Two musicians taking the music industry – and events everywhere – by storm
By Chandrea Serebro
Reuven Garber’s Holy Music
Reuven Garber always enjoyed singing when he was young. As a teenager, he felt the first stir of real inspiration when his sister got engaged and friends and family gathered together. Out came a guitar, the strumming started, and everyone was singing in a circle, the proverbial fire roaring in the middle. “For me, it was out of this world. I really felt the music and its power right through me, and into me. The next day, I borrowed a guitar from someone and starting strumming, and so began my music journey.” The rest, as they say, is history, with Reuven finding his musical feet which lead him today to be a fully-fledged band musician and solo-artist.
“I became close to my wife’s sister’s husband, Jared Lazarus, when they married. We connected on many levels, but one of the things that we did best together was music.” This kindred collaboration eventually lead them to form Derech Achim, a duo which aims first to ignite the soul, much in the same way that Reuven felt that very first night his sister got engaged, and then to move the body, through their unique sounds which blend the mainstay of Jewish music with a mix of other influences. And when he performs at chupahs, these sounds have a natural way of moving people – at the chupah, the sentiment is there, and on the dance floor, the groove builds and it is a lot of fun. “I do chupahs, weddings, and other simchas nationally and internationally. Music is my passion, and that is why I do it. More than that, however, the holiness of music is so powerful, and when it’s used to bring happiness to a bride and groom, the holiness is out of this world.”
Reuven does all types of music. “The main thing is not the music. It’s where the music takes you. The paramount thing is the neshama (soul). My goal is to uplift the neshama and connect to Hashem through the power of music, to bring tremendous joy to the world through holy music, to bring the tremendous power of faith and prayer to the world through holy music, and to inspire each one of us to serve Hashem to our highest abilities.”
Jared composes and produces the music, and Reuven lets the music take him – and the most recent destination to which it has brought him is the release of his two latest singles as a solo artist. The success is sweet, but the single motivating factor is Reuven’s dedication to Hashem and his belief in the power of music to facilitate that, not only for him, but for his listeners as well. “I believe that it is one of the most potent forms of service to Hashem. This is what the angels busy themselves with all day long.” And that is how it makes him feel: angelic. “Inspired, close to Hashem, hopeful, happy, and joyful.” But, he says, each person experiences different things, different emotions and inspiration. The common denominator, however, is the feeling of being inspired, instilled with hope, faith, happiness, and joy, and a need to go further in prayer and closeness to Hashem. “Music is so vast. With so many different styles and genres, yet there is always something more and different to be explored. Something more to get out of it, something unique. A new way to connect. A new chance to experience something meaningful.”
When Reuven and Jared launched their first collaborative album, as Derech Achim, Reuven felt that it was an enormous turning point in both his own career and also for their band, with Derech Achim now placed firmly on the lively and growing international scene of Jewish music. Their music incorporates Jewish themes and traditional Jewish melodies and frames it in a contemporary, likeable sound that is melodic and, yet, at the same time, edgy; the inspiration for which comes, Reuven sincerely believes, with “siyata dishmaya – heavenly help – sometimes after saying some psalms or a prayer or two”.
Everyone has been gifted with different things, says Reuven. “Hashem has gifted me with the gift of music and singing, as well as the gift of faith, prayer, happiness, and sincerity. My goal is to make beautiful music, as well as perform at concerts globally, for the sake of kavod shamayim (the honour of heaven).” It is sometimes difficult to persevere with one’s vision, says Reuven, especially with the ideas he is currently working on: “a giant project and vision I have in mind, which entails a lot of energy, money, and effort on all parts.” “It gets hard at times, but we keep going because it is all for Hashem, and that is what keeps us motivated.”
And, together, Reuven and Jared are going to be exploring some additional styles and energies in addition to what they have done thus far with Derech Achim. Reuven’s first two singles were released to positive review:
Maoz Tzur: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=W1WVDByE2uc
And the magic that is Derech Achim is still going strong :
Im Eshkachech: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wGCpvTEkJfU
Lecha Dodi: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pmknjtO_XJU
Mayim Rabim: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=M8mo0xHK81Y
Piaseczna Niggun: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yW1yg5MNAeM&t=7s
Od Yishama: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=u8m07z0jkHM
Find the full album on Spotify and Apple music.
