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
Sometime during the late Nineties,Â a teenaged Shye Ben Tzur wasÂ drawn to the mysticism and energyÂ of Indian classical music. Like manyÂ others his age, the Israeli musician was alreadyÂ introduced to Western music, butÂ found the allure of qawwali and HindustaniÂ classical irresistible. Tzur, now the brainsÂ behind contemporary music-meets-IndianÂ folk project The Rajasthan Express, saysÂ over the phone from Tel Aviv, “You have toÂ remember, something like jazz or WesternÂ music, is something that’s relatively new. IndianÂ music is quite ancient in many ways.Â It’s important that we leave something farÂ 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.
Although familiar with Radiohead’sÂ music, Tzur went back to the band’s catalogÂ with a finer comb only after meeting andÂ collaborating with Greenwood in 2015. TheÂ two musicians went on to perform togetherÂ at the World Sacred Spirit Festival in JodhpurÂ last year. Unfortunately, GreenwoodÂ isn’t a permanent fixture in the live setup forÂ Tzur and The Rajasthan Express, owing toÂ his own busy schedule with Radiohead andÂ other projects. But Tzur and The RajasthanÂ Express will be taking up plenty of stageÂ space on their own, when they perform at theÂ fourth edition of Ziro Festival of Music, heldÂ in the breathtaking Ziro valley in ArunachalÂ Pradesh between September 22nd and 25th.Â He says, “I’m really looking forward to theÂ Ziro Festival. I’m very excited.”
It’s a busy season for the musician, who isÂ also recording artists in Israel and curatingÂ a festival in Jaipur later this year. He says, “IÂ wanted to research and study about the richÂ musical tradition that India has [when I wasÂ 19]; I just never imagined that it was goingÂ to change my life and I was going to spendÂ so many years in India. I still feel I have notÂ achieved anything of my aim. It’s so vast””music in general and Indian music in particular.Â It’s been quite a journey.”