Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis will play at Vancouver FanClub on March 9. (photo from Chutzpah!)
The 2012 Vancouver Jewish Film Festival brought Dudu Tassa to local audiences – on film. The 2014 Chutzpah! Festival is bringing Tassa to the city again – in person.
Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis will play at Vancouver FanClub on March 9. Tassa, on vocals and guitar, will be joined by Nir Maimon (bass guitar), Neta Shani Cohen (cello), Eyal Yonati (computer), Barak Kram (drums) and Ariel Qasus (qanun). They will perform “Iraq ’n’ roll” – not coincidentally the name of the documentary that screened at VJFF.
Gili Gaon’s film Iraq ’n’ Roll followed Tassa as the rock musician/composer reconnected to his musical roots: specifically, as he gathered information about his grandfather and great-uncle, Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti, respectively, who were famous musicians in Iraq in the 1930s. When they emigrated to Israel in the 1950s, they were unable to make a living as musicians and their music was all but forgotten. That is, until Tassa set about discovering more about his cultural heritage.
In addition to the film, Tassa’s 2011 release – Dudu Tassa and the al-Kuwaitis – reinterprets the al-Kuwaiti brothers’ work in a contemporary context. On the album, Tassa “sings their songs in Arabic and Hebrew, and integrates Iraqi, Middle Eastern and Israeli rock music.” The album features archival materials from the Kuwaitis and “integrates a variety of styles and guests, among them Yehudit Ravitz and Barry Sakharov. Tassa’s mother and Yair Dalal also take part in this exciting project.”
Tassa grew up in Ramat Hasharon, in central Israel, close to Tel Aviv. “I started out by playing the guitar and singing at a young age,” he told the Independent in an e-mail interview. “I was noticed, and realized that this was what I wanted to do in my life and went in that direction. Growing up, my musical taste changed but, in my heart, I will always be a rocker. At home, my mum listened to mostly Arabic music when my dad was out of the house. The general idea was to become ‘Israeli’ and to listen to Hebrew music.”
Tassa put out his first album when he was only 13 years old. He described the genre of the music on that recording as “more oriental singing. I then turned towards rock and, by 2000, I was a singer/songwriter. I joined many productions and became a requested guitar player. I played for many years on a famous TV show with a comedian – that’s how I earned the money to finance my own material.”
His second album came out in 2000 and his third, Out of Choice in 2003, includes a version of “Fug el-Nahal,” which his grandfather and great-uncle used to perform; the song also appears on Tassa’s 2004 album Exactly on Time. While the al-Kuwaiti brothers did not write the song, they performed it, and the song represents Tassa’s first foray into interpreting and performing that type of music, sung in Arabic.
“My grandfather and his brother, Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti, were great composers coming from Kuwait to Iraq. They composed many songs, which spread in popularity throughout the entire Middle East. The sultan in Iraq in the ’40s appointed them to start the National Broadcasting Orchestra and they composed, played and recorded for many years, until they emigrated to Israel in the ’50s.
“My grandfather and his brother, Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti, were great composers coming from Kuwait to Iraq,” explained Tassa of what he discovered in his research. “They composed many songs, which spread in popularity throughout the entire Middle East. The sultan in Iraq in the ’40s appointed them to start the National Broadcasting Orchestra and they composed, played and recorded for many years, until they emigrated to Israel in the ’50s.
“I am named after my grandfather Daoud (David); Dudu is a short name for David,” he added. “My grandfather died just when my mum was pregnant with me.
“I had always heard of my grandparents and the dark side of it was that, when arriving to Israel, they had to make their living out of other things and could not support themselves with music. I was aware of it always, but didn’t deal with it.”
He has since dealt with it, of course, and he is continuing his family’s musical legacy with his current work. About that, he said, “In a way, I guess, it keeps their names alive. In Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s period, the composers’ names were deleted on all the compositions (because of their Jewish heritage), and now the world again recognizes them. Also in Iraq, a few years ago, Iraqi musicologists on TV recognized the Kuwaitis to be the most important composers of modern Iraqi music.”
Tassa is also a record producer, he has composed music for film and TV, and has even tried his hand at acting, which was “a truly new experience” for him – he played a Syrian prisoner in Samuel Maoz’s 2009 film Lebanon.
“I am currently working on a new album,” he said, sharing with the Independent that he still gets “excited each time before the release … like a child.”
Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis’ appearance at the Chutzpah! Festival is the first of a tour. “We continue to New York – the Jewish Heritage Museum, where they also have an interesting exhibition on Iraqi Jewry – then to Boston, South by Southwest showcases in Austin and, finally, San Francisco.”
About how musical performance has changed since his grandfather and great-uncle took to the stage, Tassa said, “The fact that we can use the computer, and involve recordings inside a live performance, does change a lot.
“As for the audience, I think they will judge good music and bad music so, in that sense, maybe nothing has changed. As a matter of performance, it’s the same. Either you’ve got it on stage or not. I think that although we try to impress [people] with great lights and sounds, it all comes down to if the listener is moved or not.”
Vancouver FanClub is at 1050 Granville St. The March 9 show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets ($25/$30 plus taxes and fees) are available at chutzpahfestival.com, as is the full festival schedule.