From left: Karolina, Yael Deckelbaum and Dana Adini
The three ladies of HaBanot Nechama, an Israeli folk group that's hugely popular in its native land, are holed up in a hotel room, having just arrived on the East Coast about three hours ago.
“We have to fix the jetlag, so we are doing a lot of talking and eating and dancing and singing,” says Karolina, who goes by one name only.
Is that normal behavior after a Transatlantic flight?
“Is that normal behavior?” Karolina asks the other two. “Everybody say yes!”
As “Yes!” rings out from the background chorus, Karolina decides it would be better for her bandmates Yael Deckelbaum and Dana Adini to join the conversation via speakerphone.
Karolina, by the way, is the one with the Afro.
“We have three kinds of hair in this band,” she says with a throaty chuckle. “Yael is like a flower, something wild. Dana has long dark hair; she is a classic beauty.”
Then comes a question they've clearly heard a few too many times: How did they become a band?
The story is well-known in Israel, where the single “So Far,” off HaBanot's 2007 self-titled debut album, has received incessant radio play.
“There was that moment about eight years ago when we met at a clothing store where Dana worked,” explains Deckelbaum, who met Adini during her mandatory army service and Karolina later on through the Tel Aviv music scene. “We were all a bit frustrated and there was a moment—an idea was born.”
That idea was that these three talented friends should make music together. They named their trio HaBanot Nechama—which roughly translates from Hebrew to “The Comfort Girls.”
“It's easier than when we were alone because we lean on each other,” Deckelbaum says. “The power is three times bigger.”
For nearly five years, the women worked out songs together. One might come up with a tune, and the other two would eagerly think up harmonies and tinker with instrumentation. Adini says the collaborative process felt organic from the start.
“Most of the time, it comes very natural—the song knows where the song wants to go.”
HaBanot gigged constantly, paying close attention to feedback from audiences. Then they finally committed to tape. In Israel, they went gold in three weeks and platinum shortly thereafter.
The band's soulful, acoustic songs revel in femininity. Layers of lush vocals, in a fluently shifting mix of English and Hebrew, dance over lurching reggae rhythms and finger-snapping folk. There's no doubt these ladies are feisty—maybe a little gypsy in spirit—but they also seem sweet.
“We are just emotional,” Deckelbaum says, attempting to characterize the album's mood. “We have a lot of feelings. The beauty of life and the sad part of it—everything is mysterious.”
No one else chimes in. When asked how much HaBanot is influenced by traditional Israeli music, however, the room erupts in excitement.
“We're influenced by everything around us,” Deckelbaum says. “Everything we've ever heard. Anything we love, it just goes through us.”
“Janis Joplin,” someone shouts out. Radiohead. Nina Simone. David Bowie. A long list of Israeli musicians whose names are indecipherable in such a rapid-fire manner.
“There's so much music going on in Israel that's being exported around the world,” Deckelbaum says. “The quality of creations is unbelievable. Write it all down because these people are making the best music that I hear today. Classic. A lot of people sing in English. Some are more known. These people should be given a push, because they can be amazing ambassadors for Israel.”
HaBanot's second U.S. tour includes stops at museums, temples and campuses. In their homeland they're famous—is it strange to play stateside, where their name sounds more like a cough than comfort on gentile tongues?
“Nooooo,” Deckelbaum says. “It's something really nice, because people are listening. It's not like in Israel, when everybody sings along with us. There's something really special about people who see the show for the first time. I don't know, it's kind of familiar to us and—.”
“It throws us back to the time when we first started,” Adini says, completing Deckelbaum's sentence like a sister might.
Speaking of sisterly love, the ladies say they're not disrupted by the kind of drama that's toppled so many tight-knit bands—siblings or otherwise.
“We don't have any catfights or anything that you would want to hear about,” Deckelbaum claims. “We have our disagreements but—.”
“It's like every normal family,” Adini interjects. “Sometimes we love each other. Sometimes we hate each other.”
Deckelbaum says HaBanot is working on songs for a new album but that she and her bandmates don't feel any pressure in the aftermath of their impressive accomplishments thus far—that was never the point.
“This band was created to comfort us and to make music out of love, she says. “Somehow, things were accomplished out of that.”
HaBanot Nechama play at The Loft at UCSD on Wednesday, Jan. 20. www.myspace.com/habanotnechama.