When the Mayumana band met Matti Caspi it was love at first sight. After months of joint work the show “Malabby” was born, and in the words of Matti Caspi - his songs were given a new shade. “Malabby” is a musical based on Matti Caspi’s greatest hits, along with the fresh arrangements and the rich stage language of Mayumana. The show was created by Boaz and Geraldine Berman, and indeed it’s interesting to see what came out of the connection between Caspi’s classics and the rhythm, humor, and visual abundance known to be part of Mayumana’s signature.
Caspi told in his unique way about the new musical arrangement of the songs. According to him, “the songs themselves have been given a new shade, a new color. When it comes to the attitude towards them and the musical arrangement, it’s like they disassembled and reconstructed everything. In any case it’s my baby, it’s doesn’t matter if right now it’s being educated in a boarding school for boys and girls with an orientation of gymnastics, as opposed to a school of arts where the orientation is painting and sculpting”.
Boaz Berman, one of the band’s directors, told us that as a result of this collaboration Mayumana has neglected a little bit its known drums rhythms and is putting together a rather different show. “It’s not some of Mayumana’s old materials, everything here is brand new with nothing from the past shows” he said. “It’s some sort of a change of direction of Mayumana”.
Matti Caspi tells about the collaboration with Mayumana: “I’ve realized my dream already at the age of 20”
Ruthy Zueretz, Maariv May 21st, 2016
Mayumana will mark 20 years of work next month. The band which has long become an Israeli brand, is thriving around the globe and is maintaining inspiring stability and independence in the dance field, which constantly suffers from a chronic budget deprivation. Boaz Berman founded Mayumana with Eilon Nofar and Roy Ofer. The latter has already turned to other paths, but the band received an unexpected reinforcement. The show “Malabby” was created by Berman and his wife Geraldine. He met her in New York. She’s originally from Singapore, and a Yale university graduate. So how does all this bundle connect to the show based on Matti Caspi’s songs? Maybe the international background and the record of Mayumana allow it the cultural versatility which is needed for that.
Mrs. Berman may come from the theatre field, the stage is no stranger to her, yet she faced the project without having Israeli knowledge of Caspi’s works. Still, she was the one who picked the songs for the musical. She listened to them with an objective ear, and weaved the all-time love story, as will be explained later. “Friday is Back”, “It’s No Good Being the Man Alone”, “Here Here”, “Boy You Can’t, Boy You Can”, “Days of Drought”, “I Opened a Window”, “How Come a Star”, “Oh, What Will Be”, “A Place for Care”, “Forgiveness”, “He’s Hers and She’s His”, “You Took my Hand in Yours”, “My Girl”. All are included, a choice which is hard to argue.
Matti Caspi and Boaz Berman are both artists looking for the next big thing. Not in the sense of a hit, but a twist. They constantly try to surprise themselves through their work. “Malabby” therefore, has created a perfect match for them.
The show tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet. It’s about two families who own Malabby selling stands in Jaffa. Out of this rivalry grows a love story. Berman explains how his dramatic band doesn’t flow into the soap opera genre: “We perform with a wink. Soap operas are over dramatized. But I’m not afraid of a little sweetness. There are those who judge over-sweetness, but if it’s well done then why not? Shows don’t have formulas of how to create hits, otherwise all of them would succeed. If your dosage is just right, and you’re able to touch everyone’s feelings, that’s all that counts”.
This isn’t the first time Mayumana has collaborated with other artists. They’ve already done it with the Israeli Ballet and with David Broza. “We like to collaborate” says Berman. “it fills me, from two good things you can create something even better. People have always asked us ‘why don’t you do something with Matti Caspi’? The idea was considered for a few years until we finally met and there was a chemistry. Matti said ‘yes’ and then we immediately thought how we proceed, how do we do it”.
Caspi: “I did my work many years ago. Now it’s completed in a different aspect, with Mayumana’s petition towards me. Mayumana drum and tap everything, the instruments and themselves. The combination of rhythmic ability, self-expression and dancing all give this masterpiece a special depth”.
How did the current collaboration contribute to the band?
