At the Jodhpur RIFF last month in Mehrangarh Fort, an intense act by a bassist, playing without a drumkit, had the Rajasthani folk artistes accompanying him a little perplexed. While the group sang a maand in raag Desh, Yossi Fine, with his locks swinging to the beat of the khartaal, slid his fingers up and down the neck of his bass. In a short set, Fine tried to bridge the folk tradition with a bass guitar by creating music that was true to both.
“I don’t know their songs; I would quickly find some part and play the chords accordingly. I didn’t want to jump in and tell them what to do. I don’t like to change things and make people play a certain way. They were shocked on stage because I hadn’t played certain parts in rehearsal,” said 45-year-old Fine after the gig. He added that authenticity is what he looks for in an artiste before a collaboration. “It doesn’t matter which style it is but I can sense authenticity,” said Fine, who divides his time between Israel and the US.
Fine has acquired his ideas of improvisation over a period of time. “Some folk artistes from different countries, when they come to America, try to cater to our style. African artistes begin to sing in English. I don’t need that,” said Fine. He was once working with some Arab artistes, who were trying to create rock music. When he asked them to play their own music, they asked, “The stuff we play at the weddings?” Fine nodded. The collaboration worked.
When the musician isn’t working with folk artistes, he is busy with other kind of legends. He has collaborated with Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed, jazz
pianist Gil Evans, pop legend David Bowie and Indian multi-percussionist Karsh Kale and sitar player Anoushka Shankar, among others.
Israel has never been a global force in terms of bass. But Fine’s presence in the world music scene, his famous 1991 Grammy nomination and the label “Jimi Hendrix of bass” has put the country on the bass map. “For someone who had four posters of Hendrix in the room while growing up, it’s a huge compliment,” says Fine.
A Jewish boy from Israel, born to an African mother and an Israeli father, and with roots in India (he discovered some years ago that his grandfather was Indian), Fine grew up on gospel, flamenco, Led Zeppelin, Mahavishnu orchestra, pop and Israeli tunes. These helped him blossom into playing lush and textured riffs with a lightning speed. “I was very competitive. When I moved to New York, I saw a lot of bass players there. I had to be better. I needed my style. If I had played at lightning speed in a band, I would have been fired immediately,” says Fine, who began solo bass tours, which were not usual back then. “They still aren’t but there was no choice,” said Fine.
His musical evolution was against the background of a relentless wave of violence in Israel. Fine, however, fell in love with Arabic music from the other side. “I loved the way it grooved. But it’s almost impossible to take it to another level. I can’t go to Palestine, which is 20 minutes from where I live. If I am in Europe then there are protests about why they are collaborating with an Israeli,” said Fine. As for India, he returns soon next year. “I’m related by blood, for heaven’s sake,” he says, with a laugh.
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