InDNegev Israeli Music Festival 2016
The 10th Annual InDNegev Music Festival took place on October 27 in the Israeli desert next to the Gaza border. Founded in 2007 by Assaf Kazado and Matan Neufeld, the desert-camping and musical experience has evolved from a small gathering into a group of approximately ten thousand participants. InDNegev aims to support the growing Israeli indie scene and to promote and expose independent artists, which was evident based on the diverse selection of musical genres and stages that were showcased.
The 3-day festival takes place every autumn at the historic Gvulot Kibbutz, which alone has an interesting back-story. Although the mud and straw brick buildings perched in front of a vast desert backdrop offers a pleasant concert experience on its own, the addition of its historical narrative sheds light on the uniqueness and pioneering spirit that InDNegev embodies.
Mitzpe Gvulot, which appropriately translates to ‘Borders Lookout‘ as it was founded in 1943 for that exact purpose, was the first of three lookout points in the Negev desert. Its intended purpose was to research the soil and climate in the region in order to assess its suitability for agriculture. The project’s inevitable completion led to both the obsolescence of the lookout points and research stations and the official establishment of the Gvulot kibbutz in 1946.
Kibbutzim is the perfect setting for a music festival. Literally meaning gathering or clustering in Hebrew, kibbutzim were originally developed as collective communities based on agriculture dedicated to mutual aid and social justice. The movement began in 1909 as utopian societies driven by the union of socialism and Zionism. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the socioeconomic system is based on “the principle of joint ownership of property, equality and cooperation of production, consumption and education.” Kibbutzim played a vital role in the creation of modern day Israel, in which they helped transform barren land into farms, and thus achieved a large percentage of Israel’s agricultural output today.
InDNegev music festival captures the motif of a rural, communal utopia in many ways. Its structure effortlessly fostered a strong sense of community with a family-oriented and eco-friendly atmosphere. There were a lot of activities for children, such as face painting and arts and crafts workshops, which was located next to the Old School shop, where clothes and used books were sold. There was also a camping area specifically designated for families that included a playground for kids.
Group activities weren’t only limited to children and families. An array of group activities for all ages existed, such as the Indi Quest, which encouraged attendees to go on a scavenger hunt in which you’re eligible to win a prize, a confessional booth where people poured their hearts to a Real-World style video booth, poetry readings, and communal homemade Shabbat meals. A giant ride-share board was also hung in the main area by the food court for people to find rides home. The board asked for your name, phone number, where you need to go and lastly, to add to the whimsicality of it all, what you want to be when you grow up. As most festival attendees do, Israelis cooked elaborate meals in the campgrounds during the day for both old and new friends. Their eco-friendly incentives included half-off drink refills when you buy a reusable cup and receiving a free beer if you fill up a glass of cigarette butts or if you collect enough plastic bottles from the floor.
This communal quality and family-oriented nature is intrinsic in Israeli society. For example, when I woke up the first morning an Israeli asked me something in Hebrew as he pointed to my toothpaste with his toothbrush, so I assumed he wanted some toothpaste. The next day I forgot my toothpaste, so I did the same to someone else. This illustrates how easy it is to make new friends in Israel, or at most music festivals for that matter. When new friends at the festival shared their food with me, I kept asking if it was okay if I could have this or that since I felt bad that I had nothing left to offer. An Israeli responded by telling me about how he hosts couch-surfers at his apartment in Jerusalem and every time an American stays with him they always ask, “Can I use this?,” and he not only finds it strange. If he invites someone to have lunch or to host them, then why would he or she need to ask to use everything? This anecdote captures the nature of Israeli society and of course, InDNegev, how everything is meant to be shared, and the theme of a communal utopia was clearly present at the festival.
If I had to choose four traits to describe InDNegev music festival, it would be pure, intellectual, liberal and diverse. I saw a lot of attendees practicing acroyoga, hula hooping, playing Frisbee, and juggling balls. I saw an Israeli man playing with light sticks in a tight blue leotard with a sailor’s hat who was entertaining two little girls; when the song ended they applauded his performance. It was adorable. I saw two little girls jumping around to the music with their father shouting “Abba!” (Hebrew for dad). They were all dancing around on a blanket in the sand giggling. It was sweet, in a wholesome way. I saw a group of 20-somethings holding hands and running in a circle laughing. It was spontaneous and pure. During the day, a lot of artists performed Ethiopian music, which is very light-hearted, feel-good kind of music, and it enhanced the festival’s overall sense of purity. I was also pleased to find so many concert-goers during the day, lounging on their blankets by the stages and reading books; I think this is notable because it wasn’t like we were at Central Park, we were at a music festival.
This leads me to my second characteristic of the festival: Intellectual. There was an evident book culture at the festival. They were selling books at one of the tents that hosted face-painting, arts and crafts workshops, and sold clothes. A lot of people were not only browsing and buying books, but they were also actively reading. They also had a poetry reading in one of the tents one night. A psychologist also spoke about depression, and ironically, or perhaps not so ironically I’m not entirely sure, but he spoke at the religious tent. Anyways, the Shabbat tent also held speakers about various topics such as the poetry of Moroccan Jews. There were also comics on display as an art installation with (unsurprisingly) dark humor. One comic, for example, said something along the lines of: Most people count sheep to go to sleep, but I count my failures. Another comic displayed a photo of a computer’s error message saying: You messed your life up. Do you want to follow your dreams? Click: yes, no, or (where the pointer was) remind me later. There was also a CyMagic tent where you can experience music with all of your senses. You can feel the musical vibrations of in a bucket of water and there was a keyboard for guests to play with.