Berman: “You learn from every collaboration. For years I’ve also been a musician, an instrument player, I’ve written music for films. I was the drummer of Yehuda Poliker, Yehudith Ravitz, Shlomo Gronich, I’ve worked with music managers in Israel and abroad, and I also taught at the ‘Rimon’ school for music. The direction was always clear, it was more or less known to me. With Matti it was a surprise. A new world had opened. Just listening to arrangements of old songs was like going to school again. I’m really glad we’re getting a lot of young audience who doesn’t know his songs. Even groups that come from abroad and have no idea who Matti Caspi is, love his music very much”.
How do you combine the drumming with Matti Caspi’s songs?
“I’ve seen in my life horrible rhythmic shows, after a few minutes you get a headache, it’s horrible. Even after Mayumana’s first show I understood that the brain needs a rest, and so I tried to tone down the rhythm. This time there was an objective - to break the image, that Mayumana is not just all about the drumming. Mayumana is the visualization of music. And at many times with a story. With ‘Malabby’ we went for a story. It was a challenge, a show with Matti, so we debated over how to perform some of the songs, whether in an original way - for example a song made with recorders and buckets of water - or not. But in the end we did it”.
In his madness
Mayumana is a small talented group of artists from different backgrounds who had gathered from all over the world in Jaffa, next to not a few malabby stands. They are dancers, actors, acrobats, and singers whose shared passion for rhythm and movement, along with a spark of humor and mischievousness, have all made the dynamics on stage vibrant, and is the secret of the success of the 12 shows they’ve produced until today.
“Our conducting has been the same for 20 years” says Berman, “But I really love to create and not to recycle. ‘Malabby’ has changed us in the sense of musical evolution. We are testing limits. The musical arrangements were something new for us. Also, it’s not Mayumana’s regular cast, we added four new people because we had to support the actors with vocal abilities. Those who don’t sing knew they couldn’t participate in this production”.
Berman wants to emphasize that the new project isn’t based on what we’ve known until today. In ‘Marry Lu’, for example, or in other musicals in the world, the cast hides from behind or there’s a playback” he explains. “There are lead actors with singing abilities and there are dancers. That’s how it’s divided. We look for people who can do everything, and if there’s a weak element in someone, but that person has potential, we teach them. I’ve developed a very easy technique of studying musical notes in an hour”.
A much-complicated matter in itself is the ability to read Caspi. His face, as we all know, don’t say a thing. “Making musical arrangements for an artist like him is a really stressful business” adds Berman, “He is, after all, an authority. I’ve made four musical arrangements and his reaction was both nerving and funny. After I played them to him he clapped his hands once and said ‘I clapped a hand’. And then I translated his reaction to everybody. I told them ‘Matti just said he’s crazy about it, he really likes it and he’s totally thrilled’! and he said: ‘That’s right”.
So yes, Caspi is not only content, but also has further expectations. “I want ‘Malabby’ to reach Iran with subtitles” he says, “It will only do them good. In fact, anywhere in the world. I believe it will be a huge success”.
And in order for it to be a success, the group needs to be supported. “I was asked abroad if we were a commune“ tells Berman. “We’re not, but it’s the most family-like society in the ‘beat’ world. We take care of our people, invest most of our money in them. When our people are happy, it shows on stage”.
Caspi from his part, presents his philosophy for a happy artistic life. “art is in my soul, in my personality” he says. “I’ve realized my dream already at the age of 20. That means that it’s alright, that you can make a living out of music. The rest are just speculations. It all depends on the happy winner and what he or she does with it. Some rest on their laurels because they wrote one hit song. They live alone in a castle of 18 rooms and their only company is the psychiatrist. And when they reach an old age like 23, they don’t know what to do with themselves. I live well, and life is interesting to me”.
Does your music also come out of loss or pain?
“I make music even when I’m satisfied, not tired and feeling great and everything around me is beautiful. Artistic creation doesn’t necessarily come out of suffering. Even when I feel good I can write sad songs. I wrote a very sad song after I watched a very funny movie. And I was very sad when I wrote ‘Wagtail’, but there isn’t any conection between these things, there are no rules. It’s not a ‘must’ to create songs out of pain or misery. When a song appears in my head, I simply remember it. Even now as we speak I hear music. If I remember it, it’s a good one. You can’t forget a good song. It’s not something you can learn, even though there is a thing called ‘a musical advisor’ which brings a lot of money I guess, but creating is something you’re born with. You can always improve and evolve, but you can’t teach it. You can’t learn how to be an artist”.
