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Razel Johannesburg bound






Winning Israel’s secular Song of the Year competition three months ago rocked (pictured) Haredi singer Yonatan Razel’s perceptions of where he fits in. He spoke to the SAJR from his home in Jerusalem about his forthcoming concert in Johannesburg.

On the eve of his fifth trip to South Africa, he feels “very connected to South African Jewry. I first visited 14 years ago on a meet-the-community tour to Port Elizabeth,” this father of four said.

But after being invited to perform at Sinai Indaba a few years ago, and getting a taste of Shabbat at the Shabbos Project last October, Razel is sold on South African Jewry. “This community is warm and united. It’s almost like being a Jew in Israel. There’s a common denominator.”

Brought to this country for a one-night-only event in Johannesburg by Rabbi Danny Sackstein of Glenhazel’s Sunny Road Shul, Razel was born in New York and made aliyah at a young age with his family. He studied classical music from childhood, specialising in ‘cello, piano, composition and conducting.

Razel Yonatan


After completing his army draft, he continued his studies, and worked as conductor of the Israel Chamber Orchestra and the Ra’anana Symphony Orchestra.

In 2007, he released his first album, All in All, which went gold. That year, he also won Israel’s Singer of the Year and in 2008, his song Ve’hi She’amdah, which he composed, arranged and performed with Yaakov Shwekey, exploded exponentially in popularity. 

In 2012 Razel released his second album, In Between the Sounds. This January, his song Katonti won the ACUM (Union of Composers, Writers and Publishers in Israeli Music) song of the year.

“It’s a secular competition,” he emphasises. “It’s a song based on a phrase from the Torah and it is interesting to understand what is going on with Israeli audiences, which for years looked to Europe for culture.

“A lot of art and artists in Israel are left wing. Because this song, by a haredi performer can be crowned song of the year, it seems to be heralding a spiritual movement.

“Winning this award was a present and a shock for me. You could call my music religious. It’s not ‘fun’ music; it is contemplative and has strong classical roots. It’s sweet and subtle and engages with identity. My fan base is aged 20 – 30.”

Jazz saxophonist Daniel Zamir, who audiences will remember from the concert at Wits University last August to counteract a BDS threat, will be guest artist.

“Zamir’s experience was pretty scary; he feels being there was important in G-d’s name,” says Razel who regularly collaborates with Zamir.

The show will be opened by local performer Danny K, which Razel is excited about. “We had an amazing emotional connection when last we collaborated,” he said. Razel promises audiences his unique blend, including tunes from his new album and “a lot of jazz-like improvisation”.

  • Yonatan Razel in Concert is at the Lyric Theatre, Gold Reef City, Ormonde, March 26. Booking at Computicket.

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