Interview with Israeli blues band of SOBO -- integrating American, Russian and Middle Eastern influences

"The blues has taught me humility with the audience of listeners. The blues has taught me that when you're up or down, having a good day or bad, it’s always possible to play and create music and express or share your emotions in a positive healing way."

SOBO: The Blues DNA of Freedom

SOBO is an international rock-n-blues band integrating American, Russian and Middle Eastern influences. Based in the Holy City of Jerusalem, SOBO has an international message of freedom. It was SOBO’s inspired blues jams and intense funk rhythms that helped found the still-growing Israeli blues scene. The band performed at venues all through Israel and the Netherlands during the 90s, and recorded their first album "Southbound Train" in 1998. In 2002 took St. Petersburg, Russia by storm appearing at the Delta Neva International Blues Festival winning a gold medal for their performance. In 2004 was chosen to represent Israel in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN under the banner of Blues For Peace. While at the Challenge SOBO was spotted and immediately hired to play at the Blues City Cafe on Memphis’ world famous Beale Str. In 2007, released their second album "Shoo Ba Do", which received rave reviews. In 2007 was chosen as one of three headliners to perform in the Lefortovo Blues Festival, Russia. In 2008 performed on the Blues stage at the Bombamela Festival, Israel.

In 2010 SOBO was the premiere headliner at the Delta Neva Blues Festival, St Petersburg, Russia. SOBO was signed by an agent in Russia following this show and have been touring Eastern Europe regularly since. In 2013 SOBO were featured at Ural Blues Festival, Russia. In 2014 SOBO continued to tour Russia and Germany. SOBO released their third Album “Catfish Boogie” in winter 2014 receiving much AirPlay in Israel, Russia and the U.S.A. SOBO has shared the stage with Gov't Mule, Anna Popovic, John Lee Hooker Jr., Oli Brown, JC Smith, Alvon Johnson and many other blues players. SOBO is legendary in Israel for its powerful and energetic mix of blues, rock, R&B and funk coupled with a unique sound of slide guitar. SOBO’s unique sound can be attributed to singer and bass player Assaf (Ganzman) Sammy’s smoky blues vocals and funky bass lines, slide guitarist and harmonica player Daniel "Dan" Kriman's -was born in St. Petersburg, Russia- nonstop energy of boogie and blues, drummer Eden Bahar’s pounding beats paying homage to blues legends. SOBO does their own original songs, which have a bluesy flavor, and is constantly working to produce more. Whether they're playing a cover tune or an original, that SOBO "crunch" is ever present. Assaf is owner of famous local bar, Mike’s Place in Tel-Aviv.

Interview by Michael Limnios 

Photos by Lara Brodsky / all rights reserved

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Assaf: The Blues has taught me many things, some I have had to learn the hard way. The blues has taught me to feel what I sing.  The blues has taught me humility with the audience of listeners. The blues has taught me that when you're up or down, having a good day or bad, it’s always possible to play and create music and express or share your emotions in a positive healing way. To me the Blues is the basis to my life. My personality, my business and my band revolve around it completely. The Blues has given me a lot and in return I have always supported and nurtured it.

Daniel: I learned that I am capable to relate to anybody through the music, I can communicate without knowing a language, and still be understood. Blues means a heartbeat to me, primal ancient groove that is imprinted in our DNA.

How do you describe Sobo Blues Band sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Assaf: Sobo has a very unique sound thanks to our guitar player Daniel Kriman. He plays slide in open D tuning and I play my bass in drop D as well to get a fat sounding low D note. We have a very recognizable crunchy sound and are known for our train beat shuffles. We are a no nonsense blues trio with a heavy stress on bluesy groove and energy. Our songbook is heavily inspired by Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. John Lee Hooker and BB King are present as well. We try to do less popular standards by these masters. Whatever we do though we always give it our own spin and do it Sobo style without trying to sound like or copy the source, rather just being inspired by the original. Of course we play many of our own original materials as well and have three albums out to date. I think our music is always positive energy. As a singer songwriter I always want tell a good story in a melodic way. I like my music to have a positive inspiring message of good times and freedom achieved through persevering through hardship.

Daniel: Our sound is limited and at the same time - unique, I play electric resonator slide guitar together with harmonica that creates pretty recognizable sound, also Assaf got a unique vocal that you can't confuse with nobody else. You might say I’m a one trick pony, so our sound is limited to slide guitar, that's why we are trying to use as many different groves as possible: rhumba, funk, rhythm and blues, train groove, country, shuffle and reggae, all works. And it still going to sound like Sobo.

"I learned that I am capable to relate to anybody through the music, I can communicate without knowing a language, and still be understood. Blues means a heartbeat to me, primal ancient groove that is imprinted in our DNA." (Photo: Assaf & Daniel on stage, Mike's Place, Tel-Aviv, Israel)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Assaf: Sobo have been touring and performing regularly since 1995. We have had many great gigs and shared feelings and moments with thousands around the world. One of my biggest and most emotional moments was a gig in Archangelsk Russia on the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day.

We explained to the audience the significance of the day, lit a candle and said a small prayer on stage. We then proceeded to play a blues I wrote in Hebrew called Lo Nishbar, about being strong in hard times. By the end of the song there was not a dry eye in the audience or on the stage. It was truly amazing.

Daniel: Once we were touring Siberia and got to the place called The Castle. It was a real castle built in the middle of the forest not far from Novosibirsk. There was a real recording studio built in one of the castle towers, and a hall with real stage and concert equipment, - all that in the middle of the woods...

So we all drank amazing Siberian honey beer and recorded some songs there...