What role does society and the environment play in your artistic development?
“There’s no tragedy in my life. It’s not ‘The Voice’ where they had to find some kind of tragedy in my family to get me into the show. From a very young age I’ve been listening to music and wanting to play. I took the initiative and because of me things happened. The other adults helped me as a kid because I’d discovered this ambition. For example, at the age of 8 in the Hannita Kibbutz, I would go once a month to watch the show of Shmuel Gogol, the harmonica player, and I would leave the place only when he left. Even when he was packing his things I would watch him. After a couple of times I did that, he’d start to add a gimmick to the end of his shows, playing his harmonica without using his hands, only his tongue. One day he approached me after the show and asked me if I wanted the harmonica. I said yes. I knew he didn’t just ask me out of coincidence. Even if I see a kid watching my every show, I’d understand that kid has music burning within him. Then he told me ‘when you start taking piano lessons, I’ll give you the harmonica’.
“My parents panicked a little when I told them I wanted to learn piano, because in the Kibbutz during the communism it was either everyone learns something or no one does. My father had brought the issue to the Kibbutz’s council. There were some heated debates there, and it was decided that two music teachers from our Kibbutz and from another Kibbutz near us would test me. If they both agree I have musical skills, I will be allowed to learn piano. In the end they told me I was allowed to take piano lessons. They decided to purchase a new piano for the Kibbutz, it doesn’t matter that until they found a piano it was already old.. on the very next Friday at Shmuel Gogol’s show, I told him: ‘Today I had my first piano lesson’. So you see, it was all the ambition of a 8 year old boy, because I came. I knew I’d do anything to achieve it. And without heartbreaking tragedies like you see in reality shows”.
Berman presents his story: “From a young age I’ve been interested in rhythm and drums. Back in my time there was a drumming school of Kaminsky on Dizengof street. My mother had taken me there. After she asked about the price we turned around and walked away. That was until I started working and had the money to buy a musical instrument, not drums just yet, but more similar things”.
True to himself
Matti Caspi (66), as we know, has realized his dream long ago, but he doesn’t let only the songs from his past do all the work. These days he’s working on a new album which will be released soon. And no, he doesn’t worry who will or will not play it.
“Galgalatz is a provincial matter that belongs to the middle east” he determines. “It doesn’t change a thing. An artist doesn’t depend on some outline plans, he’s not building a house. It’s true that every artist wants their work to be heard or seen, but I create first and foremost for myself. I’m also the strainer, and if I like the song I’d want others to listen to it too. I’ve been content with every song I’ve released. If it’s not whole, I forget about it. I just stop immediately without consulting anyone, it’s my song”.
From here Caspi sails into an old story about Galatz and his own private waves. “Years ago I was informed by the radio station that I was elected composer of the year, and that Ehud Manor was elected lyricist of the year” he retells. “I was told that usually the two winners write together a song for the singer of the year. I said I don’t write songs on demand but wait for inspiration to come. I asked who have won singers of the year (a man and a woman) and was told who they were, and I didn’t like them. I said I will not write for them. It came to it that the director of Galatz called me and threatened that if I don’t agree to write a song they will not play my songs on their radio station. I said ‘ok’. In the end we found a compromise: Ehud will write two texts, the first will be for the singers of the year and will be given to another composer to work on, and the other text will be for me to compose and I sang it myself. That’s how ‘Here Here’ was born. This goes to show that rules and conventions only happen in small places. The audience will remain true to me only if I remain true to myself”.
Does it always work?
“well in my shows, age-wise, there can be seen both baby trollies and ambulances”.
You demand perfection from yourself. What’s the price of that perfectionism?
“I’m alive and I create constantly. If I have a song I’m very happy. To achieve something else is not on my list right now. I already said I realized my dream when I was 20, I’ve made music my source of income. That’s it. Now I just write songs.
Have you ever feared it will all cease? That you will be forgotten?
“I have. Once I had a pretty big break, but when the next song came to me, I was relieved”.