Hebrew Folk

If you squint while you’re watching them play, they look a bit like Peter, Paul and Mary. A blonde woman in between two dark haired men, at times gathered around a single microphone, singing folk songs.

The band in question is Jane Bordeaux, a Tel Aviv-based group that blends Hebrew lyrics with folk and country music. After releasing their eponymous debut in 2014, they have played many of the country’s biggest venues often on the same bill as the country’s most loved musicians, sometimes simultaneously, as was the case with their show last autumn with Israeli national treasure David Broza at Tel Aviv’s Zappa.

Last month, they released a music video for their song “Ma’agalim” (“Circles”), but it wasn’t a run of the mill, lip-sync- and-look-into-the-camera type of music video. “We didn’t want to do any videos because we aren’t good at acting,” bass player Mati Gilad told me, as I interviewed the band last week before their set at Jacob’s Ladder Folk Festival, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary. Instead, they were approached by Uri Lotan and Yoav Shtibelman, who’d worked with Disney and Pixar, who pitched them the idea of an animated music video.

After a team of ten people, spread out across the globe, spent five months animating – “not a long time in the animation world” – lead singer Doron Talmon offers, Jane Bordeaux had a stunning music video on their hands: a wooden doll walks through a penny arcade stuck in place and time, until the gears snap, sending the doll and her surroundings into the unknown. The video has been a hit all over the world and has brought new fans, some of whom even translated the song into Mandarin Chinese.

Given that many people think that Talmon’s name is actually Jane Bordeaux, I enquired about the genesis of the band’s name: They came up with it by combining two of Talmon’s three horses that her family has in the Golan Heights. “The third horse got left out?” I ask. “Yeah, Sarah’s a cranky horse,” Talmon says.

Jane Bordeaux is on the cusp of household recognition in Israel. Their songs “Eich Efshar” (“How is it Possible”) and “Whisky” are on heavy rotation on Israel’s Galgalatz radio station and their sold-out shows make it hard to get a good spot in the crowd every time I’ve seen them play at Jerusalem’s Yellow Submarine concert hall. Given their success in Israel, I ask them if they had any plans to tour internationally.

“We’d love to,” Talmon starts, “but it’s not on the immediate to-do list,” Gilad finishes for her.

Once they do tour outside the country, they’re not worried about how songs in Hebrew will be received. “Sigur Ros sings in Icelandic,” Talmon said, citing the worldwide success of Iceland’s most famous artistic export. “And many people have suggested we translate our songs into English.” When the time comes, they have options.

So if shows outside Israel’s cozy confines are on the back burner, what’s next on the docket for the band? They’re recording a new album at a home recording studio in Tel Aviv and they’re going to keep playing Israeli festivals, venues, and theatres and bars of the kibbutzim scattered throughout the country.

I ask whether they recognise the same faces at their shows given that a “superfan” could see them multiple times in a week without having to drive more than a few hours. “Not really…,” Talmon trails off. “Well, sometimes,” Gilad starts, “Doron doesn’t see very well,” he quips.

They played the main stage at Jacob’s Ladder after the sun had gone down, and as they began to sing, ageing kibbutzniks in the audience started waking from naps on their picnic blankets to see who was fusing folk with Hebrew, their songs sounding familiar and new all at once. Their last song was a cover of Bob Dylan’s classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” sung in English with just a hint of an Israeli accent.

Jane Bordeaux’s debut album can be streamed on Bandcamp. Jacob’s Ladder Folk Festival is twice a year, in the Autumn and in the Spring on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at Nof Ginosar.  

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