Song: “Ke’ayol Taarog”│Album: Kumtanz 2 DVD│Composer: Shmuel Yefet│Year: 2014
It lay forgotten for eight years.
Composer and musician Shmuel Yefet wrote the hauntingly beautiful “Ke’ayol Taarog” —a song which has become a powerful niggun of inspiration around the world since its debut in 2014 — back in the summer of 2006 and all but forgot about it. But, he says, there’s the right time for everything.
“My friend [producer] Moishy Roth called me up and asked if I remembered the tune I’d composed for ‘Ke’ayol Taarog,’ which I had played and recorded in his studio one day several years ago. He wanted to use it for the Kumtantz 2 performance which he was producing with the Menagnim orchestra.”
Yefet, however flattered, objected to the suggestion. “Look,” he told his friend. “ ‘Ke’ayal Taarog’ is a quiet, reflective song. It needs to be sung at a kumzitz, not a kumtantz event.” But Roth overrode him.
“Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. It’s the perfect finale song,” he pleaded. Then came the clincher: “And Motty Steinmetz will sing it.”
With that, Yefet’s hesitations were calmed. He knew that Steinmetz was one singer who could give “Ka’ayol Taarog” all the depth and intensity it demanded. That performance at the Kumtantz concert catapulted “Ka’ayol Taarog” to fame. It has since been recorded on several albums and as part of soul medleys.
The distinctive intro and deliberate pace of Yefet’s tune captures the thirst expressed in Dovid Hamelech’s timeless image of the yearning Jewish soul. “Like a thirsty deer at a stream of water, so my soul thirsts for You.” It’s become a standard at those arm-linked, shoulder-swaying kumzitzes, is regularly chosen for chuppahs, and played as wedding celebrations wind down. For Yefet himself, a keyboard player and guitarist who has a one-man band and is booked for weddings almost every night, he says it’s a privilege to hear it.
He’s been playing instruments since the age of seven, and Yefet’s composing streak was in evidence from around that time too. “I still have a recording of a tune which I recorded as a seven-year-old cheder boy,” he says. But even then, he never purposefully sat down to compose. “When I feel full of emotion, a niggun emerges from deep within. Afterwards I work to improve on the tune and add the finishing tweaks and touches, but most of what I’ve written has been the result of spontaneous inspiration, not purposeful musical effort.”
Every song has its unique siyata d’Shmaya,” Yefet reflects. “One can never predict how far it will go. But having the right arrangements and the right singer to convey its message is crucial. I had ‘Ka’ayol Taarog’ buried for eight years without even thinking about it. Baruch Hashem it’s merited unexpected success.”
“Recently, an 86-year-old chassid contacted me about ‘Ke’ayol Taarog’”, adds Yefet. “He told me he’d been looking for me for two years to tell me that the song helped him to stay connected to his rebbe who had passed away. He said the combination of the words and this particular niggun helped him find his own soul’s connection to its spiritual legacy.”
Yefet has several popular songs to his credit, although like other behind-the-scenes composers, many people have never even heard of him, let alone associate him with the hits he’s written. His famous “Hu Yivneh Bayis Lishmi” was released as a single by Avraham Fried, who dedicated it to Dovid Tzvi Guttstein — the sole survivor of a horrific crash that killed his wife, baby, and his wife’s’s entire family, the Bernsteins, during bein hazmanim of 2010. Yefet is also the composer of the hartzige “Malachim Mevakshim B’chaninah,” performed by Shlomo Cohen on Kumzing II in 2012 (which was included that year as a gift disc in Mishpacha’s Succos package). With his days spent learning and evenings playing at simchahs, Yefet hopes somewhere in the middle he’ll continue to find the inspiration that he so proficiently translates into song.