“A little crazy, but great musicians,” Israeli band, Coolooloosh.Joel “Rebel Son” Covington, lead singer of the hot Jerusalem band Coolooloosh, goes to bed from practice sessions at 4am and wakes early for work the next morning, all to put a bit of food on the table and make music, he says.
“We’re mercenaries doing what we can to keep with the music,” says Covington of the eclectic six-member musical group, all of whom work day jobs to maintain the band.
Covington, a Baltimore native and father of two, came to Israel almost a decade ago in what turned out to be a life-altering trip. The African-American musician was raised Jewish. He arrived in Israel a tourist, but quickly came to call it home.
“Life here makes you look at the world in a different perspective. So much of what happens here affects the whole world. It was a spring of inspiration that led me to stay,” Covington tells ISRAEL21c. The decision to stay led him to Coolooloosh four years later.
Now, fresh off its first year of touring internationally and recording an album in the United States, the band is a rising star in a sea of tough competitors. With its hopping tunes that mix everything from Middle Eastern beats to Hasidic-like jigs to familiar hip-hop rhythms, the band is convinced it is “a dynamic force” ready to take on the world.
Currently, it rocks the nights away in Israeli concert venues with a six-piece band and Covington dishing out lyrics in English. Only recently did it begin to catch international attention.
“I can see they’re a little crazy and great musicians,” says Coolooloosh’s US producer David Ivory in a home video made by the band, “…but in this business there are a lot of people making music, and these guys are serious.”
Ivory, a Grammy-nominated producer known for his work with Erykah Badu and The Roots, invited Coolooloosh to Philadelphia in early 2008 to record its second album, Elements of Sound – a collection of songs that leap ahead of the group’s first record, Coolooloosh.
“Everything is different [in the second album], but yet we are the same. Over the year’s we’ve matured,” explains Covington.
The group got together six years ago from some “very spontaneous jam sessions,” says the band’s bass guitarist, Ori Winokur. “Magic was in the air and we kept meeting to play totally improvised long jam sessions for over a year. We recorded them and started to craft tunes that came out of our sessions.”
In these initial sessions Winokur was joined by Yogev Shitrit on drums, Sefi Zisling on trumpet, Arik Levy on saxophone and Yuval Gerstein on guitar.
That was 2003, before Winokur discovered Covington rapping at an open mic night in Jerusalem. Winokur was enthralled by Covington’s lyrics and style, and surprised to find out he wasn’t just a tourist passing through the city, but a Jerusalem resident.
Covington was invited to a jam session, “and again, magic was in the air,” Winokur says. The group has been together ever since, recording its first album in a Jerusalem basement three stories below ground.
Global Rhythmmagazine calls Coolooloosh music a “melting pot of sound,” which should come as no surprise given that the musical backgrounds of these diverse 20 and 30 year-olds covers everything from the classics, to jazz, rock, Middle Eastern, and hip-hop.
So far, the band’s promise has carried it through Europe this past summer putting on shows from Bulgaria to the UK, and then through the United States for a brief tour.
The group believes its success so far has come from a self-described distinctiveness and “the ability to actually pull it off,” the band writes on its MySpace page.
“I think that Coolooloosh has something fresh and new to offer the music world and that with a very strong live show it has enabled us to progress and tour worldwide, and always receive a very warm welcome. Our music appeals to people of many ages and origins,” Winokur tells ISRAEL21c.
A theme the band takes to heart, is its view of itself as a bridge between cultures and as representatives of Israel abroad. Although the lyrics are in English, which strengthens the band’s international appeal, Winokur says they are still inspired by life in Israel and deal with issues that are widespread throughout the world.
“We present ourselves as Israelis and as a band from Jerusalem everywhere we go and see it as our goal to show an international side of Israel, one that people around the globe can relate to – we are soldiers of music,” he says.