Israeli Yamit Hagar of Nobody’s Fault Productions talks about the local Blues scene and her mission

The blues makes me feel that as long as we can enjoy it right now, and dance to it, it’s not that bad that we are all “gonna take sick and die one of these days”

Yamit Hagar: Zion Bluesland

Nobody’s Fault Productions is an Israeli production company, dedicated to bring the real blues to Israeli listeners. Established by Yamit Hagar, who’s thirst for old time, acoustic Mississippi blues knows no limit, and by her business partner Oren Gampel, who had no prior experience in the music industry, but believed Yamit when she told him that there are billions to be made, especially in Blues!

NFP already brought the veteran bluesman Robert Belfour to a triumphant show in Tel Aviv, where a thousand ecstatic Israeli blues fans gave him one standing ovation after another, and the reverend KM Williams was shared his church-tinged blues with enthusiastic Israeli fans. And is now bringing LC Ulmer to Israel this summer! In a very short time Nobody’s Fault Productions had already become a major player in Israel’s thriving blues scene, and is at the vanguard of Israel’s new thirst for the real down home blues. Nobody’s Fault Productions’ goal is to bring great blues to Israel and support local blues scene. Also NFP produced: screenings of blues movies, gigs of local blues musicians, blues master classes, making every effort to bring blues music to all parts of Israel and a special project with live blues show combined with lectures in two separate Israeli prisons that will tell the inmates the glorious history of US prisoner’s blues songs and stories.

Since blues is Yamit’s passion, she always looks for ways to bring this music to as many people as possible. She has found that even with limited resources we can have a huge impact and people want more of it.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How did the thought of Nobody’s Fault Productions came about? And what characterize Nobody’s Fault Productions philosophy?

NFP started in 2012 when I decided to bring bluesman Robert Belfour for the first time to Israel. I had no experience doing anything like that before, but together with my partner we decided to do it anyway. Once we saw how successful it was and how many people are eager for this kind of shows, we decided to keep on doing it as long as we can, and we formed the production company.

Our philosophy is simple – bring high quality blues to the people in reasonable prices. The old real deal blues is still alive and those musicians we love so much still tour, regardless their age, and we have to quickly bring all of them here before it’s too late. We lost T-Model Ford this year and Precious Bryant, Robert Cage last year and many more, and now it’s the time to make it happen. We would like these musicians to see and feel the love and appreciation we have for their music and life work and the only way to do that would be bringing them over and show them all their fans. We believe everyone should have access to come to these shows so we keep our prices about half of the price of similar show. It's a financial risk we are taking, believing that when we lower the price – the venues get full and we make more people happy.

Yamit with Richard Johnston  admiring local blues in Memphis, Tennessee

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

The way I see the world is that we live only today. Today is somewhat sure, if we are lucky. But tomorrow is a complete unknown. We are all born without choice and we are all going to the same place once it’s done. In the meantime we feel good, we feel bad but we can feel the bad together with the good, which makes it slightly easier. The blues makes me feel that as long as we can enjoy it right now, and dance to it, it’s not that bad that we are all “gonna take sick and die one of these days”.

I've learnt about myself that we are all in this together, and if we can just realize it every day – we can feel better for a few minutes and that’s an amazing thing. I also know now that as long we got the blues in our ears, everything is gonna be alright. Blues has the power to always comfort us, no matter how bad things get.

The blues means everything because it’s with you all the time, in the morning when you face another day, during the day with your big boss man, in the afternoon when you go back to your woman, that is if she is still there, in the evening when you wonder if you gonna make it the next day, and at night when you drink and wonder about it all. But also when you feel a bit tired, you think of Hound Dog Taylor, look for his record, you open a beer and your day is getting better.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in Israel?

It seems like the blues is everywhere, each country has its own scene, and we have it just the same. KM Williams told us when he was in here, that our people and the Afro American people experience some similar histories, similar slavery time, for example, and this is why we can feel it so strongly. I liked his answer but I think the blues continues to happen here because of all the people who do the work like musicians, radio people, bloggers, producers, and blues societies – as long as people keep on preaching it and playing it and as long people are seeking it – the blues would be here to stay.

As for my own personal devotion – I feel it like a spell. One moment it just begun and it literally changed my whole life. If I could, I would leave my day job and focus only on my blues job. I hardly listen to any other music anymore anyways. But why it really happened?  I have no idea.

