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His Own Song

Barbara Bensoussan

Eli Schwebel may hail from a family of Jewish music stars, but it took years of struggle before he found his own voice and could sing the tunes of his own heart.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

“Ani Yosef,” the first track of Hearts Mind, Eli Schwebel’s new album, launches with a hushed, unearthly sort of sound. When the vocals start to intone, they have the haunting melody of a voice crying out in the wilderness. The refrain whimpers softly, “I’ve been alone / I’ve been afraid / I’ve been locked up and thrown away.” Then the music slowly swells into a self-confident declaration: “Now I am free / I know who I am / Ani Yosef, od avi chai?”  Hearts Mind is not Schwebel’s first album. But it’s the first one on which he composed, arranged, and sang all the tracks, and that first song gives us a clue into the journey that produced this outpouring of talent and soul.  Now 34, Schwebel went through many long, sometimes dark, years of soul-searching to find his unique path in the Jewish world and the world of Jewish music. Both he and his music have emerged triumphant, flush with the satisfaction of having found their true north. At six-foot-two, Eli presents himself as an exuberant, gentle giant of a man, nattily attired in wool trousers, a striped blue shirt, and a charcoal cardigan (the aqua-colored socks and scuffed brown wing tips hint at a playful, arty side). While he’s currently living near his grandmother and other relatives on the West Side of Manhattan, he’s come down to Flatbush to meet with Mishpacha in his parents’ home, in their gracious living room dominated by a grand piano.  “Hundreds of songs were recorded on that piano,” points outLebaSchwebel,Eli’s warm, hospitable mother. “That piano used to stand inLarryGates’s studio, where a lot of Jewish music was recorded. When the studio shut down, we bought it from them, and moved our old piano to a different room.” Many a popular Jewish song was conceived in this living room, either by the Schwebels or their friends, and it was here that they together withSheyaMendlowitz conceived the idea to produce a HASC concert.

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