May 1, 2007

Keren Ann: I spent a night in Kiryat Shmona with an artillery unit… It was an emotional experience. It was then that I realized I wanted to live here.The fact Keren Ann sits in Ramat Yishai waiving to passers by as if she spent her childhood picking flowers here in the fields is a surprising twist brought about by the Lebanon War.

We sit at a coffee shop. Five minutes ago her boyfriend drove her here in his Renault Kango. In terms of the international rock and roll scene, this equals U2’s Bono driving a pickup to a Noa (Achinoam Nini) concert at the Krakow’s Jewish Community Center.

Yet, Keren Ann (33), is no ordinary star: born in Israel, she moved to Holland, lived in France, Iceland and New York. Now she lives in Hadera. She is very intelligent, reserved and speaks fluent Hebrew.

The reason Keren Ann left Paris where she is considered one of the most successful and appreciated singers and moved to Israel has to do with several events that occurred during the Second Lebanon War. At the time Keren Ann arrived in Israel to perform in the bomb shelters in the north.

She then realized two things: She was feeling bad about distancing herself from her Israeli roots, and the pilot in front of her in an IAF base is really cute. That was the beginning of a long-distance love story that eventually took her back to Israel where she now spends most of her time.

Her new CD Keren Ann debuted this week. Next week she goes on a world tour. Her last tour included no less than 200 shows including five unforgettable ones in Israel. This time she is scheduled to perform at the Frederic R. Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv on May 29th.

The new phenomenal album offers magical songs indicating her development as a producer. On iTunes, the web’s largest music store, the CD is at number 4, right after Gwen Stefani.

“In France young female singers are always compared to me even if their style is totally different than mine,” she says, “I paved the way for many girls that write and produce their own music. In the US it’s the norm but in France it is new. I feel for them.”

Unlike most stars, Keren Ann, isn’t proud about casting her shadow over other musicians and she tries to distance herself by switching from English to French on every CD.

As we leave the coffee shop, Keren Ann, looks at the fields comparing the view with the scenery in the French countryside. For a brief moment she sounds like someone you’d want to see at a tourism fair marketing Ashdod as the Israeli answer to Cancun.

Exactly when she uses the word “homeland,” her trainer stops by to ask her how she’s doing. She complains her back hurts after the 24 mile run the day before. Yes, a little less than a marathon, but enough to cause most of us a heart attack just thinking about it. It doesn’t not really fit with the fact she drinks scotch in amounts that could drown even Tom Waits.

What is the most annoying cultural cliché in France?

“That an artist must be starving and suffering, that you abuse others. I don’t buy that, I believe the greatest artists searched for stability. The music that gave me the tools for life is true music and I am only interested in living the truth. I find the Parisians’ intelligence complex annoying. It’s a cliché that is in discrepancy with reality. Authors no longer starve. I’m tired of the opium-smoking, bearded artists’ stereotype.

Was it difficult to deal with the criticism in France of the last war?

“They cannot understand what goes on here. A generation that didn’t go through a war can not talk about war. I hate the French government just like I hate the government in the US and the Israeli government, yet I still live in all of these places and love them.”

What was the most significant experience you had while performing in the shelters?

“I spent a night in Kiryat Shmona with an artillery unit. We sat there till 3 in the morning singing my entire repertoire and Leonard Cohen’s. It was an emotional experience. It was then that I realized I wanted to live here.”

If you could penetrate someone’s brain for 15 minutes, who would it be?

“I’d choose Abraham. I’d like to know what was going through his mind as he was preparing to sacrifice his son. Our entire history would have been different had he refused God.”

You might expect her to want to get into the mind of Billie Holiday to understand what exactly she does with her vocal cords or Lou Reed’s at the time of the Velvet Underground which influenced her tremendously. But she picked Abraham. Even her fantasies are original.

Yet her music is exactly the place where the past and future collide, the black love with the white hope, the Lebanon War with a 5 o’clock latte. Keren Ann can not be summed up in a sentence, she defies attempts to define her; not tormented enough though not exactly happy, independent yet needs a strong man at her side, cool but not trendy, owns apartments in Chelsea and Paris but lives in Hadera.

Keren Ann is something completely different.

(Reprinted with permission from YnetNews)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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