Calvin Jackson, Yamit and Joe Ayres in Clarksdale MS during JJF 2013

Do you remember anything funny from your trip in USA? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

I only visited Mississippi during my last trip to the US; I spent all my 8 days’ vacation in Clarksdale. Meeting Pat Thomas was the funnies experience for sure. He was the sweetest, most kind, funniest person I’ve met there. I gave him some clay as a present, and in 10 minutes he made me a snake, a little bird, an Egyptian head, moon face and other figurines so I can take home with me. I gave him a picture of the globe and he said: “look at that! She gave me the whole world!” and you should have seen the look of his face when he tasted the sparkling candies I gave him. He is very hyperactive and happy and it's so contagious! You feel much more alive after meeting this guy.

The strongest memory from Mississippi is the main feeling I was feeling the days I was there. It comes down to one word which is WOW! I saw all the blues musicians I was dreaming to see – I met T-Model ford at his home, saw Jimmy Duck Holmes in his juke joint, and Pat at Lealand. At the festival I had the chance to hear all my favorite musicians, I saw KM and Belfour again (after their gigs in Israel), I was amazed by Elmo Williams and Hezikia Early show and I’ve met wonderful people after being facebook friends for years! I felt like a junkie, trying to consume as much blues as I can before fest will be all over. So much excitement, so much beautiful music, so much energy. It's like when Lightning Malcolm making people dance ALL night long. It was just being the happiest you can for all the hours of all of the days (and no, it has nothing to do with moonshine drinking!) I want to share with you the feeling of certainty that it’s a once in a lifetime experience and in 10 years it’s going to be different so you better go this coming April and come to say hi when you are there so we can have a beer together.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jam you've saw?

Robert Belfour in front of one thousand people in Tel Aviv is one of the most amazing gigs I’ve ever saw. I worked so hard for so long to make it happen and it was the perfect dream coming true in the most emotional outstanding way.

I was amazed by so many gigs in the Juke Joint Festival Juke Joint Festival – Elmo and Hezikiya were my biggest surprise, Trainwreck at Hopson`s were making EVERYBODY dance – I’ve never seen anything like that, LC Ulmer was so amazingly good! Eddie Cusic singing “Cut you lose” was another highlight, seeing how much Pat enjoys to perform was better than I imagined and seeing Belfour at Red`s was another dream come true. KM Williams 3 shows in Israel were also one of the happiest experiences for me. The people loved him so much. When we had Belfour and KM over, we did house parties and we invited all their greatest fans and blues musicians to play with them, and these were too, the most unforgettable jams I’ve been too. Last year I also had a chance to hear Jeron Blind Boy Paxton for a very short blues gig and he was unreal. Terry Bean was awesome, Bill Abel was amazing, RL Boyce was something else. Damn I had so much fun in Clarksdale... 

Robert Belfour in Israel, photo by Yamit Hagar

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

When my ears heard Eran Sebbag on the radio is the most important experience for me because this is where it all began for me.

Meeting Jeff Konkel, president of Broke and Hungry Records and Roger Stolle, owner of Cathead, after all the correspondents and all their continued help and support over the last years was another important moment for me. It’s not what they say, but what they do which is so amazing and encouraging! They are living my dreams and they make it seem so easy even if I know that its endless hours to make every little thing happen! Being at the 10th Juke Joint Festival made me realize that to do what you desire is possible – you only need (endless) time and patience, lots of help from friends, some money you're willing to risk, and a lot of energy and not giving up before you accomplish your thing is all.

Best advice? Well that’s easy. My dad tells me that I can do everything I want and my Nobody’s Fault Productions partner tells me that I should.

Would you tell a little bit about the 'Jailhouse Blues in Israel' project? What was the relation between music and activism?

The main goal of NFP is bring blues to whoever is willing to hear – it’s not only the music itself, but also the comfort it brings. We are lucky to know two wonderful people, Yaron Ben Ami and Noam Dayan, which are both blues musicians and lecturers, and the idea is to combine between the blues traditions and history and between people who could get curious about them. So the history of the blues in jails in the US and the outcome of the marvelous music that came out of them are the thing that stands in the middle of the idea to bring the blues to the jailhouse. In those lectures the inmates can listen to the history of it all, see videos from that time and listen to our musicians play.

Yamit Hagar, her business partner Oren Gampel and Jorma Kaukonen

Which memory from Jorma Kaukonen, KM Williams, Washboard Jackson and Robert Belfour makes you smile?

When Jorma was here (invited by another company) we had a house party at the house. Jorma was having beers with us, we spoke and they all played music in my living room. The happiest moment was when Jorma said that he loves this party cause it’s just like the parties they used to have in the old times.