Having said that, this leads me to the trait: liberal. Liberals are ubiquitous at music festivals, so why even bother mentioning it? Well I think it was worth noting experiences such as a punk band named “Lucy’s Pu**y,” who is apparently known for their humor and that typical punk “f**k the system” attitude. To give you an idea of their personality, they performed “Shalom Shel Anim,” which is one of their songs which translates to ‘Peace of Poor.’ What I thought was pretty cool was when they told the crowd to turn east towards Gaza, and sing together to them. The song was basically about making peace and forgetting about the politicians, banks, and all that jazz. At the end of the day, we’re all human and we as individuals don’t have that kind of political control over our governments, and they’re physically so close, like Gaza was literally right there. They also sang to the people in Gaza about partying, dancing, and playing futbol together. This was definitely my favorite moment of the festival; It was a beautiful, collective, compassionate bubble that I wish I could live in forever. It was popped almost immediately, and they faced forward and kept to their punk personas by singing “f**k the police.”
Another sign that a place is considered liberal is vegan food, which they had a huge variety of including delicious Ethiopian food and vegan sausages. Another dead giveaway is when one of the most famous liberal icons in the Knesset happens to also be a frequent attendee, which would be Stav Shafir. She’s also the youngest female member of the Knesset in Israeli history. Before her career in parliament, she gained popularity by being a post-graduate student with debt who became one of the leaders and spokeswoman during the Israeli social justice protests in 2011.
System Ali is a musical group is known for their political involvement in social justice and their themes of promoting messages of peace in their music. They performed with Tamer Nafer of the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM, which that action alone is a political statement. Nafer raps about political messages that are very controversial in Palestinian society, such as feminism. They’re a 10 piece hip-hop group comprised of both Arabs and Jews who rap in Arabic, Hebrew, Russian and English. They originally met at Jaffa Youth center, an education and arts center, where they started just jamming together. They finally decided to perform together as a group in 2006 while simultaneously continuing their educational work with youth. This band is an incredible example of how Israelis and Palestinians could and should come together to promote peace through music, art, or whatever outlet that enables people to come together and overcome barriers.
Zeev Tene also sang a song, “I bombed Beruit everyday,” which is a spin-off of the American anti-war song titled “I bombed Korea.” He took part in the first Lebanon war and according to his performance, seems bitter about it. He has been recording albums since the 80s, with his most popular album entitled Black Cat.
I found InDNegev’s overall musical diversity so refreshing, and the different genres even complemented each other. The festival was filled with people who genuinely enjoy a wide spectrum of musical genres. I’ve experienced a few festivals (in America) where the genre selection is either homogeneous, or if there is slight diversity, then you can visually see it within the dichotomy between the fanbases. An interdisciplinary approach to music composition where musicians blend elements of different genres is normal in the American live music scene, but at InDNegev it wasn’t like that. The genres represented were indie pop, Ethiopian, reggae, rock, electronic dance, heavy metal, hip-hop, punk, classical, moroccan oriental, funk and jazz. Songs were sung in least 7 languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian, Amharic, French, and Farsi. Some Reggae/Ethiopian bands included Zvulu Duo System, which is named after one of the tribes of Israel. An Arabic classical orchestra performed beautifully, just like their name which translates to “Blessing of the Sun.”
Riff Cohen not only sang Moroccan oriental music in French, but she did so about 8 months pregnant, AND she totally rocked it. That’s all sorts of diversity right there.
Tamir Moscat, the drummer of Balkan Beat Box, played with artists from his label, APE Records. The Balkan Beat Box didn’t play together as a group but all the members were there playing side projects. Elad Kahara and Marina Maxilimin played alongside Tamir, to name a few. Tamir played his iconic funky style with songs in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
Tigris is a notable Ethiopian band who performed with singer/songwriter Gili Yalo. There was also diversity within the instruments, Tomer Yeshayahu, for example, played the bouzouki at noon on Friday. Betzefer played heavy metal at 2 in the morning on the first night, which wasn’t necessarily ideal for people that were trying to sleep, but hey what do you expect at a music festival. This band also doesn’t play often anymore so it was a treat for their fans to play live. There was also a “MoveIn Ensemble” which was a contemporary dance performance where they improvised with jazz/rock musicians.
The Overall Festival.
The music wasn’t only diverse but it was in abundance. The festival began Thursday night from 5PM until around 3AM. Then, there were performances all day Friday, from 9:30AM until 6AM on Saturday, and the music started up at 9:3AM and ended around sunset.
There were 6 stages: Monkey, Elephant, Artizakhin, Beetle, InDtronix and InDtox. Artizakhin is a German word meaning “old stuff” and is used as Israeli slang. This comes from Israelis that would say “Artizakhin!” about 20 years ago on the streets to sell their stuff. The Beetle stage is named after the dung beetles that are all over the kibbutz; I’m serious, I’m not being sarcastic, and they’re big. The story goes that the beetles were originally brought in as food for ostriches. Anyways, InDtronix was the stage that hosted electronic dance music which was a lot of fun at night, and InDtox was the religious tent where they kept Shabbat, hosted a Shabbat dinner and lunch, prayers, and also hosted musical preformanes and speakers.
InDnegev is ultimately a platform for independent artists. Most people said how they never leave InDNegev without discovering new music, which is what they enjoy most about this festival. I would definitely recommend going to this music festival to anyone who loves music and I would absolutely come back again.