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A musical brew in Hebrew
When Shye Ben Tzur was 19, he happened to attend a concert in Tel Aviv where the flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and tabla maestro Zakir Hussain were performing together. The music was unlike anything the young rocker had heard before.
"I had just started to explore how to express what I was feeling when I heard Indian music for the very first time, " he recalls. "It sounded so different. " Enchanted by the sound, he followed it to India 12 years ago, and has been following it ever since. Today, Ben Tzur is a sought-after qawwal who sings in Hebrew.
"Coming from Israel, which is a very political environment, to India, the mystical roots of Sufi music touched my heart deeply, " he says. "People in the West think that Indian music is either classical or Bollywood, but it's so much more diverse and broad. "
Ben Tzur immersed himself in the rich world of classical music. He began to train under Pandit Chaurasia and learn dhrupad from Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar. He went to Ajmer and fell in love with qawwali. He read on Sufism and lived with the sufis of Ajmer. He befriended Rajasthani qawwals and eventually tried his hand at creating qawwalis of his own. He picked up some Urdu and Hindi along the way but writes his lyrics in his mother-tongue, Hebrew.
Today the 35-year-old has two well-received albums, Hayeem (Supreme Love) and Shoshan (Rose), and has sung his qawwalis at several prestigious musical and literary events such as Delhi's Jahan-e-Khusrau Sufi music festival, the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai and the Jaipur Literary Festival. He has a dedicated following in India, going by the comments on his Facebook page.
His musical journey has required patience and understanding on all sides - getting the Rajasthani qawwals to sing for him in Hebrew was a slow process as was getting the people in Israel, including his family, to understand and appreciate what he was doing in India. "There were two sides to it, " he begins to explain. "In India, social acceptance was beautiful. Indians are very hospitable, polite and welcoming, but at the same time, the music and the culture was alien to me. I had to change my outlook and make my approach to life more meaningful. But today music is the love story of my life. "
His haunting melodies can put a dervish spell on you. He blends elements of rock and funk with traditional Rajasthani instruments and mixes in sounds of the violin and cello. When he plays the flute, with his long locks bobbing to the melody, he never fails to draw a response. "Some cry, some dance. These reactions come from the heart whenever you hear magic, and music has that power, " he says.
Music also introduced him to his wife, Sajida, adopted daughter of the late Sufi scholar, Dr Zahurul Hassan Sharib. Marrying an Indian seemed almost inevitable for a man who feels at home and at peace with the Sufis of Ajmer. "I travel between Tel Aviv and India but I feel very much like I belong here, " says the US-born singer. "I got married here, my wife lives here and I do amazing work. I find my life so attached to India and its culture. This is home. "
Shye Ben Tzur performs at nU. Delhi QBA in Delhi on July 3
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