When KM was here we were driving to the Sea of Galilee. It was a stormy day, rain didn’t stop and it was quite depressing because this way we wouldn’t be able to travel around on the first time ever KM is traveling the holy land. I told KM I'm sorry for the weather so much, and he said – don’t worry baby, you have a reverend by your side, and the sun will come out in no time. When we arrived to the north of Israel – the rain stopped, the clouds cleared out and the sun came out!

Another funny moment was when we drove to the venue in Jerusalem and on the way KM saw a large poster of his show on the a bulletin board – he wanted us to stop the car so we can photograph him next to the poster, cause he said no one at home would ever gonna believe that if he told them.

I met Washboard Jackson in Clarksdale. He is crazy the funniest moment was when he and KM visited the shack I stayed in at the Shack Up Inn. The ceiling of the shack is made of corrugated metal (just like a big washboard). When Washboard saw it he started 'washboarding' on it with his hands. One night we had some beers together, and the discovery of his ability to make a 12 packs disappear at the same time I drunk 3 beers was also very funny.

One day Robert Belfour and I had breakfast and I had my laptop with me. I spoke to him about one photo of his that I like and he said he never saw it, I opened my laptop and googled him so I can show him the photo, and suddenly he said: “What?? What are all these photos?” there were few hundreds of photos of him if you search google images and he said he had NO idea and he kept on laughing SO surprised.

Yamit and KM Williams in Israel

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you in USA and local Israeli scene?

I heard last week on the radio Yaron telling Eran how T-Model got his first guitar from his 5th wife. T-Model told her: but wouldn’t you leave me if I sit and play all day long? She said no, but the next week she left him. It’s a half sad story but it made me laugh a great deal.

In April I went with Jeff Konkel to visit T-Model in his own house in Greenville Mississippi. He was not doing so well, and when we visit he was already in bed. Only when I saw him with my own eyes I realized that I will never see him play music. He is right here in front of my eyes and I’m there but I I’ll never see him ever again and I will never see him perform and I will never be able to bring him to Israel for my friends to hear him play.

Another thing that touched my heart was hearing the fife and drum Sharde Thomas was doing at the festival. If you close your eyes, you can think its Otha Turner is right here and it made me burst in tears against my will.

Seeing Duwayne Burnside was also very amazing – he looks so much like his father, that most days is dead but that day he was a bit alive in Duwayne.

One last thing was seeing how people are taking care of each other in Mississippi. One blues man I know now is sick and dying, and another one (that I love dearly!) is taking care of him and there are plenty of stories like that I saw.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of Blues in Israel?

My hope, dream and biggest desire are having a recurring blues festival in Israel. My fear is that the bluesmen are going to leave us before we are we'll be able to accomplish this mission.

Yamit saying goodbye to Robert Belfour after visiting him in Memphis, TN

What's been your experience from the “studies”  of documentary "M for Mississippi"?

What I love about this movie is the clear understanding of the creators of these movies that now is the time to act, now is the time to record and document the music and lives of these people that still belong to the old generation of blues musicians, but also the new generation. It’s a time of change, this period, and what’s not recorded is gone for good. Just like Alan Lomax and George Mitchell understood these things back in the sixties, these people understand just the same and act on it and I think it’s exactly what needs to be done. It also makes me feel that I wish I could be a part of it. I loved that movie! This is where I first saw Pat and LC. T-Model is there being real funny and RL Boyce too! If you would see LC playing Rosa Lee at the end of this movie, you would also do anything to bring him over to your town!

When we talk about Blues usually refer moments of the past. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

It’s not a matter of belief; it’s a matter of fact. I listen to blues that is done nowadays, blues done in the Mississippi and blues coming from here, in all kinds of styles. When you listen to Belfour you can hear the music of the past, when you listen to KM you can hear Blind Willie Johnson. I gave a friend of mine a tape with Jimmy Duck Holmes on it and he told me: who is that? Skip James?

People like Kenny Brown and Lightnin Malcolm that grew literally on the laps of the great bluesman like RL Burnside and T model Ford produce great blues as anyone. The great blues, in my opinion, is an original one on one hand, and one you can hear the past in it on the other. Not the sound but the soul of the past blues.

As for Israeli blues – I feel just the same. When you listen to Noam Dayan – you know you are listening to the blues because you feel the same as you feel when you listen to Gabe Carter and when you listen to Yaron Ben Ami, you feel the same as you feel when you listen to Bill Abel and so on.

When it all began for the blues in Israel? What are the American artists who have a special relationship with the local scene? 

It began long time ago before I was even born. People took care of keeping the blues alive here apparently always, otherwise there was no one to be found in Israel doing the blues – and there are! There are many blues musicians, several radio shows and many blues fans – and it’s an orchestra of them all, year after year, keeping the blues alive.

