By Shalom Zirkiev
Gad Elbaz is an Israeli Jewish singer who has achieved international success. All of his albums have climbed high on the charts and sold over 200,000 copies in Israel alone.
Shalom Zirkiev: Gad, I have known you for many years and we are great friends, which means that I know you from a different side than most of your fans do. Additionally, my wife and I are big fans of your music, and our community has supported your endeavors from the beginning. I want your fans to get to know you a little better. Tell me a little bit about your childhood.
Gad Elbaz: First of all, I am the son of a singer, and I have been singing since I was four years old. I was raised in a non-religious city and my early childhood was not religious at all. Throughout the years, I sang with my dad at many non-religious concerts and events. When I was nine years old, my father slowly started becoming religious. I still remember my first Shabbat. The shul closest to our home was an Ashkenazic shul, but because my father didn’t have a strong understanding of his heritage, he didn’t know the difference between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. As a Sephardic boy, I prayed at an Ashkenazic shul from the age of nine until eighteen, except for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Because of that experience, I just released a new album, titled Nigun U’Mizmor, which consists of many nigunim and mizmorim that I heard in Ashkenazic shuls. I translated them to modern music and infused them with a bit of Sephardic flavor. I slowly became religious on my own, and did my own teshuvah when I was 19. I became religious, not because my father did, but because I trust and believe in G‑d.
S.Z.: What made you do teshuvah and become religious on your own at the age of 19?
G.E.: During that time, I was going out to clubs and partying a lot. I saw a big difference between the religious and non-religious worlds. I knew that I wanted my home to be a religious one, and a wife who would be a tzniyut (modest) woman with good midot (traits) who would raise our family with morals and spiritually. I saw that my actions at the time would lead me in the wrong direction, so I made a change. I made the switch because I saw the difference between girls with yirat Shamayim (fear of heaven) and non-religious girls. I knew what I wanted for my future and my family, and I had to get on the right path to get it.
S.Z.: What was it like growing up with a father like Beni Elbaz, who is a very famous singer?
G.E.: To be a son of such a famous singer was difficult because I was constantly in the public eye. Because my father was such a great singer, everybody was always judging me to see how good I was and if I was worthy enough to be called his son. All my life, my singing ability, how religious I am, and whether I’m religious enough has been evaluated by the public. My life as a child was not simple, and definitely not ordinary.
Because my father was intense regarding music and my career, he taught me the importance of professionalism. Additionally, he constantly tracked my career with regard to my musical capabilities at all times. Over time, with the help of my father, I began to understand the music industry and profession. Music is ingrained in me because of my father. Even though it may seem that my father’s career could have cast a large shadow over mine, it turned out that this shadow protected me and made me into who I am today. My musical capabilities are ten times better because I am the son of a singer. At the end, only good came out of it.
S.Z.: Was it your father who got you into singing and performing?
G.E.: My father saw the potential in me, and he started recording me and taking me to his concerts when I was young. It is what I was meant to do and who I was meant to be.
S.Z.: What do you like most about performing?
G.E.: That’s an easy question to answer: the crowd. The faces, the expressions I see on people’s faces are what make the difference between singing, liking music, loving music, making music just for fun, and making music because it’s my calling. When I see the faces and reactions of my audience, I understand that I was put here for that purpose; to make people happy, to help people come closer to G‑d, and to spread more unity throughout the Jewish world.
S.Z.: In the music business, a lot of singers are geared towards one avenue, a specific sect. For example, they sing for Chassidim, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, etc. You happen to be one of those singers that sing to multiple crowds and in effect have a very broad fan base. Can you explain that a little bit?
G.E.: There’s one explanation, besides for my music. It’s who I am. Like I said before, I was a non-religious kid who went to many schools. I learned in a non-religious school, then a Zionist religious school, and then, I prayed with the Ashkenazim. Furthermore, I attended a Sephardic yeshiva where my friends were religious, but at home my friends were non-religious kids, in a non-religious city. I learned in Chabad for four years, and all my sisters are currently enrolled in Chabad schools. This all made me into kind of a mixed Jew, and I think that in this generation, there are a lot of people like me. I’m all for breaking boundaries between religious sects and unifying all different types of Jews all over the world.
Musically, growing up, I have been influenced by non-religious music, religious music and Ashkenazic and Sephardic tunes, on top of my Moroccan background. With all of that, I am one person with many colors in his voice. I’m basically like a chameleon; I adjust myself to the crowd and can find my way with any group just by knowing what they are and what they need. My exposure to many different cultures made me relatable to many groups of people.
S.Z.: Do you write your own songs or does somebody write them for you?
G.E.: The majority of my music is written by me. In this last record, however, I used other writers in order to include other people’s styles and feelings to make it more versatile. I really, really love how it turned out.
S.Z.: When you do write your own songs, what inspires you to write your own music?
G.E.: Two things can inspire me. One is being extremely happy because something good is happening in my life, or the opposite feeling of being far away from G‑d. When I miss spirituality, when I miss G‑d, when I think that I’m not good enough, I start speaking to G‑d through music and ask Him for a message or a sign. This is when my beautiful songs are written; this is my inspiration.
S.Z.: Do you have any inspirational stories regarding anyone that was affected through your music?
G.E.: It happens all the time. I get e-mails, and I meet people who tell me how my music has changed them in some way. For example, I was at an engagement party last week and there were some yeshiva bachurim there. One of the best students in Yeshiva Porat Yosef in Jerusalem approached me. I saw that he was nervous and didn’t know what to say because he started mumbling about how excited he was to be standing next to me. I told him, “Relax. I’m nothing. I’m just a human being. Relax.” I hugged him, and then he told me, “Listen. I have a story. That’s why I’m so excited.” I was curious and asked him to explain. “My mother and father are not religious. I was not raised religiously, but I had a religious cousin that always told me to listen to your songs. I was skeptical because you were just a religious singer who had nothing to offer, in my opinion. Finally, I listened to some of your songs and they slowly started speaking to me.” After listening to my music and lyrics he started keeping Shabbat and finding meaning in his life. Slowly but surely he became a learned yeshiva bachur in Porat Yosef. He told me, “Everything that I learned, and everything that I do, you have a huge part of it.” It really touched me.
Besides for that, I get letters and e-mails from a lot of people, even non-Jewish people, writing to me and letting me know that they feel the spirituality in my music and they know that we, Jews, are the chosen nation. Knowing that I am influencing a lot of people is what gives me power to continue writing and performing my music.
S.Z.: Can you provide some details regarding your upcoming concert in March?
G.E.: It’s been four years since I have had a big show in New York, and I’m very excited. This event will be a very big concert with live musicians. My father, Beni Elbaz, will be joining me, as well as other surprise guest singers. I’m bringing my life story and my music to the fans. The concert will take place on March 6 in the Millennium Theater (in Brooklyn). I will also be performing throughout March in L.A., Miami, and in Europe in Marseilles, London, and Paris. I’m really excited to do all these things b’ezrat Hashem.
S.Z.: You haven’t had a concert here for four years. Will you be singing any new material at your new concert on March 6?
G.E.: Besides for my new hits, Hashem Melech and Kevatehila, which have had great success all over, there will be many other new songs. I have a new song that is Purim-related, which was just released. I will also be premiering a new song about Jerusalem with my father at the show. It is really catchy, like Hashem Melech, and I know it is going to be another huge hit. I’m going to rock the house in New York.
To purchase concert tickets, or to book Gad Elbaz in March for your simchas, please call 718-635-0388 or 718-644-5550 or visit www.GadElbaz.com. v