El Khat are a four piece from Tel Aviv, all with different backgrounds – Iraq, Poland, Morocco and Yemen. In reference to the addictive leaf that has been chewed socially in Yemen and the Arabic peninsula for over 600 years, the band’s choice of name can be interpreted in various ways. Yemen’s situation in 2019 is dire – in the grips of war, famine and with little sign of change from these extremeties – yet the Khat leaf provides a feeling that promotes community and relaxation, a safe and welcoming connotation.
Yemeni communities, old and young, chew the leaf in Israel every Thursday night and bandleader Eyal has spent many evenings with his compatriots. Despite the camaraderie, the realities of living as a Jewish Yemeni in Israel is something that Eyal has battled with for many years and which has in recent years taken its toll, feeling lost in a state that flys the flag for Israeli Jewish nationalism ignoring the history of the Jewish histories in neighbouring Arab countries.
It was during the end of Eyal’s five year tenure as lead cellist in The Jerusalem Andalusian Orchestra when he began questioning the facts presented to him, like a loop going round and round yet leading nowhere. Initially Eyal joined the Jerusalem Andalusian Orchestra in 2012 through some unconventional trickery, having self taught himself the basics whilst busking and then having circumstances that allowed him to avoid the audition and instead learning the repetoire of ancient, classical music of North Africa and Europe, on the fly. Perhaps unprecendented but regardless, it led to multiple tours and an intense relationship with his craft.
At the end of 2017, Eyal’s world simply stopped. He ended all his routines including his tenure with the Andalusican Orchestra and his flamenco inspired band El Gran Mar. Eyal desired complete freedom to investigate his roots, people and the cultural that he was first exposed to as a boy visiting his Grandparents who moved from Yemen to to a Yemenite village in central Israel in the 1950s.
In the midst of these major life changes, Eyal was presented the LP ‘Qat, Coffee & Qambus: Raw 45s from Yemen’ full of Yemeni traditional music. He began learning Arabic. He had also been experimenting with carpentry and building instruments in his work studio, and so as part of this creative process, and this desire for cultural inquiry, he began writing what would be the album you listen to, Saadia Jefferson, using instruments built from whatever materials were available to him, often junk. The poverty and simplicity that exists in Yemen inspired these DIY inventions.