Erez Safar is busy these days. Known also by his stage name, Diwon, Safar, along with being a DJ and producing his own music, is the founder and director of Shemspeed (largest, most diverse Jewish music site), Modular Mood Records (an independent record label), Hip Hop Sulha, and The Sephardic Music Festival.
His album “Shir HaShirim,” with Benyamin Brody and Dugans, is coming out later this month. In it, Brody sings the entire Song of Songs with Diwon providing the beats.
Currently on the South by Southwest Tour in Texas, Safar gladly sat down to answer a couple of questions for us.
Jeremy Moses: Producing an album of a book from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) is a novel idea. How did the idea come about? Did you approach Brody? Or was it the other way around?
Erez Safar: I heard Benyamin singing Lecha Dodi to this Akon song and was blown, so I remixed it and put it out there (song is featured below). I then invited him to my studio to listen to some of my music and there was this one beat that I played him that was very meditative, a sort of beat that one could listen to on repeat throughout a night. He looked over and said, “I could sing Shir HaShirim to this!”. I was thinking this is perfect because I had always wanted to do a beat driven, meditative Moroccan album and so we hit the studio a few days later.
JM: When I was a little kid, my friends and I would sit in the back of synagogue and read Shir HaShirim, thinking we were huge rebels. When listening to the tracks, I couldn’t help but feel that same sexuality in your music. Did you and Brody purposely make the music sound sexual or is it just me?
ES: The music is definitely sensual. I wouldn’t say sexual. It’s more meditative. The idea was to make an album you could listen to and be put into a trance throughout. The singing has a sensualness to it, with that style of crying out and the music is a bit seductive. But more in line with the interpretation of Shir being a love song to God. This album is definitely a project driven by our love for God and our desire to awaken souls to the oneness of it all and God consciousness.
JM: The whole album is done in one recording, with the tracks being broken up after. What was your rationale?
ES: Well we wanted the singing to feel like it was all ONE. The best way to do that was to do it all in one take. So it feels natural and real. We looped the progression over for an hour so that Benyamin could sing the entire Shir HaShirim in one take. After that Dugans and I spent 2-3 weeks on the music.
JM: When I listen to this album, I can’t help but be reminded of old cantorial albums that my dad owns. While I haven’t done the research for this, I’m assuming that cantorial music is on the decline, especially in album sales. What influence do you get from cantorial music (if any) and do you think cool/hip Jewish music is filling a void that’s been missing in the Jewish world since our/my parents’ generation?
ES: It is on the decline outside of the frum world and the idea of this record and artists like Jeremiah Lockwood is to bring it back and present it in a fresh way. I used to and sometimes still drop Cantorial records as samples into my mixes while I was still DJing. I grew up passionate about going to Yemenite synagogue because it was so hypnotic and I loved their voices. This record is sort of an offering a way for other people to connect to that beauty and tradition. People that would never listen to the same style of Chazanut that didn’t have the back drop of a hip hop beat and layers of guitar.
JM: On to the future, based off of what I consider to be a successful concept, do you plan on recording any other books of the Tanakh? Or do you think it only works well because of what Shir Hashirim is?
ES: Dugans and I definitely do. I want to record the next one with Yitzchak Bitton. He is an amazing musician and Chazzan of a little Moroccan synogogue in Crown Heights. He mixes deep southern blues with Moroccan chazzanut and it MUST be documented. The music that Benyamin and I will continue to make will mix in a bit of this style with singing in English and Hebrew over Middle Eastern hip-hop music.
“Shir Hashirim” will be available on this upcoming Tuesday, March 24th. You can pick up your record at Shemspeed.com. Here is a free download of their first single off the album, “Yehi Ratzon (Final Prayer).” You can also check it out on the Shir HaShirim MySpace page here.
If you are in the NY area on Monday, March 23rd, Diwon, Brody and Dugans will be holding an album release party, along with a live performance of Shir HaShirim at Joe’s Pub. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.