Best of the Noughties, part #1: Asaf Avidan and the Mojos

Alright, I didn’t write for a while, I know that. But the hell with it. As from today, I’m starting a new section in this blog. I’ll call it “Best of the Noughties”. Basically, it’s gonna be dedicated to the bands I admire, or admired, in the previous decade. It’s gonna be nostalgic, it’s gonna be cool.
It’s hard not to envy of those old people, who were living in the time of artists like Jimi Hendrix, Janis JoplinLed Zeppelin were just making their breakthrough. One of my teachers in high-school, an aging hippy, used to say that listening to each of them on the radio for the first time, was like being a witness to a turn-point in music history.
I know I’ll probably never experience a feeling exactly like that… But back then, circa 2007, at the legendary City Hall club, when I found myself for the first time at Asaf Avidan and the Mojos’ concert, it was without doubt the closest thing to that feeling that I ever felt in my life.
He came on stage, at first only with an acoustic guitar. Basically, a regular looking guy. Maybe a little bit too skinny. Then I’ve seen him open his mouth, and it felt like the world just blew-up. The voice that came out just didn’t make any sense – it was almost impossible to believe it belonged to the guy on stage. At that very moment, I knew at that he’s gonna be big. Just listen, and you’ll understand:

At their first show, I came up late, without ordering tickets upfront, payed something like 40 ILS at the entrance, and came in with no problem.

On their next concert in Haifa, however – only a few months later, I did the same – but came to find a HUGE queue that lasted from the cashiers to the end of the sidewalk outside of the club. But it was too late, all the tickets were SOLD OUT.

Here’s a marvelous take of his show at the Haldern Pop Festival:

Except for his extraordinary voice, Asaf’s life are quite extraordinary as well:

He was born in Jerusalem. His parents were diplomats, which made him spend four years of his childhood in Jamaica. He served in the Israeli army, but was released after 10 months of service because of mental issues.

During his early twenties he was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer, from which he eventually recovered. For a time he lived in Tel-Aviv, working as an animator, until a hard break-up from his long-time girlfriend made him quit his job, move back to Jerusalem, and focus on extensive song-writing.

With time, he gathered around him a group of musician friends, that have became later known as his backing band – The Mojos. Here’s another taste of their sound:

Asaf Avidan and the Mojos’ debut album, The Reckoning, was originally released in 2008 by a small, self-owned Indie label, however it was very soon bought by Sony-Columbia records, where Avidan had signed for three additional albums. His single “Weak” became the title song of the film “L’Arbre” by Julie Bertuccelli, which starred Charlotte Gainsbourg and was the closing film at Cannes Film Festival 2010.

However, his most famous song up to date is without any doubt the title of their debut album – Reckoning Song, thanks to a German remix that has made it an instant party hit. During my Erasmus semester in Warsaw, I remember this remix was played practically at every party that I’ve been at. One time, on a trip from Warsaw to Krakow, when I was walking the streets of the old-town with a group of Turkish friends – one of them, a girl, suddenly began the chorus of this song(“one day, baby…”). When I asked her about it, she had no idea that the performer of this song is in fact Asaf Avidan, or that he’s an Israeli artist. She just picked it up at a party, and it got stuck in her head. This was in back in 2013, but for me – this song is actually most strongly associated with the previous decade.

In 2009 they released their second album, titled: Poor Boy/Lucky Man. If to tell you the truth, while listening to it, I wasn’t very impressed. The album mostly featured tracks which seemed like outtakes from the previous album, or just a poor imitations of it. They were more or less in the same style, just much worse. Maybe just one song that I really respected out of it was “Your Anchor”, mostly because of the lyrics, and not because of the musical arrangement. Just listen to it:

Meanwhile, in the Israeli press, Asaf Avidan and the Mojos became literally a synonym of a self-made success. They became considered as the torch-wielders of a whole wave of Israeli musicians that preferred to write and sing in English, rather than in Hebrew, and probably the first of them to gain mainstream success in the Holy Land. The names of Avidan and his band appeared all over the mainstream press – newspapers, TV and radio. Any other acts from the same genre, like Roy Rieck and the Medley Band were massively compared to them. Very soon after that, the band began touring Europe.

But as it usually happens in the music industry, success is very often a challenge by itself, and in a way – also the beginning of the end.

I think that the main problem was that the original creative drive behind Asaf Avidan’s work in the first albums was a heartache, angst and depression. However with the success – also came love, and happiness, and better life – which challenged Avidan’s melancholic writing. He could no longer write about broken heart and loneliness in the same sincerity as before.

The band’s third album – Through the Gale, seemed as trying to deal exactly with that. It was a concept album that was describing a metaphorical journey through the storm. It was definitely much less personal than his previous two albums, but with far more complex and slightly psychedelic sound. I actually liked this album much more than the previous one, specially this amazing track:

Asaf Avidan and the Mojos disbanded in 2011. Almost as if they just felt that they don’t belong to the new decade. Three of the Mojos: Ran Nir(bass), Yoni Sheleg(drums) and Roi Peled(guitar) later continued on their own as The Wrong Demons.

The fourth mojo – the gorgeous cello player Hadas Kleinman joined the singer and guitarist Aviv Bachar in recording a mutual album in Hebrew.

What concerns Asaf himself: he went on to his solo career, recording two more albums – Different Pulses and Golden Shadow – in which he went exploring his more psychedelic side. I watched him perform in a few concerts after that. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t quite the same somehow. In a way, it feels like the guy lost something after leaving the mojos, maybe like Jimi Hendrix has lost something after leaving the Experience – but nevertheless, it was good enough.

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