In a yurt in northern Israel, Mark Eliyahu tunes his kamanche, a string instrument of Persian origin. If the artist begins to make a name for himself at home in Israel, most of his fans are in Iran, an enemy country where he is not allowed to go.
“Persian, Iranian culture is a great source of inspiration for me”, explains the 39-year-old musician, who composes ethereal, atmospheric, even hypnotic melodies.
“One of my biggest dreams is to go to Iran, to study there and to meet this culture there for real, because I feel very connected to it”.
Israel and Iran are sworn enemies and with their deep hostility showing no sign of abating, Mark Eliyahu is unlikely to be able to play in Tehran anytime soon.
Otherwise, the Israeli artist gives performances in Istanbul, where Iranians and Israelis can go, even if the Israeli authorities on Monday called on their nationals to leave Turkey “as soon as possible” for fear of Iranian attacks.
The same evening, the Israeli musician gave an outdoor concert in Istanbul. The performance was not canceled, but the reinforced security system and thousands of fans were able to rock to his music.
“When I listen to his music sometimes I get goosebumps, that’s why I love him,” said Farnaz, 29, an Iranian bioengineering student, one of 3,000 fans at sway to the soft music with oriental sounds. Among them, many Iranian and Turkish women, some dressed in summer dresses and others veiled.
– “Enlightenment” –
Born in Dagestan, today a Russian province not far from Turkey and Iran, influenced for centuries by these two cultures, Mark Eliyahu’s father was a composer and his mother a pianist. It was with his two Jewish parents that he arrived in Israel when he was still a child, at the fall of the USSR.
He first opted for the violin, before going to study Greek and Turkish music in Athens, where he heard kamanche for the first time.
“It was the first time that I heard with my ears this sound that I have always had in me”, says the man with the black curly hair. “It was an illumination”.
He then discovered that his great-grandfather himself had played this round violin-like instrument.
Won over, Mark Eliyahu moved to Azerbaijan, in Central Asia, to further study the practice of this instrument with an expert, Adalat Vazirov, before returning to Israel in his early twenties.
Today, the musician has recorded four albums and multiplied concerts in more than 50 countries. But it is in Turkey that his concerts are the most popular. “In Turkey, I feel at home,” he told AFP. “Where I was born is a place where Turkish and Persian cultures mixed.”
– “One day” –
The artist crafted most of his songs on the road, but the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on his overseas travels. Stranded in Israel, he then composed the soundtrack for the Israeli spy series “Tehran” broadcast on Apple TV.
But for this man who says he does not follow the news, does not know anything about politics and is confined “in (his) world of music”, to sign the melodies of this series – which follows a spy trying to sabotage the activities Iranian nuclear weapons–“was not a political act”.
Rather, his mission is “to spread love to the world, to heal and to connect,” he says in the yurt that serves as his singular studio, located under an air corridor of Israeli F-16 fighter jets that from time to time pierce the silence.
Mark Eliyahu is not the first Israeli to be popular in Iran. Before him, the singer Liraz Charhi, whose parents are from there, released an album, some of which were secretly recorded there.
On the artist’s Instagram account, an admirer says he hopes “to see (one) one day in Iran”.
The musician believes that his concerts in Turkey in front of Iranian spectators are already “a great honor”, but deeply regrets not being able to go to Iran. “I hope one day that will change,” he says.