Black Eyed Peas and the Commitments rock the walls of Jerusalem

Black Eyed Peas vocalist Fergie might have been knocked off the Egged bus billboards advertising the group’s show at the Jerusalem Rocks! Festival because of her immodest dress, but the crowd enthusiastically welcomed her on Sunday night.

“I heard that in the advertising for this event, they cut me out of the picture, maybe because I wear stuff like this,” she said, pointing to her cropped top that showed off her well-toned abdomen. “I hope I didn’t offend anybody, I just like to look a little glamorous.”

That she did, even when she was at the Western Wall stuffing a note in one of the cracks — “I’m not gonna tell you what I wrote”; floating in the Dead Sea on Saturday, where she “exfoliated”; and in church in the Old City on Sunday. But beyond looking glamorous, belting out tunes with the Black Eyed Peas and prancing across the stage, Fergie and the rest of the band, including front man will.i.am, and band members apl.de.ap and Taboo, wanted to make it clear how much they love Israel.

“We’re missing the MTV Awards for this because we feel it’s a very important ’cause … this is the Holy Land,” said Fergie, who took the award for Female Artist of the Year in absentia.

“I love Is-ra-el,” will.i.am sang to the tune of “Hotel California.” “I’m moving to Israel, I’m in paradise.”

It was the Black Eyed Peas’ second concert in Israel, having performed in Tel Aviv last summer. But it was their first time performing in Jerusalem, where they headlined Jerusalem Rocks! a nonprofit international music festival celebrating peace and unity.

The Sept. 9 festival opened with Israeli hip-hop group Hadag Nachash and Palestinian hip-hop band D.A.M. performing together, followed by Ireland’s The Commitments and then Arrested Development, a progressive hip-hop act known for early 1990s hits like “Tennessee” and “People Everyday.”

The Black Eyed Peas and Arrested Development were enthusiastic about Jerusalem Rocks! from the start, said producer Carmi Wurtman, who has created several music festivals in Israel, including the One Shekel Festival, which brings 20,000 people from poor communities to see Israeli performers for the price of just one shekel.

“We knew we had to get a headliner, and once we had the Black Eyed Peas on board, everything else began to trickle down,” he said. “I’ve been listening to Arrested Development for a long time, and they always had a positive message. And that’s how Hadag Nachash fit in, because they have a strong Jerusalem message.”

The Commitments followed. Given their Dublin background and experience of the Irish conflict, it made sense to invite them to a peace festival in Israel. The lineup originally included more Israeli bands, but the festival changed venues at the last minute from Teddy Stadium to Sultan’s Pool, and was shortened by an hour, Wurtman explained. The estimated 6,000- to 7,000-person crowd would have seemed too small for Teddy Stadium, so the show was moved to the outdoor venue Sultan’s Pool, adjacent to the walls of the Old City.

“We would have been happier if there were more people,” Wurtman said. “Then again, this was more of a park festival than a sit-down festival. We learned a lot from this experience.”

While the festival was a nonprofit event, co-sponsored by the Jerusalem Foundation, Digital Israel, festival co-founder Jeff Pulver and several other donors, Wurtman said that there was “consumer confusion on this project.” Ticket prices were first set at NIS 390 ($95) per ticket, which ended up being too high for most Jerusalemites. Prices were later lowered to NIS 200 ($50) per ticket, but even then the tickets never sold out.

Still, said Jacob Ner-David, one of the festival co-founders, the festival was a success in helping change Jerusalem’s image and bringing together international artists to Jerusalem.

“Revival of the dead is not an easy thing,” he quipped, referring to the many years since Jerusalem has hosted any kind of rock concert or festival. “We’re a lot smarter now.”

The members of Arrested Development came to Jerusalem four days before the concert, spending time touring as well as experiencing a traditional Shabbat dinner at the home of Ner-David. On Saturday night, they, along with members of the Black Eyed Peas, were hosted in East Jerusalem, where they smoked water pipes, ate grilled meat — the local specialty — and heard local rappers as well as oud players.

“The artists all had a great time; they said it was the single best experience they ever had,” Wurtman said. “They got Jerusalem hospitality.”

As Arrested Development co-founder Speech put it, “This is the single best experience we’ve ever had on the road. Performing in Israel has been the fulfilling of a dream.”

Blogger Jeff Pulver reports on the concert

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