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Shye Ben Tzur: Master of Confluence

Israeli musician Shye Ben Tzur is traveling with a 19-member group of Rajasthani musicians to play Ziro Festival of Music this month

Anurag Tagat Sep 02, 2016
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Photo: Junun Shin Katan

Shye Ben Tzur and The Rajasthan Express will be performing at the fourth edition of Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal Pradesh. Photo: Junun Shin Katan

Sometime during the late Nineties, a teenaged Shye Ben Tzur was drawn to the mysticism and energy of Indian classical music. Like many others his age, the Israeli musician was already introduced to Western music, but found the allure of qawwali and Hindustani classical irresistible. Tzur, now the brains behind contemporary music-meets-Indian folk project The Rajasthan Express, says over the phone from Tel Aviv, “You have to remember, something like jazz or Western music, is something that’s relatively new. Indian music is quite ancient in many ways. It’s important that we leave something far more valuable.”

Tzur talks with the confidence of someone who knows his Indian music inside out. After all, he’s spent close to two decades in the country, working closing with Rajasthani musicians””from the qawwals and Manganiyars to keepers of the sufi music tradition. With two crossover albums (Heeyam in 2003 and Shoshan in 2010) to his name, Tzur added another texture to his unique mix of Urdu, Hindi and Hebrew music; he teamed up with guitarist, producer and composer Jonny Greenwood, best known for his work with rock titans Radiohead. Together, Tzur, Greenwood and the 19-member strong Rajasthan Express created Junun, which released last November. Tzur says, “The aim was to create something that was a pure expression of music and art.” Junun was mastered by Radiohead’s go-to sound engineer Nigel Godrich and was accompanied by a documentary shot by renowned American filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.

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Although familiar with Radiohead’s music, Tzur went back to the band’s catalog with a finer comb only after meeting and collaborating with Greenwood in 2015. The two musicians went on to perform together at the World Sacred Spirit Festival in Jodhpur last year. Unfortunately, Greenwood isn’t a permanent fixture in the live setup for Tzur and The Rajasthan Express, owing to his own busy schedule with Radiohead and other projects. But Tzur and The Rajasthan Express will be taking up plenty of stage space on their own, when they perform at the fourth edition of Ziro Festival of Music, held in the breathtaking Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh between September 22nd and 25th. He says, “I’m really looking forward to the Ziro Festival. I’m very excited.”

It’s a busy season for the musician, who is also recording artists in Israel and curating a festival in Jaipur later this year. He says, “I wanted to research and study about the rich musical tradition that India has [when I was 19]; I just never imagined that it was going to change my life and I was going to spend so many years in India. I still feel I have not achieved anything of my aim. It’s so vast””music in general and Indian music in particular. It’s been quite a journey.”

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