Fifty years ago, Danny Sanderson was a freshman at the High School of Music & Art, in New York City’s Hamilton Heights. He was new to Manhattan, having grown up in a Tel Aviv suburb, born to parents that had made aliyah from the States in 1948. His father had recently assumed a post as El Al’s New York representative, and Sanderson spent his time tinkering with his guitar, his mind reeling at the musical possibilities provided by his school, by New York City, by America in the 1960s.
Little Israel, with its folk songs, must have seemed a million miles away. But just a decade later, that guitar tinkering would form the basis for Kaveret — easily Israel’s most successful pop-rock band ever. This summer, 40 years after its founding, Kaveret are back for a series of concerts that its members say will be the band’s last.
Kaveret’s first performances were in the summer of 1973, and the band broke up three years later. While together, the group released three records of which hundreds of thousands of copies were sold (huge for a nation then barely 3 million strong). The band’s brand of pop rock — a sort of Beatles/Beach Boys amalgam but more progressive, and funnier — became the standard-bearer for Israeli music.
New immigrants cut their Hebrew teeth on Kaveret’s lyrics, and generations of kids were brought up on songs fun enough for them to love as much as their parents did. Kaveret’s success was, in no small part, due to Sanderson’s musical genius and guitar-playing skill, and to his luck in rallying some wildly talented band members and whose subsequent considerable successes in their own solo careers have made Kaveret something of a super-group in reverse: vocalists Gidi Gov and Efraim Shamir, guitarist Yitzhak Klepter, Alon Oleartchik on bass, keyboardist Yoni Rechter and drummer Meir “Poogy” Fenigstein, who is the only band member to have abandoned the music scene. He produces the annual Israel Film Festivals in New York and Los Angeles. His comical alter-ego “Poogy” served as the band’s mascot — and as its moniker for performances abroad.
When three anniversary concerts in Jerusalem’s massive Sultan’s Pool venue were announced in March, tickets sold out within hours (additional performances in Tel Aviv have since been added, and have sold out, as well). But Kaveret’s performances the first time around caused some bewilderment. Israeli music hadn’t yet caught on to rock ’n’ roll. The airwaves were still playing songs in the tradition of the 1948-era entertainment troupes — so called Eretz Israel songs, accordion-infused and often based on the old Russian folk songs that pre-state pioneers brought from the Old Country. Every Israel Defense Forces corps worth its mettle had its own entertainment troupe, made up of musically talented soldiers serving their mandatory time in the IDF. Their job was chiefly to entertain soldiers, but with the IDF being such an important fixture in the young state, they played to a national audience.