Jewish Telegraph, March 2017
ROCK legend Steve Hackett used Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as inspiration for a track on his new album.
The Night Siren, released next Friday, includes the epic West to East featuring Israeli singer Kobi Farhi, of Orphaned Land, and Israeli-Arab songstress Mira Awad.
The track, co-written with the former Genesis guitarist’s wife Jo, is described as “a song of peace for a time of turmoil”.
The 67-year-old Londoner told me how impressed he was with Barenboim’s orchestra, which uses musicians with Egyptian, Iranian, Israeli, Jordanian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian and Spanish backgrounds.
“I thought it was marvellous they were doing a world tour and playing Wagner’s music,” he said.
“I got the feeling it was a healing, taking something that was potentially a tinderbox; music that has been seen as antisemitic, but at the end of the day it is really great music.
“People in the orchestra are from opposite sides, so it is even more challenging and controversial that they are doing Wagner.
“Do we take the point of ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ or ‘cursed are the peacemakers’?”
On West to East, Steve said, everyone is singing “together as one”.
Jaffa-born Kobi’s band has fans throughout the Arab world and regularly tours and works with Palestinian bands.
Mira, meanwhile, works with the Arab Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa and represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009 with Israeli singer Noa. She also appeared on Orphaned Land’s All is One album.
Steve added: “These people (Kobi and Mira) are sticking their necks out here.
“Mira is trying to break down prejudices. It was great to work with her.”
Steve didn’t actually share a studio with his two guests.
Kobi and Mira sent their performances via filesharing.
“I doubt it would have been improved with me looking over their shoulders,” he said.
“I wanted to celebrate their every effort.”
A companion song on The Night Siren is Behind the Smoke which tackles the subject of refugees — something that is close to Steve and his wife.
Both have Jewish backgrounds, with relatives being forced to flee persecution in Poland in the late 19th century.
Steve’s maternal roots are Jewish, while Jo’s are through her father’s side of the family.
“Because there was intermarriage, my mother is a mixture, but she very much feels her Jewish roots, particularly when living in Edgware,” he said. “She celebrated that.
“My family is not religious. It’s part-Jewish and a mixture of other things and extremely tolerant.
“My mother’s family and Jo’s family grew up in London’s East End.
“Jo’s family has a long line of Jewish violinists. Her grandfather taught violin in East Ham. He taught all day in a school, then taught groups of students in the evening, working until 11 at night to give East End kids a chance of something they could use as a profession.
“Her father was also a violin virtuoso.”
Steve added: “My side’s family name was Kalzevsky in Poland. When they moved to Portugal, it became Da Costa and Da Silva.
“It then changed to Davis in England. I had an uncle who lived to be 108 called Jack Davis. He was the oldest surviving ex-serviceman from the First World War.
“I met him on his 108th birthday. He said to me, ‘Congratulations on your success’. I shook his hand and said, ‘Congratulations on yours’.”
Behind the Smoke features a guitar solo by Steve which is repeated on West to East — but performed by an orchestra.
“Sometimes it’s nice to down tools and let other people do the work,” he laughed.
Speaking about the political nature of The Night Siren, Steve said: “It was my intention to have an effect in some way.
“It’s a two-pronged attack; I wanted to make great music, but, because the world is in a fragile state, the performance of my album in the market place is secondary to the idea that there is a world left for people to have time to listen to music. I’m not alone here.”
He was also critical of the BDS movement which calls for an artistic boycott of Israel.
He said: “I don’t believe in pursuing an isolationist policy. To get engaged and involved is far more pertinent.
“I did receive some flak for that when I played in Israel from pressure groups.
“I don’t believe that’s the way forward.
“I believe a two-state system is the only thing that will produce any peace. Extremists have been running the show on both sides.”
Steve was guitarist with rock giants Genesis from 1971–1977, playing on classic albums like Foxtrot, Nursery Cryme, Selling England by the Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
He left the group after the release of Wind & Wuthering and has recorded more than 20 solo albums.
He also had huge success in 1987 when he formed GTR with Steve Howe, of Yes. But they disbanded after one self-titled album.
“GTR had a gold album in America and a bankrupt company in England,” he said. “It cost too much money.”
On his new tour, Genesis Revisited with Classic Hackett, starting on April 26, Steve will be performing the whole of Wind & Wuthering, among other Genesis tracks.
“I realised that the Genesis stuff that resonates most fully are the ones which have political comment,” he said. “That’s why I’m happy to be doing Blood on the Rooftops again.
“Wind & Wuthering had a lot about injustice and the idea of political apathy. People are asleep and are like sheep being led to the slaughter.”
He added: “We didn’t have a hit single from Wind & Wuthering, but it doesn’t mean it’s not up there in the affections of the fans. It still works for me.”
Steve has been offered the chance to perform in Israel again, but he says: “As much as I want to be there, it needs to be economically viable to make the trip.
“I spoke to Mira and told her we are interested in the same things. We need to get everyone working together.
“One day we will realise we are all from one extended family. There is nothing wrong with peace and love. It’s an age old message.”