Here in the States, wedding bands get a bad rap. The term is a surefire punch line and cultural shorthand for “cheesy,” conjuring up images of tuxedoed mediocrity, canned schmaltz and Adam Sandler. But Israeli surf-rockers Boom Pam are proud to wear their schmaltz on their sleeves, taking their name from a 1969 pop hit that’s become a perennial favorite at Israeli weddings—and recording a version of their own that went straight to the top of their homeland’s charts last year. And lately, the Tel Aviv-based foursome have taken their unique Telecasters-and-tuba lineup to international audiences, winning over new fans with appearances at the 2006 WOMEX conference in Seville, Spain and at New York’s globalFEST event this January.
Boom Pam first came together in 2003, as a trio, with Uzi Feinerman and Uri Kinrot on fuzzed-out electric guitars and Yuval “Tuby” Zolotov providing an unusual bottom end—on the tuba. The three met as teenagers, attending the same performing arts high school outside of Tel Aviv. By the time they were in their early 20s, Uri and Uzi were sharing an apartment in the city. The two were bored with the blues, rock and rockabilly they’d been playing to that point and began to experiment with “Oriental” and Mizrahi sounds on their guitars.
An integral part of Israel’s cultural mix, Mizrahis are Israeli Jews who trace their ancestry to the Mediterranean and Middle East (as opposed to the Ashkenazi Jews who trace their roots back to Northern, Central and Eastern Europe). In Israel, Mizrahis have a well-defined musical culture all their own–and their famously lavish weddings are a major venue for keeping these musical traditions alive.
When Uri and Uzi wanted to add some bass to their trebly guitar sound, they simply called their old friend. “We needed a bass instrument, so we called Tuby,” explains Uri. “It’s as simple as that!” Not long after, the trio became a quartet with the addition of Dudu Kochav on trap drums (who relieved Tuby from doing double duty), and a band was born.
But the group’s name didn’t stick until the foursome teamed up with Israeli rock star Berry Sakharof for a cover of singer Aris San’s 1969 hit “Boom Pam.” San, a Greek pop singer who fell in love with Israel (and an Israeli woman) and emigrated in the 1950s, scored a series of hits in Israel, and was one of the first to combine traditional Mediterranean music with electric guitars and modern pop arrangements. He was a natural inspiration for the band. “I knew some of his songs from my early childhood, because my parents used to listen to Greek music,” explains Uri. “As an adult, his music crossed my way again and his way of playing Greek music on an electric guitar freaked me out.” But Uri is quick to point out that their inspiration is sincere, and not a mere hipster’s whim. “No irony, only tribute,” he says.
Boom Pam & Sakharof’s wild interpretation of San’s hit–all fuzzed-out, Surfaris-style guitars, whomping tuba and rockabilly snare-drum rattle–struck a chord with Israeli audiences and stormed up the national charts in 2004. They followed this with another Berry Sakharof collaboration, “Hadag Nachash,” and work with other Israeli pop stars, including Aliza Azikri and legendary Oriental singer Ahuva Uzeri.
But it was the group’s raucous live shows in bars, clubs, concert halls, festivals, the Philharmonic Hall in Tel-Aviv and yes, weddings that cemented their reputation as one of Israel’s most unique party bands. “The vibe in the shows can get real crazy at times,” says Uzi. “People know they're in for a party and get real drunk. We had a show recently where someone from the crowd, who was standing close to the stage, puked in the middle of the show on stage, cleaned it up with his bare hands and continued dancing like nothing happened.”
“It’s a combination of a dance club and an alcohol-soaked family event,” Uri adds. “It can be nice to try to give our crowd a