Hadag Nahash in Los Angeles
“The best description that I found is modern Middle Eastern funk,” Shaa’nan Streett said by phone from Israel, describing the uber-popular Israeli band Hadag Nahash he co-founded nearly 20 years ago. Since 1996, the band has been pumping out popular, politically conscious, hip-hop-infused Middle Eastern funk, and on April 28, they’re bringing that sound back to Los Angeles for an Israel Independence Day concert at Avalon Hollywood.
“Our trick was understanding … the fact that our band is a creative home to all of its members. I mean, yeah, I’m in the front … but it’s not my band, it’s all of our band,” Streett said, explaining the group’s longevity. “A lot of bands break up because they can’t find that balance between all of the members.”
Streett and his band members, Guy Mar, David Klems, Moshe Asraf, Yair Cohen Harounoff and Shlomi Alon, saw success immediately with their first two albums, but their popularity soared in 2004 with the release of their third album, “Homer Mekomi” (“Local Material”), which featured the smash hit “Shirat Hasticker,” “The Sticker Song.” The song, co-written by Israeli author David Grossman, features a bunch of bumper-sticker slogans from Israel strung together, creating a chaotic voice of Israel that often seems to contradict itself. The song was so popular that even The New York Times and Rolling Stone wrote about it, and the album went platinum.
The way Streett tells it, though, the group never strove to be popular. They just wanted to make music they loved. “We had a great producer for many years, Yossi Fine … and he always had this great saying: We have to do the best album we can, and the worst-case scenario is it’s going to succeed. In other words, we never do something for success; success is a byproduct. We do stuff for the sake of music.”
Music, in Streett’s view, must evolve, and the band has changed its sound several times over the years. “The guys in our band, we’re real artists in the sense that we don’t want to repeat ourselves, and we’re always hungry to do something new,” Streett said. “In the recent past, I’ve been influenced by alternative sounds in the Arab world. This whole political turmoil resulted in a whole bunch of great music throughout the Arab world, and a lot of that stuff I find very inspiring.”
Streett and the band have never shied away from being political and are quite open about their leftist leanings. When asked about the recent Israeli elections, he was quick to say he wasn’t shocked by the outcome. “It’s more of the same … we went into these elections with Bibi [Netanyahu], and we came out of these elections with Bibi,” he said. “We were disappointed by the outcome, of course — we lean the other way. But I don’t think we were very surprised.”
In the band’s song “Lo Frayerim,” which translates to “Not Suckers,” Streett sings, “How much longer? / In our dreams we’ll sail like a Mig / Look out from above all the stink / from a safe distance / which is five minutes from Kfar Saba / How much longer? / Close our eyes to what’s happening under our noses / and pretend everything’s ‘sababa’ (cool).”
Streett realizes many American fans may not get the depth and intelligence of the band’s lyrics, but that’s not something he worries about. “Of course, some of it is lost in translation, there’s not much we can do about that, but I’m sure that people do get the vibe and enjoy the tunes.
“For us it’s always fun to come to the States.” I have a brother living in Los Angeles, and so I get to visit him and his family, his daughters and his wife, so that’s always fun for me, too. What can I say? I love L.A., I’m looking forward!
“Although we don’t feel like we’re ambassadors of the State of Israel, or the government of Israel,” Streett said, “we’re definitely believable ambassadors of the cultural scene, and young people from Israel, and we’re very comfortable being that type of cultural ambassador; that’s fine.
“In the Israel that we come from, people have not yet lost hope for a better tomorrow,” Streett said, “and they’re willing to put effort into maintaining that hope. We might not be the majority, but there are many of us.”