Ancient Hebrew love poetry finds new audiences on YouTube

You’d be surprised how many YouTube followers thirst for oud music and ancient Hebrew texts translated into English.

Thousands, maybe even millions, according to Talya G. A Solan, a musician who specializes in songs based on ancient Hebrew texts, often accompanied by the pear-shaped stringed instrument.

Now Solan is launching the 12 Tribes Music YouTube channel with ancient love songs in time for Tu B’Av, Israel’s version of Valentine’s Day celebrated this Friday, July 23 through Saturday, July 24.

“There’s just a thirst for it,” said Solan. “I’m secular and I have a love for ancient texts, because their words roll off your tongue.”

12 Tribes will specialize in Israeli, traditional and Hebrew music, hosting music groups of different styles, with an emphasis on bringing female artists to the fore.

One of the first 12 Tribes videos is Hadar Nehemya’s rendition of “As a lily among thorns,” an ancient love poem from the Song of Songs. Featuring a video shot in Jaffa, Nehemya’s performance is translated into eleven languages with historical background about the poem and its origins.

Nehemya’s video is one of five encore videos for the channel.

“You can really feel this music,” said Solan.

Supported by a grant from the Genesis Foundation, 12 Tribes is another platform for Solan’s non-profit organization Music Port, created for independent Israeli musicians who work to promote themselves in Israel and abroad.

With the support from Genesis, Music Port has also hosted an Israeli pavilion at several music trade fairs, which brought them to the attention of new markets and listeners prior to COVID-19.

During the course of the last year and a half of the coronavirus, Solan and her fellow musicians went online, discovering a listening public that wanted their music along with translations and explanations.

“They want to know what we’re singing,” she said. “They want background information about what we’re singing about.”

What’s particularly moving for Solan are the comments, which have surprised her. The listeners are younger than she would expect, often in their late teens and twenties. They often comment about having done genetic testing and finding out they have Jewish roots.

“It’s good that I’m there to reply to them,” she said.

Solan is also the lead singer for Yamma, her decade-old band that incorporates Jewish music traditions from across the Mediterranean and Africa. The Yamma band members found their YouTube channel brought them more listeners from abroad than in Israel.

The decade-old band recently had a hit with “Atem Shalom,” set to Psalm 104, and with more than six million views.

“The success with Yamma gave me enough confidence to create my channel,” said Solan. “We’re really international because of YouTube.”

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