The old stereotype of Mizrahi music — an Israeli genre created by immigrant Jews from North African and Arab countries — was of teary, sorrowful love ballads: tales of lost loves, broken hearts and dashed hopes. You could say Mizrahi music was Israel’s version of country music.
Moshe Peretz, one of the headliners for the I.L.Care community concert on Nov. 20, is the poster boy for the genre’s modern image — which is, by contrast, vivacious, upbeat and full of life. Hits like “Esh” (“Fire”), “Me Hashamayim” (“From the Sky”) and “Eshmor Alayich” (“I Will Keep You Safe”) are more likely to make you want to dance than cry. Dark-featured and handsome, Peretz has been one of the top-selling artists in Israel since 2007, and the November concert, which organizers hope will draw an audience of 6,000, will be his Los Angeles debut.
“I’m so excited to be part of this project,” Peretz said in a phone interview from Israel. He said he has had other opportunities to perform in Los Angeles, but none of them panned out, and it doesn’t seem to intimidate him that his first stateside show will be at one of the largest U.S. venues to host an Israeli artist in recent times.
“The purpose of this concert is to build community, and I’m inspired by that,” he said. “I think it’s everyone’s right to live wherever they want, wherever it’s good for them, but it’s important to maintain a connection to Israel … and to safe keep our religion. In the end, we are Jewish wherever we live.”
Born in 1983 in Tiberias to parents of Moroccan and Iraqi descent, Peretz started out as a hairdresser, but it didn’t take long for him to turn a lifelong passion for music into a career, both writing and composing his own songs. He released his first album at 22, in 2005, which turned out to be a commercial failure. But that slap of reality didn’t shake him, and his next album in 2007 contained the megahit “Esh,” which rocketed Peretz to stardom.
“Besides his great voice, the fact that Moshe Peretz is a young and multitalented artist — a singer, composer and writer — helped him a lot,” said Eliran Refael, a popular Los Angeles DJ who caters to the Israeli-American crowd. Indeed, a television segment on one of Israel’s top channels described Peretz as one of the most intelligent and sophisticated artists in his genre for his writing and composing skills.
One of the markers of success in Israel is the price a singer commands for a private performance at a wedding — weddings in Israel are often lavish, 700-guest affairs — and Peretz is among the most requested and best-paid entertainers of them all. According to the TV report, he earns approximately $53,000 per week during the busiest wedding season, a total of $800,000 in one summer.
But contrary to many young celebrities who fall victim to the vices of fame and fortune, Peretz, who is currently working on his fifth album, has maintained a reputation of humility and a clean image, too: no tattoos, no drugs, no controversy. That reputation is part of the reason the Israeli Leadership Council chose Peretz as its headliner for the family-friendly community concert, along with Chasidic reggae star Matisyahu.
“He has a good, positive attitude,” said Eli Tene, co-chair of the ILC. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s enormously popular here, too, particularly with the younger generation — his blend of Mizrahi, rock and pop music is lively and infectious.
“It’s going to be such an electric show,” Tene said. “Anyone who’s not going to be there will feel that they really missed out.”