Netanel Leifer presents his own weekly music show, Hamevaker
As a music critic and music editor at the Kikar Hashabbat website, NETANEL LEIFER presents his own weekly music show, Hamevaker, in which he interviews Jewish music artists and keeps his finger on the pulse of the industry. He’s also a professional pianist — he’s released several piano music albums — as well as an academic. He even wrote his University of Haifa’s master’s thesis on Avraham Fried’s contribution to Jewish music culture.
THE SONG I’M TURNING TO RIGHT NOW
The heartrending “Yivoda Bagoyim,” composed by the Skulener Rebbe under Communist oppression in Romania, about how Hashem will avenge the spilled blood of His servants, and that the cry of the imprisoned will come before Him. We are in a dire situation that only Hashem can fix, and there is nothing more effective than prayer.
MUSIC THAT HELPS ME UNWIND
In order to unwind, I need a big mix, so that any type of song can come up next. The element of surprise provides the distraction I need.
MY FAVORITE ENGLISH SONG
MBD’s “No More Lonely People.” I love the message. And of course, there are all those great Journeys songs. Abie Rotenberg does something wonderful for Jewish music.in music.
A MUSIC STYLE I NEVER TIRE OF
I’m a huge fan of a cappella music — I’m one of those who listens to a cappella music all year round, not just during Sefirah. I think it’s because the human voice carries more emotion than any instrument. For me, the vocals feel like a musical hug.
THE ARTIST I CONNECT TO MOST
I grew up on Avraham Fried’s albums, and I think very highly of him. Besides being an incredible singer, he adapts to connect to diverse audiences in a very special way. I have a master’s degree from the University of Haifa in Studies on American Jewry, and I wrote my master’s thesis on Avraham Fried. I’m sure it was the first and only academic article ever written on Avremel, and I presented a leather-bound copy of it to him at a recent concert in Binyanei Haumah.
A SONG I NEVER FIND BORING
Avraham Fried’s “Don’t Hide from Me.” What a great song and message. Yossi Green did something creative there — the melody is in a major key, unlike a lot of older Jewish songs that are in a minor key. So although it is pain-filled, we hear hope, too — a powerful mix.
THE INSTRUMENT I ALWAYS WANTED
I started out playing electronic keyboard as a child, but I switched to piano as a teenager when I found that it touched me more. I bought my first piano around ten years ago, which was a dream come true. During the past few years, I taught myself to play the ukulele. I think that people underestimate the ukulele and don’t take it seriously because of its small size, but it’s not a toy — it actually makes real music. I take mine everywhere with me, because it’s so light and easy to transport. I’d recommend it as easier to learn than other instruments because it has only four strings and doesn’t require power like a guitar, or as much practice as the piano.
A SONG THAT GETS ME INTO THE SHABBOS MOOD
“Kah Echsof.” I love to sit down and play it on the piano.
HOW I CHOOSE GUESTS TO INTERVIEW ON THE SHOW
There are two main categories of artists I try to publicize: those from the past, who might be forgotten or who haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve — such as Avraham Rosenblum of Diaspora — and the new talents who need opportunities to get some public attention. In between, I try to speak to everyone else on the Jewish music scene.
ONE ALBUM I’D TAKE ON A LONG ROAD TRIP
Any of the Megama albums, by Moshe Yess a”h. He brought the Jewish music world something so unique from his background in country music.
WHO I PLAY FOR
I used to play weddings for a while, but it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t able to enjoy the music when I was under pressure to play it. Although I have released four albums of piano music, most of the music I play nowadays is for myself or my friends. You don’t have to be a professional to enjoy music — you can enjoy it on your own at home.
MY BEST BEHIND-THE-SCENES STORY
MBD came onto the show, and we did an hour’s interview, all about his career. We’d finished and wrapped it all up, when the engineer came over to me white-faced. Somehow, the sound had malfunctioned. Mordche was already at the door, but I ran after him, and, shaking with nervousness, I said, “I’m so sorry, we have nothing.” He smiled warmly, took off his hat, and came back inside to sit on the chair again. “Yallah,” he said. “Let’s go.” The second interview was just as fresh and energized as the first.
WHAT HAS CHANGED IN THE LAST DECADE?
Twenty years ago, almost all Jewish songs used words from pesukim. Now, the Hebrew-speaking world has developed a taste for original words. I believe this happened — partly, at least — because songs used to be written primarily for davening in shul, for weddings, and for Shabbos tables, whereas now that people listen to music constantly, they’re looking for songs that fit into every area of life, from just sitting at home, to driving, working, or exercising. This made space for new music genres, which exist alongside the davening and Yamim Noraim and wedding songs. It doesn’t mean that the old material wasn’t great too, but no one is singing “Od Yishama” at home.
WHY I LOVE WHAT I DO
I always wanted to have influence on the Jewish music scene and contribute to its growth. The last five years, during which I have met many artists on my show on the Kikar HaShabbat site, have been amazing. I met Ishay Ribo ten years ago, when he was little known, when he was just happy that someone was listening — really listening — to his music, and it’s been great to see him gain such recognition. During the second part of my show, I play my pick of the week’s new releases. Songs are being released constantly, and I can usually find something I think my audience will enjoy. One time, though, I had to skip that segment because there was just no appropriate material.
THE ONE I MISSED
Dedi a”h. Of course, I wanted him on the show, and we scheduled interviews on four separate occasions. I was ready to go to his house for the interview, but each time, unfortunately, Dedi had to cancel as he wasn’t well enough.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 983)
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