The Ori Naftaly Band proves the worldwide appeal of the genre on Friday at Rhythm & Brews.
Growing up in memphis as the daughter of a musician meant rhythm and blues, soul and rock and roll were always playing. Whether it was the Beatles or anyone produced by Motown Records, my house was never silent.
My dad has played bass since childhood, and though music isn’t his career, the time and dedication he puts into playing has made me appreciate the working musician. From the calluses on his hands, to the arrangements he plays, to the number of bass guitars he owns, to hauling his upright bass in and out of the car multiple times a week, he’s taught me that musicians are serious when it comes to their craft.
But playing full time on tour brings a new definition to hard work. I talked to Ori Naftaly on a busy Monday, a day most of us wouldn’t necessarily call busy. He and his band members had spent all day in the studio recording their upcoming album. But he made time to talk with me for a few minutes about his music.
Described as playing a “mix of styles including electric blues, funk, rock, and soul,” the Ori Naftaly Band is an Israeli blues band based in Memphis. Consisting of Ori Naftaly (guitar), Eleanor Tsaig (vocals) Eran Szendri (bass), Yam Regev (drums), Niv Hovav (hammond), and Ofir Ventura (harmonica), the band has toured the globe, gathering fans in Israel, the United States, Holland, Germany and India. They’ve appeared in several blues competitions and reached the semi-finals in the International Blues Challenge Competition, competing against 200 blues acts from around the world. They’ve released two live studio albums: “A True Friend (Is Hard to Find)” and “Happy for Good,” and will release a third this year.
Naftaly’s musicality and experiences as an artist are what drew me in. He mentioned old-school musicians like Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix as early influences that led him to play the blues. The blues, he said, was the genre he felt most comfortable with. (Fans might be surprised to know that besides playing music, Naftaly worked for six years as an assistant engineer for a high-tech company.)
Though he started the band in 2011, Naftaly has played music since childhood. He grew up with lead vocalist Eleanor Tsaig in Israel and has known her since he was 11. Tsaig, who sings rock, folk, blues, and soul, was the first person Naftaly asked to sing in his band. Bringing a unique sound, she sings several songs on “Happy for Good” and two songs on “A True Friend (Is Hard to Find).” On the latter album’s title song, Tsaig sings a cappella for the first minute and a half before the band joins, creating a blues sound like no other.
What’s interesting is how touring in the U.S. has influenced Naftaly’s music and how audiences here differ from audiences in Israel. Having toured the U.S. many times, Naftaly credits people he’s listened to and shared the stage with as influences. The audiences, however, are a big difference.
Audiences here, he said, are often more respectful toward musicians, specifically in regard to music being their job. Audience members also buy more CDs and come to support the artist’s music, no matter the genre.
“People know what to expect and how to treat us,” Naftaly said.
The situation is different in Israel.
“Where I come from, it’s a lot worse.” Naftaly said. He explained that the situation for musicians in Israel isn’t bad, just different. In the U.S., he feels, musicians are respected more for their hard work, whereas in Israel, musicians are often treated as “Class B.”
The band’s supporters won’t have to wait until the release of the upcoming album to hear new songs. The Ori Naftaly Band will play some new material at Rhythm & Brews on Friday.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about musicians, it’s that the ones to make history are the ones with talent, dream, and drive. Listening to any song by the Ori Naftaly Band will tell you that we’ve only heard the opening chords in a great music collaboration.
The Ori Naftaly Band, 9 p.m. Friday, July 10, Rhythm & Brews, 221 Market St. rhythm-brews.com