James Cotton was here, Buddy Guy was here, Koko Taylor, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon was here and many others. This year alone Johnny Winter, Lucky Peterson, Joe Lewis Walker were here.  Feels like the blues was always here..

Poster from LC Ulmer shows in Israel by Nobody’s Fault Productions

What are the most popular blues bands and bars & clubs that host blues events? What are the main blues festivals?

My favorite venue in Tel Aviv for blues shows is the Barbi club, both Belfour and KM perform there but other venues you can find blues in are Reading 3, Zappa, Levontin 7 and Shablul in Tel Aviv and the Yellow Submarine and Zappa in Jerusalem.

We currently don’t have a blues festival, but I sure am planning on having one, hopefully as soon as next summer. At the end of August LC Ulmer is going to be the main event and to perform in Intimidbar festival in the south of Israel. Several other The fesival will feature several blues shows, “We juke up in here” is having its premier screening and we are going to have blues photo exhibition including many photos of George Mitchell, Lou Bopp and other younger photographers. So this festival is not all blues, but it sure puts the blues in the center of it and that’s great!

In the last two years there was a small local blues festival in Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv and many years ago there was one blues festival in Haifa (north of Israel) in which Cotton, Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor performed.

What are the most popular local bands of blues, do the media help the blues?

Dov Hammer band is very popular. They played together with Lucky Peterson when he was here and they were the warm up act for Johnny Winter as well. The Heeby Gee Bees  (Guy Dagan and Assaf Barak) are very popular too. They perform all the time and everywhere, they also were the warm up act for John Lee Hooker jr. when he was here not so long ago. Uzi Ramirez (with has two bands) is highly popular. He makes very special music and his solo album is a gem! Itay Pearl is very popular as well (and his Hebrew blues album is great) Ori Naftaly band are popular here too. In the last year they tour mainly in the US and Holland after winning the IBS and going to the competition in Memphis. Lazer Loyd is another popular show and everybody knows Avner Shtrauss, which is one of the first people in the scene. In the last year my favorite blues musicians are Yaron Ben-Ami, which was doing the washboard for KM in his Tel Aviv show. He is about to release his first blues album in Hebrew. Noam Dayan that has an astonishing album (also warmed up KM and John Lee Hooker Jr.) and Dani Dorchin, which is going to warm up LC Ulmer in all three shows, with his one man band show.

The media helps as long as the promoters work hard. When Robert Belfour was here, almost every newspaper in Israel wrote about it, which helped a lot and we sold out one week before the show. Other shows get promoted depending on the production company and the PR Company that works for them. Some papers told me they are not even willing giving away free tickets because blues music is not that popular, but we are working hard to make sure the shows gets attention by giving away brochures in clubs, in CD shops etc and by spreading the word on social medias, music blogs and forums. Now LC Ulmer’s shows are being promoted beautifully by the media as a part of the festival down south.  

Yaron Ben Ami and KM Williams jammin in Israel, photo by Niri Gattmon

Which is the most interesting period in Israeli blues scene? What mistake of local blues scene you want to correct?

Since I'm a part of the scene for a very short few years, for me the most interesting period is right now. Real delta blues from the Mississippi is coming to Israel and people go out and asking for more. At the same time other promoters keeps on bringing other blues. Another promoter friend of mine gave us the North Mississippi All-stars show together with Alvin Youngblood Hart. Were going down south and taking LC Ulmer with us as a main event – this is real exciting! We will keep on having the tradition of house parties, making the musicians that we are so lucky to have here real happy too. This year we also had a master classes, we had blues movies in cinemas around the country, and we had special evenings of local blues combining blues musicians that normally don’t play together. We work on several other projects and if all of them are going to happen we are going to have another very exciting year, just like the one we just had.

There are no mistakes, only things that haven’t been done yet and this is our goal – to create an annually blues festival that will happen year after year and will grow, together with the blues audience in Israel all the time, including the local blues scene. I would also love to see more local blues musicians in blues festivals abroad and I would love Israel to have one little juke joint of its own.

Do you believes it has the possibility of someone musician to live only with the blues in your country?

If I would have to listen only to local blues from now on, I would be sad for missing out all the amazing blues that exist and existed out of my country, but if this is all I would have – it would still make me much happier then listening to all the music of the whole world which isn’t the blues. Blues is an inner state and feeling and I already got all what RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough and Jessie Mae and so on – tattooed in my brain for good so If we would have only local, it would just give us another reason why to have and play the blues...

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Yamiti with Washboard Jackson, Jeff Stone and KM at the Ground Zero Clarksdale, MS

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