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Monday, November 1, 2010

Kobi Oz, You're My Hero (most of the time)

So I'm editing this little daily email called Jewniverse, which tells you about one cool/amazing/unusual thing each day that you've never heard of. (If you're like my mom, someone probably forwarded you this thing about a Yiddish workout video about five thousand times in the past week; and we also show you things like rabbis in space and a blessing over weird fish.)

And this is one of those little behind-the-scenes stories that would go on the director's DVD commentary, if emails had that sort of thing.

A few months ago, I was at the ROI Conference in Israel -- which was mostly a way for a bunch of Jews with wacky ideas to get together and trade ideas and get blown away by each other. We had one big, intense networking night, culminating with a concert by Koby Oz, lead singer of Teapacks -- who caused the biggest stir in years at Eurovision with this awesome/insane performance about Iran:

Oz -- whom you'll notice in the video, wearing the wild beret and that great vest and doing drop-kicks -- just released a solo album. The ostensible highlight of the networking night was a performance by Oz and his band. Except that, because (a) the audience was composed of funders and prospective fundees, and (b) you had a handful of us wacky Orthodox Jews, nobody really paid attention. The event happened during a mourning period called the Three Weeks, when some people don't listen to live music -- so I ran to the Western Wall and had my own punk-rock crying freak-out and then unexpectedly ran into my favorite Hasidic movie star.

Flash forward, and -- equally unexpectedly -- I get Koby Oz's album in the mail.

And, most unexpectedly of all, I listen to it. And it's freaking amazing.

It's unexpectedly quiet and reserved and meditative, featuring a duet with his dead grandfather in that Nat "King"/Natalie Cole style -- only, Oz's grandfather is a Yemenite cantor, and the song is about God.

I won't tell you much about the album -- you can read the Jewniverse for that -- except to meditate on the irony of it. Oz, a secular, Tel Aviv-based Israeli musician, makes this album whose name (Psalms for the Perplexed) is a subtle pun on two major religious works (Psalms, of course, and Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed) and whose entire concept is exploring what is and isn't religious, what it means to be Godly in our society and to ourselves.

In short, it's a game-changer for the entire genre -- an album of love songs about God.

Dammit, Mr. Oz. I'm stunned. I'd take off my hat to you -- but, you know, it's a yarmulke and all.

Thank you.

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