Mid­dle Eastern math rock

Rubi Ate the Fig

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Paul Wei­de­man

Sharon Eliashar car­ries the desert with her. On stage with her band Rubi Ate the Fig, she sings about suf­fer­ing and love and a friend who dealt with ad­dic­tion, but also about ex­pe­ri­ences in the arid Si­nai Penin­sula that she can only de­scribe as mys­ti­cal. It’s a heady mix mu­si­cally as well as lyri­cally. Rubi’s sound can be de­scribed as jazz-rock fu­sion with a heavy Mid­dle Eastern vibe and vo­cals that can re­call Grace Slick in her prime. “She’s my archetype hero, in the sense that I res­onate with her the most as a singer, in her ap­proach to the song,” Eliashar said of Slick. “I feel like I’m her grand­daugh­ter or her daugh­ter or the next gen­er­a­tion. I just adore her.” The ground­break­ing 1970s fu­sion bands Ma­hav­ishnu Orchestra, Re­turn to For­ever, and Weather Re­port were also huge in­flu­ences, as was The Po­lice, she said.

Rubi Ate the Fig per­forms at the Scot­tish Rite Cen­ter on Fri­day, Sept. 9. It’s a CD-re­lease cel­e­bra­tion for the group’s Live al­bum, which was recorded in concert at The Lodge. The gig is the last stop on a short tour that in­cludes Den­ver, Boul­der, and Sal­ida, Colorado.

Eliashar per­forms with a six-mem­ber band. Elec­tric guitarist Mark Mann has played with Oingo Boingo and Elec­tric Light Orchestra, and he played Ge­orge Har­ri­son’s part on sev­eral songs in the

Concert for Ge­orge, a 2002 Royal Al­bert Hall gig that marked the first an­niver­sary of the death of the for­mer Bea­tle. Rubi’s Mid­dle Eastern qual­ity is solidly stated by Polly Tapia Fer­ber on doum­bek (hand drum); Souren Ba­ro­nian on duduk (a dou­ble-reed in­stru­ment of apri­cot wood), clar­inet, kaval (wood flute), and

riqq (Mid­dle Eastern tam­bourine); and Adam Good on oud. Dy­namic rhythms are pro­vided by drum­mer Danny Mont­gomery and elec­tric bassist Kenny Blye. On at least one song, the band will be joined by dancer Travis Jar­rell.

Eliashar likes open­ing some space for in­stru­men­tal work in the cen­ter of a song. “My song struc­tures are very sim­ple in their big form; how­ever, the de­tails within them are com­plex, and I like to open it up in the mid­dle for taqsim, or im­pro­vi­sa­tion.” There, ev­ery­one is able to stretch, but the most ob­vi­ous voices are Mann’s heavy gui­tar and Ba­ro­nian’s fab­u­lous so­los. “Souren is such a mas­ter. He can take out 30,000 peo­ple with one note. When I first asked him to be in the band, he said, ‘I’m not re­ally a rock ’n’ roll per­son,’ be­cause he plays a lot of jazz. I told him to just come out and be a guest, and he ended up do­ing the whole show. He fell in love with it.

“We’ll have this smok­ing thing go­ing, sim­mer­ing, pul­sat­ing, and Souren comes in just like the wind over the desert moun­tains when a lit­tle bird lands on the one bush in 50 miles and eats the one seed on the bush. The desert is so del­i­cate and sim­ple, and that’s how he sounds.”

Eliashar was born in Jerusalem and was raised in Palm Springs, Cal­i­for­nia, although she spent sev­eral months ev­ery year in Jerusalem with her fam­ily. “The Eliashar fam­ily is one of the old­est Jewish fam­i­lies in Is­rael. We left Spain 500 years ago, from Hí­jar in Aragon. I’m Sephardic Is­raeli Amer­i­can.” She loved mu­sic as a child but ended up get­ting a de­gree in math­e­mat­ics from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

In New Mex­ico, she taught math at Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Col­lege, learned and taught game­lan mu­sic, and stud­ied clas­si­cal mu­sic and com­po­si­tion with Joseph We­ber. “Joe told me, ‘Write who you are. If you’re from the farm, write about the farm. If you’re from the city, write about the city.’ And Rubi Ate the Fig is who I am. For me, Joni Mitchell is the queen, and it’s the per­fect ex­am­ple be­cause I don’t sound any­thing like her. Noth­ing. I’m not try­ing to im­i­tate any­body.”

Rubi’s mu­sic is all writ­ten by Eliashar, and the melody al­ways comes be­fore the lyrics. The songs are typ­i­cally con­ceived on the gui­tar, although she did some com­pos­ing on the doum­bek after study­ing with Tapia Fer­ber. Her mu­sic strongly re­lates to the time she has spent in the high moun­tains of the Si­nai desert, in­clud­ing liv­ing with the Be­douin peo­ple. And she has a predilec­tion for odd time sig­na­tures.

“Mid­dle Eastern mu­sic is the ul­ti­mate math rock,” she said. “But math just helped me with struc­ture in mu­sic. I don’t like an in­tel­lec­tual point of view. I’ll just play five mea­sures of five, and I’ll throw a mea­sure of six in there, and the guys go crazy, but that’s what I want. The play­ers in Rubi are so ad­vanced. We can have such com­plex time sig­na­tures, and you won’t no­tice it be­cause they make a groove. Danny and Polly ap­proach this like they are one player. She’ll lay down the bedrock for the camels walk­ing on the sand, and he’s right there with her.”

Her songs are all about emo­tion and cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence. The cho­rus of “Breathe With Me Slowly,” which opens the Live al­bum, is “All alone at last/Eyes touch­ing eyes on the grass,” and it speaks vol­umes about the “en­tirely dif­fer­ent game” in the Mid­dle East. As an Amer­i­can woman, Eliashar con­sid­ers her­self lucky to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence both the fe­male life and the male life in the Si­nai. “There are strict sep­a­ra­tions, but I’m an out­sider. The girls will come up with their goats into the high moun­tains, and they’ll take them to the fi­nal wa­ter­ing hole. And it just so hap­pens that at the end of the day the boys have to go to the fi­nal wa­ter­ing hole, too. There will be like 30 girls and 30 boys, and they’re apart, and the goats are do­ing their thing, and all the girls and boys are look­ing at each other, go­ing like, ‘Oh’ and ‘Aha.’

“My lyrics are of the desert, and they’re of the Mid­dle East, which we don’t know about any­more be­cause right now the Mid­dle East is get­ting so blasted. Yes, there are prob­lems, but peo­ple don’t see the beauty. There’s a beauty to this cul­ture."

Sharon Eliashar

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