The groundbreaking social musical initiative from Israel comes to Los Angeles.
Just before the American holiday season reaches a peak, between Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s, it’s the perfect time to take in one of this winter’s most interesting shows. Koolulam, a groundbreaking social musical initiative from Israel, that will be staging a single performance at the Saban Theater, Beverly Hills on Thursday, December 15, 2022 at 7:00 pm. Koolulam aims to generate social change by connecting people through the universal language of music. The Koolulam team specializes in bringing together large audiences from different backgrounds to enjoy a unique experience.
Indeed, the audience plays an active role in the performance: they sing, dance, and enjoy a one-of-a-kind sound and light performance. The aim is to harness the power of musical harmony to create harmony in humanity.
In Israel, Koolulam is already famous: the organization has staged hundreds of performances throughout the country in cooperation with many Israeli musicians.
Koolulam’s events are professionally recorded and filmed, and the footage is used to make remarkable clips that have gone viral on social media networks. These clips combine a musical experience with a social message, commenting on important issues and connecting diverse communities. The initiative first conquered the Israeli mainstream in 2018 with a special to celebrate the 70th birthday of the State of Israel. All 12,000 participants, including singer Shlomi Shabbat and then President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, sang Naomi Shemer’s classic song “Al Kol Eleh” (For All These Things).
So how does it work? Most audience members are regular people: they have no professional musical background and simply want to experience something a bit different. The audience is divided into groups that will sing the different harmonies of a famous song with an important message. Professional conductors quickly teach the groups their parts. Afterwards, everyone gathers together to practice and eventually perform the song. The result is no less than amazing.
Koolulam was founded by Or Taicher, the artistic and creative director, Michal Shahaf, the organization’s CEO, and Ben Yaffet, its principal conductor, musical director, and content creator. In recent months Koolulam has been touring the US, France, Canada, and Switzerland. In a special telephone interview, the trio told me how different audiences around the world reacted to the initiative.
Elad Massuri:Where does the name Koolulam come from?
Koolulam: “When we established Koolulam, we decided that we wanted to create a new cultural and social language. We looked for a word that doesn’t exist in any language. The inspiration for the name comes from the famous Koolulu—ululations that in Judaism express great joy, for example at celebrations and weddings. By contrast, in Islamic culture the same ululations are a call for mourning; they are mainly heard at funerals. This gap between something that expresses joy in Jewish culture and such great sadness for others constitutes a bridge connecting the two cultures.”
E.M.: How was the idea for Koolulam born?
Koolulam: “It was in 2016—at the time I was working as an advertising and cinema director. I noticed that the social dialogue in Israel and in the world had become very intransigent and violent, less patient and tolerant. At the same time, I remember seeing a short film that showed thousands of people standing at the Kotel in Jerusalem in the week before Yom Kippur, praying and reciting selichot. They sang the song ‘Hatanu lefanekha,’ and it was really moving. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, how can it be that while the dialogue in the streets, in the news, and in the media is so violent and aggressive, here are 100,00 people without any divides—men, women, black and white, religious and secular—everyone singing together in crazy harmony.’ Apparently, the verbal aggression and divisions can disappear and turn into unity when everyone stands together praying for hope. I remember asking myself whether this prayer could also be a social prayer. In other words, can we take this thing and instead of praying bring together thousands of people from all kinds of communities and sectors with different backgrounds and simply teach them to sing, because music connects worlds, it’s an international language. So, let’s give them a good song, record and film them, and produce a clip as a message to make the world a better place.
“Coming from the world of music, I knew that I needed a musical genius. At first, people told me that it would never work, that I won’t be able to teach people with no musical knowledge and abilities to sing different harmonies. But then I met Ben, who studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. He’s a pianist and he also learned conducting and composition. It was at a performance for at-risk youth by VocaTikva, a social acapella group that he created. He believed in the initiative and we started to move forwards, together with Michal, who has amazing media and digital experience, and she is responsible for all the business and promotional aspects.”
The trio’s success in Israel was just the beginning. Koolulam has performed all over the world, invited by communities and organizations who seek to bring people together through music.
More than 350,000 people have participated in over 250 Koolulam events around the globe, which have gone viral and been viewed 150 million times! The clips have reached international leaders, social organizations, and celebrities. For example, Jennifer Lopez was very impressed by Koolulam’s performance of her hit song “Let’s Get Loud” at a special event to raise awareness of the importance of early breast cancer detection, which was attended by thousands of women. J. Lo loved the Koolulam version so much that she included it in her iconic halftime performance, together with the singer Shakira, at the 2020 Super Bowl.
Ben: “The process that happens during the performance, when the audience starts to understand that they are performing, involves a lot of funny and moving moments. You feel like you are part of something very big.”
Michal, the CEO of the organization, shared with me emotional letters from Muslim audiences who watched a Koolulam performance and were touched by the idea of unity. Among them was a particularly moving letter from a young man in Sudan who began to see Israelis in a completely different light: “All my life, I was taught to hate Israel, and the idea behind it, but today I understand that there are good people with good intentions among you.”
Michal: “This moved me a lot, because we want to show people that there are also different ways of life in Israel and we can live differently.”
E.M.: What is your dream?
“It would be a dream come true to be one of the main acts at the Super Bowl! But really, our biggest dream is to show that every person in the world can be part of the Koolulam experience, to reach all communities, schools, children and adults, and to share our initiative with them. The audience is part of us, it’s the real star of the show.”
Elad Massuri is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine.