Israeli musician David Broza is one of the many Israeli entertainers who make the Makor Cafe their American home.Strolling along West 67th Street in New York’s Upper West Side, you might never notice it. Yet just a few doors down from the world-famous Café des Artistes, the unassuming Makor Café is quietly creating its own legend in the neighborhood.
While the Café des Artistes is perhaps best known for the colorful murals that cover its walls, art at the Makor Café takes the form of the music performed on its stage by an array of musicians, among them a large number of Israelis.
The fact that New York City has long been a popular stop for touring Israeli musicians is not surprising, considering the size of the Israeli Diaspora community here, which numbers over 20,000 permanent residents. Indeed, it would be difficult to name a popular live music venue from Williamsburg to Washington Heights that has not featured an occasional Israeli performer, or at least a band with some Israeli musicians.
The Makor Café however, stands out from the others as a top-shelf, respected venue that books Israeli acts on a regular basis as a matter of its creative outlook. At the same time, a growing number of well-known Israeli musicians are making Makor their first choice when selecting a space to hold a New York performance.
Aviv Gefen, Yonatan Gefen, David Broza, Ehud Banai, Yuval Banai and Shlomi Bracha are just some of the major Israeli talent that has played at the Makor Café since it opened its doors nearly five years ago. Last month, Meir Banai joined the list when he made his U.S. debut at Makor to a packed room.
“It’s a great place,” says Broza about the Makor Café. Makor’s ground-floor space, punctuated by low ceilings, dark alcoves and a long, L-shaped bar, is limited to a capacity of roughly 200 concertgoers. Broza can attract larger audiences, but he prefers the intimacy that a smaller venue offers.
Part of the warm relationship between Israeli artists and the Makor Café may be attributed to the fact that the Café is part of the Makor Jewish cultural center, an offshoot of the 92nd Street Y. In other parts of the building, lectures, classes, theatre performances, film screenings and art exhibitions are held, and a portion of the activities have a Jewish component. The same can be said for the music at the Makor Café.
Noel Grey, Director of Music Programming at the Makor Café, explains “Booking Jewish or Israeli artists is a big part of what we do, and we like to think of ourselves as a home for that type of music.”
It is no wonder then, that New York magazine, in its 2003 Best of New York issue, named the Makor Café as the location to find the finest klezmer music in the city.
However, Grey stresses that Jewish and Israeli music actually comprise a minority of the sounds heard on Makor’s stage. As Time Out magazine says in a review of the venue, “Makor is not your typical Jewish cultural center.”
“I’d like to think of [Makor] as an uptown Joe’s Pub, with a Jewish twist,” Grey says, citing the highly-regarded venue at the Public Theater in the East Village. Like Joe’s Pub, music at Makor is eclectic, ranging from classical chamber music to jazz and world music.
Folk legend Richie Havens has played Makor, while Norah Jones got her first break here long before she became a multi-platinum selling Grammy winner. Jazz great Chico Hamilton has performed here, as has Wynton Marsalis. Blues artist Otis Taylor has strummed his guitar in the Café and Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell was a big draw in 2001 as a DJ at a Makor Purim party.
“We’re kind of ‘anything goes’, and it just somehow makes sense,” Grey says, “The common thread is the high level of artistry. I want to create the Makor brand, where people can just think of Makor, and they don’t even have to be necessarily familiar with the particular artist that might be performing there that night. They just want to go to hear some good music,” Grey says, “and Israeli music will always be part of that.”
Broza, who has made a habit of performing at Makor several times a year, says it is this diversity in music and audiences which has endeared the Café to him.
“It has its target [Jewish] audience, and yet it attracts a lot of diverse audiences. And this is why I respect Makor, because it’s not about being Jewish, it’s about being just active socially and part of a culture in the great city of New York,” he says.
“And as to the fact that it is directed and marketed in some ways to a Jewishly oriented audience; it is a very open kind of programming, very free and inviting and makes you comfortable whether you’re ultra-orthodox or completely non-religious, whether you’re married interfaith, or whatever you are – It is very befitting New York.”
While Makor attracts Israeli headliners, it also opens its stage up for a large number of lesser-known Israeli musicians, many of them expatriates who have only recently embarked on their musical careers.
Mattan Klein is a Jerusalem-born flutist who plays monthly at Makor as part of the Shira Betzibur NYC ensemble that has brought to local audiences the folk and pop music sing-along format so popular in Israel.
In March, he played at Makor with his other band, Seeds of Sun, which was formed two years ago by a group of Israelis living in New York. It was the group’s second concert at Makor in the past year.
“New York can be a tough town,” Klein says, handing out cards advertising his upcoming show, “but we get a great vibe from the audience here.”
While Meir Banai’s recent concert was attended primarily by Israelis already familiar with his music from Israel, it is the acts comprised of expatriates or children of expatriates that have had the greatest success in bringing out more of a crossover crowd as the artists interact in the greater New York cultural scene.
It is this diverse audience which has been the key to Makor’s success in marketing Israeli acts and securing a permanent place for Israeli musicians and their music in New York’s cultural mosaic.