When Israeli musician and singer Yakir Hillel traveled with his wife Ortal for a vacation in India, he took the banjo with him and thought it would be nice if he had a chance to play his music. He did not expect a scenario that happened there: sold-out performances, collaboration with famous Indian musicians, and a local audience that found an instant connection to his music. Now he is invited to return to perform with his band at a festival in Goa. But before traveling back, he will release his new album “Agada” (‘Legend’ in Hebrew) with a special at Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theatre on September 25th..
By Noa Faran
“I went to India out of some longing for myself, with and without regard to music”, Tells Hillel, “Before I traveled, I felt like some sort of a refugee of reality, and India was a haven. Everything that went down there afterward in terms of music and performances was a bonus.
“The main artists I collaborated with were Ujjwal Kumar and Manoj. Manoj is an amazing singer and tabla player who is deeply familiar with Indian music. We met at his show and then we started performing together, I learned a lot from him and most impressed with his humility. Alongside being an insanely good musician, he is also a very humble person who has been a pleasure to work with.
“I happened to meet Ujjwal Kumar for a walk outside my guesthouse, I caught him with some drum case so I asked what was there and he replied that he had a Ghat (which is a tool I wasn’t familiar with). Out of curiosity, I invited him to play with me on the balcony and our connection was instant, he uploaded a video of us playing online, which created a lot of buzz. Then one thing led to another and he set us a gig in New Delhi that sold 150 tickets in advance, it was crazy!
What were the reactions in the shows? Was the audience entirely Indian or did you have Israelis and other tourists?
The responses were just great! I felt like my connection to myself, to the songs and the audience got some spiritual dimension, but not in the heavy and serious sense of the word but something much more natural and magical. In that state, it was easier to approach music, maybe because the head was not preoccupied with everyday troubles of survival, career and money so that I could connect to the joy of music. To me, this difference was very noticeable, and I believe it was to those who heard me too. What is cool is that even people who do not understand a word of Hebrew felt it. At the last performance in Delhi, the audience was almost entirely Indian. An entire audience who listened for an hour and a half to Hebrew music and were excited by every sound.
What are your plans for the future at the Indian arena? Will you return there and continue to collaborate? Would you consider distributing your songs there?
Ortal & I plan to go back to India for performances in Goa, Delhi and Varanasi. I am still very curious to continue collaborating with Indian musicians, and there are a few festivals in the near future that we will probably attend. I believe my songs will continue to roll around in India, because that is what songs do… But my place here in Israel and meanwhile my energies are all directed towards the release of the new album and other recordings on the way.