can surprise you, but I thought I'd be a visual artist or a graphic designer but definitely not a musician.
AAJ: A lot of the music on Reconciliation sounds kind of cinematic, particularly the wonderful opening track "Queen of Sheeba"; like the soundtrack to an Emir Kusturica feel-good film, set in Jerusalem. Are you very visual in your mind when you compose?
DSN: Well, you have good ears I have to tell you; [Goran] Bregovic (who has scored several Kusturica films) is really one of my favorite composers. Yes, I am very visual but also when I compose music I try not to think, basically. Sometimes I just start with an idea. It depends, sometimes I sit at the piano and it can come out in five minutes. The piece "Reconciliation" I composed in just five minutes, but this is the exception as usually it takes me a long time.
I try to think of a picture I would like to bring, or a mood I would like to describe. When I say mood, it could also be a philosophical idea or thought. Maybe that's the visual artistic side of me coming out in the music.
AAJ: Talking about the mood of the music, Reconciliation seems to be positive, quite joyous and a little bit surprisingly as there is very little in the way of melancholy, which is quite typical in a lot of Middle Eastern music and Eastern European Jewish music. Do you tend to shy away from melancholy?
DSN: I think it's a matter of approach to life really. For me, the easiest thing to do is to compose melancholic pieces, perhaps not in my nature but in my ability.
But what I'm trying to do on some of the CDs is to bring a different approach. "Kadish" is a very melancholy piece; I don't know what you thought about that.
AAJ: Yes, it's slightly melancholic, but not in the way Rabih Abou-Khalil can be melancholic, that melancholy that makes you want to cry.
DSN: Yeah, maybe not on this CD but if you visit my Website and listen to Out of Border (Independent, 2002) you could hear it much more. It's not melancholic because I'm not a melancholic person but it is kind of thoughtful.
AAJ: Were you born into a musical family?
DSN: Not at all. Really, I am the first musician in my family for generations as far as I know.
AAJ: So how did you come to unite with the bass guitar?
DSN: I played music as a child but it was so unsuccessful, so traumatic, you know, the wrong teachers, and everything was wrong for me. At the end of my teenage years I had this very strong urge to be around art, in an artistic environment, and then I started meeting people who were musicians and I started playing percussion first of all and I still love percussion.
One day I saw a bass guitar and I thought, "wow, that's a sound I like." So I started as a bass guitarist and three months after I started studying I was on stage already.
And then everything happened really quickly. A few months after I was on stage, I saw a double bass which wasn't really a familiar instrument. I mean I knew what it was but I had never seen one live. Immediately I hooked into that and very quickly after that, I was in New York studying music.
AAJ: So it was love at first sight when you saw the double bass then?
DSN: Yes, it went really quickly.
AAJ: Before you went to New York what sort of music were you exposed to growing up in Israel?
DSN: Basically everything. For me, eclectic music is a very natural state of mind; that's how I grew up and I'm not he only one. I think it's true of Israelis in general. Some of them come from European countries; my father was born in Germany, so my background is very European. When you grow up in Israel you hear lots of Arabic music and you hear Jewish music from the diasporait's so natural.
AAJ: What kind of contact did you have with Arabic music?
DSN: I had very close contact. I used to work for quite a few years with a group of Arab-Israeli musicians, Christian Arabs from the north of Israel whose families are originally from Lebanon. It was a group of six Arab men and although they were very open-minded, I think it was the first time they had ever played with a woman musician. I'm not talking about vocalists, that's a different story.
They were looking for a double bassist and I went and met them and there was an immediate chemistry between us and we played their repertoire, it was more Lebanese music. The music was mainly song but some was instrumental and we played quarter notes. I had learned it before in Israel but with them it was very practical. I learned it through practice.
1:r: Daphna Sadeh, Stewart Curtis, Eddie Hession, Nim Schwartz, Ronen Kozokaro, Nawroz Oramari