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Assaf: I really love the old blues masters. I don't really connect to most of the new blues of today as much as I do the old stuff. I think the blues today is usually overproduced and too sweet. I miss the nitty gritty no nonsense blues of the past. I miss the ability to take a good story then write and record a song about it without worrying about postproduction etc... I strongly believe the blues will always be present. How could it not? It is the basis to most music and while its popularity might go up and down it will always be a part of the music scene. The blues is a music that many people fear and don't want to get to know, but when they stumble upon it they instantly like it. The blues is easy to relate to and that is its secret to success. It touches all the right nerves and pulls all the right strings.

Daniel: I don't miss anything, each time got its own charm, you can't play blues today same as in 40s or 60s, so it's all good. I'm not afraid for the genre, new folks will come and do it as they feel. I don't think anybody needs to keep the blues alive. This slogan is wrong, it's actually saying that blues is dying, I think it's not true. From what I see, more young people are into this music in Israel and many new bands are being born in a last 5 years and this is gives me hope.

"In Israel the blues is still not a mainstream thing and I don't think it has any implications. I do believe that blues in the US had a great impact on race and prejudice. It helped open the door and gave a positive well received glimpse in to African American culture and people."

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Assaf: Well this is a fantasy question so I will give a fantasy answer. I would take the music back. Make it for pleasure again and less about sales. I would make music more of an art and less of a business.

Daniel: I would pay everybody to fly to Memphis TN, everybody who plays the blues, should visit Mississippi once.

What were the reasons that made the Israeli new generation to start the Blues researches and experiments?

Assaf: There has been a real surge in the Israeli Blues scene in the last twenty years. I think Jewish people have always had a strong connection with jazz and blues. In Israel three major things happened. The first is the founding of the Israel Blues Society. The IBS holds regular jams and competitions and brings the blues crowd together by giving them a place they can all belong to together. The second is Facebook which has given bands and audiences an easy way to connect and stay in touch. A great free platform to promote your music and your upcoming gigs. The third is the big success of a few bluesy music venues like Mike's Place bars for example, that did real well and became a model to copy by many other bars and clubs. The more venues wanted to have blues the more there was a need for good bands. It's all about supply and demand.

Daniel: I don't know really, I play blues more than 20 years in Israel, when I started there was hardly anybody who played blues around, but it changed lately... I guess, it became hip, before everybody played dark indie rock like Nick Cave, now being depressed ain't popular no more...

Make an account of the case of the blues in Israel. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?          SOBO, Jerusalem 1995

Assaf: I would say that the last ten years have been awesome for Israeli Blues. Many new bands and many blues albums. Weekly Blues radio shows on many stations. Many promoters have brought international blues acts and it has been a success. Many blues clubs and jams attract a young dynamic crowd and it's not just for blues specialists any more. While the blues has always been active in Israel on a low level, in the last decade there has surely been a huge surge.

Daniel: I say, it's now! Many international blues artist coming to Israel in a last year or two, many blues festivals and blues radio shows in a last couple of years. Each day there are live blues show some place in Israel, and that was not the case in 90s or even 2000s. Not to mention Israel blues society being active last years, and having annual jams and bringing guests from abroad.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and forms?

Assaf: I see a big similarity between the message of the blues and the message of the local Middle Eastern music which is by far the most popular in Israel today.  The message is to keep on truckin'. To keep on living and loving and smiling even in hard times. Music for the hard working people with a common message.

Daniel: There is no such a thing as local folk music. All music here is from other countries. We got klezmer music, that comes from Europe, we got Balkan music, we got Arabic music, we got Greece music, we got Russian music, French music, Yemen music, Spanish music, even Ethiopian music - all that is melting beautifully here, shaping Israeli cultural landscape creating something completely new.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the famous events in Mike’s Place, Tel-Aviv?

Assaf: Mike's Place is a fun place and always a barrel of laughs. The most recent reason to smile was a video made late night of the kitchen staff getting on stage and doing a dance they had choreographed in advance, it was truly hilarious. Regarding the Mike's Place bombing in 2003, the way we got through it and the reason we are still able to do this today is love. After the terrorist attack we received massive support from our friends and clients locally and around the world. We had 80,000 letters of support in a day before our website crashed. We saw that Mike's Place was so important to so many people around the world that we knew we could never close. We hold an annual ceremony for the families of the victims and survivors.

"We got klezmer music, that comes from Europe, we got Balkan music, we got Arabic music, we got Greece music, we got Russian music, French music, Yemen music, Spanish music, even Ethiopian music - all that is melting beautifully here, shaping Israeli cultural landscape creating something completely new." (Photo: Assaf have good times on stage in Mike's Place, Tel-Aviv, Israel)

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications? 

Assaf: In Israel the blues is still not a mainstream thing and I don't think it has any implications. I do believe that blues in the US had a great impact on race and prejudice. It helped open the door and gave a positive well received glimpse in to African American culture and people.

Daniel: Today blues is not African American music only, today it's international, so it does bring all nations together, and same as blues did in 60s in USA. I know amazing blues musicians from Germany, Georgia (Gruzia), Russia, Argentina and more... You don't have to be black to feel and play the blues.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Assaf: So many places, it's hard to choose. History has always fascinated me.  If I have to choose I would like be a fly on the wall in Chess studios in the early days. See the greats like Muddy and Howlin wolf recording working and planning their career, it would be fascinating. Can you imagine how much creative energy was running through those walls back then? It must have been mind blowing.

Daniel: I would love to go and see Jimi Hendrix live in London in 1967.

SOBO BLUES BAND - HOME

Photos by Lara Brodsky / all rights reserved

Views: 280

Comments are closed for this blog post

social media

Members

© 2020   Created by Michael Limnios Blues Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service