Choni G’s Free Spirit
Even though Choni G’s “free spirit” didn’t allow him to take bookings to perform at events because it meant that he would be booked out in advance, which would stifle his spontaneity, word of mouth has done the job for him since he started performing at events in 2009.
Since winning the Jewish Star Singing competition in New York in 2012, Choni G has played with the diverse styles that he leaned towards, putting out a few singles and touring with Matisyahu in 2007, singing backup vocals to mainly non-Jewish audiences. He has just completed his debut album – 5780. Different genres weave through it – from dance to more ambient Café Del Mar-style sounds, with five of his own original songs and a collection of synagogue and traditional songs remixed, and it also features his collaboration with the Khayelitsha United Mambazo Choir singing in both Hebrew and Zulu – a foot-tapping, unique, and distinctive African influence throughout.
The last few years, Choni has been busy performing at private events all over South Africa, and was fortunate enough to be flown to some beautiful spots around the world. “Weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs have taken me to Thailand, Venice, San Diego, New York, London, Israel, Mauritius, and even Masai Mara in Kenya. I perform either with just a guitarist or up to a 12 piece orchestra. It is powerful. Lots of women (and secretly, the men) ‘complain’ to me that the music made them cry during the chupah.” It’s the perfect match. The scene is set, Choni as the background track, and such a focus on love. It is easy to see why so many get emotional. “You just need to create a beautiful soundtrack to the scene, and the soul soars.”
A lot of the groundwork to Choni’s talent was laid as a child, hearing the sounds at Sydenham Shul – “I loved the four-part harmonies” – and, later, as a choirmaster at Pretoria Shul which honed his ear for harmonies and arrangements. Choni has functioned as Chazan in quite a few positions, most recently at Gardens Shul, Cape Town since 2014, and has taught those under him throughout his career these “African arrangements” – “as much as you can get old Jewish men to sync with the rhythm.” “So, in a sense, I’ve remixed some of my childhood memories on this album.”
The middle child of 11, Choni strives to “create fusion” – bringing Judaic-African influence together. “I’ve always felt more comfortable performing to a mixed audience than just a religious or Jewish one. I feel there’s a thread there to create oneness in humanity, in the music and through the music.” Shows, he says, are “thrilling”, and there have been some “magnificent weddings”, from the intimate to grand-scale events. At the chupah, Choni delivers a “fresh modern and soulful sound” which he describes as “pop chazanus”.
“What has been successful for me is taking pop, or current songs, and mashing it with the traditional or new Jewish tunes for horahs, so I’ve produced a DJ track over which I sing live, or I have a live band performing it at the event.” Choni is proud of his move to #BringingBenchingBack – “something which used to be a wedding planner’s bane of the evening”. The chupah and onwards would build in energy and then “a big dip happens at benching time”. “A few years ago we made cool tracks (mashups of pop tunes with the melody of benching that most kids know from Jewish day school) and we get everyone on the dance floor. Now they are rocking to it. It is a big hit. It is like their bad memories of being forced to sing benching in school remixed for the good. It is great therapy!
Choni self-produced his new album, with input from musicians, friends, and studio hands, “but every decision at the end of the day lies with me, so that took considerable effort and constant concentration”. The reward, he says, is worth it. “I just love that after months of hard work, people can finally hear it. They can play it while driving.” He recently had his Cape Town Album launch concert on the third night of Chanukah, which was sold out, “a smashing evening”, and a Joburg concert is in the works. “My dream is to bring my band and the African choir overseas. It would require lots of logistics and sponsorship, but I believe it would go down so well overseas. Whenever I sing with the choir, most recently at a wedding, people dance and feel the emotions of it at the same time, there is an electric energy”
For now, the album is out in selected stores in South Africa, available in USB and CD format, with a well-designed digipack. Soon it will be online on all digital platforms. To listen to Choni G, visit: www.chonigmusic.com or visit his social media channels.
Current stockists of the printed album in JHB are Moishes, KosherWorld, and Shoshanas Bakery, and in Cape Town: South African Jewish Museum gift shop and Gardens Shul Office.
Social Media Links
Some Youtube links
L’dor Vador: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BK2cSpnc7KA
Horah’s – Rabi Nachman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-hu8aat-wU