Israeli cover bands plan to rock with classic tunes

For Amit Ashman, music is more than entertainment — it’s a form of communication.

Israel native Ashman alternates playing drums and acoustic guitar in the Bay Area band the Peatot, along with fellow transplants from the Holy Land. The band covers popular Israeli music, rock and pop from the 1970s onward. But Ashman says it isn’t just about getting people dancing, it’s also about spreading the word of Israel.

“We see the Peatot as a way to create something new in the community and to promote Israeli music within the Israeli and Jewish community in the Bay Area,” Ashman explains. “We don’t just go onstage and play our instruments, we’re on a mission to deliver an experience of Israeli music — it’s about how we communicate with each other onstage and with our audience.”

Ashman and the rest of his six-piece act will put that mission to the test at the To Life! festival. The Peatot (which means “pitas” in Hebrew) will perform classic Israeli songs such as “Holech Batel” by Tamuz, “Ha’Perach Be’gani” by Zohar Argov and “Yo-Ya” by Kaveret.

They’ll perform at 2 p.m. on the Jessica Saal Memorial Main Stage.

As the Peatot is a relatively new act — it was formed in the beginning of 2008 — this will be the group’s first performance at the festival.

That’s not to say these aren’t seasoned musicians. Ashman has been playing music steadily since he was in elementary school, first tinkering with the keyboards before moving on to the accordion and eventually picking up guitar in high school. And though the band has been together officially for a relatively short time, Ashman has been playing music with other members of the Peatot, notably keyboardist Guy Livneh and bassist Shay Shmeltzer, for the past three years.

Ashman says the group — rounded out by leader guitarist and flutist Ofir Zwebner and vocalists Tal Goldstein and Yoram Zarfaty — all come from Israel, have day jobs with high-tech companies and live in the South Bay, mostly Palo Alto and Cupertino. He says they met through mutual friends and have wanted to form a group for quite some time.

Finally, the timing was right.

Since its recent conception, the band has already performed at a number of large events, including a spot before well-known Israeli musician Miki Gavrielov at a festival in Redwood City last spring, in celebration of Israel’s 60th birthday.

Though the Peatot currently plays all cover songs, the group is working on a new program of music that should be ready to debut in November, Ashman says. They’re trying to keep the details secret, but Ashman does say it will be completely original material drawing from classic Israeli music.

Like the Peatot, the Bay Area group Ya-Rock also performs classic Israeli music and will be on the main stage at 4:25 p.m.

Ya-Rock was formed in 2007 by Israeli immigrants Amir Tsuri and Alon Bender (who has since left the band). They called their new act Ya-Rock as a play on words — the word means “green” in Hebrew and also is meant to be a combination of the Hebrew words for “oh!” and “rock music. “

Ya-Rock’s lineup has changed over the past year, but has settled on drummer Tsuri, lead singers Elad Hemar and Sivan Shoval, lead guitarist Ofer Koren, bassist Eyal Hertzog and keyboardist Alon Amit. All of the musicians have played in previous bands, including some in Israel. Amit had his own home recording studio there, and participated in albums by musician Eitan Vardi.

While Ya-Rock covers Israeli music and does not currently write its own songs, Amit says there is still a lot of creativity that goes into the act.

“There is a creative process in selecting the songs and arranging them to create a performance that is precise, tight and in many ways, our own rendering of a known song,” he says. “We refine our performance of each song over the course of several weeks, up to two months in some cases, and there are lots of friendly arguments over artistic decisions.”

Though band members are not religious, Amit explains that Judaism has had an effect on their music, if only by way of geography.

“The Israeli experience and culture has the most prominent impact on our music,” he says. “Jewish elements are indirectly present via their influence on Israeli music and lyrics.”