Gil Binyamin, aka Silver Don, closed a circle last month when he performed as warmup to Ziggy Marley in Ra’anana a decade after performing with him in Jamaica. The appearance was also a good opportunity to promote his new reggae album, “Live Flame,” written entirely in Hebrew.
Thirty-eight year old Silver Don, a surfing enthusiast and son of a sea captain from Ashdod, caught the reggae bug at a very young age. “As I child I'd go with my father on his journeys to Africa,” he recalls. “We would bring cassettes from Kenya and Tanzania and that’s where I heard all the music I sing today.
"On Fridays at Kabbalat Shabbat in school I would sing those songs in gibberish with a tambourine. The figure of Bob Marley was what made me so enthusiastic about this. I heard thousands of hours of reggae about how the white man robbed the gold of Africa, and it stuck with me. To this day I completely agree with the claims of the third world.”
At the start of the 1990s when Binyamin decided to go conquer Jamaica, he was sure he was going to be at least as great as Shabba Ranks.
“I discovered that I’m far from being Shabba, but thanks to a good manager I became known. I was the only white person there in the ghetto. I denied my origin, which is Polish-Yemenite. This caused raised eyebrows, but it’s what helped me to get attention. The media were very encouraging, and I got television and radio exposure and autographs and the whole thing. I was more successful in Jamaica than in Israel.”
So why reggae in Hebrew?
“In the past reggae in Hebrew sounded to me like a chewing gum commercial. Mediterranean music is really identical to the dance hall beat. Reggae in Hebrew is a challenge for me. Today I accept who I am and I sing in Hebrew with the same passion as in English.”
What do you most miss about Jamaica?
“I want to return there as an artist and not as a tourist, and certainly not with a surfboard in hand. I miss seeing a crowd doing a ‘forward,’ which is a kind of raising of the hand signalling to the DJ to stop the song and go back to the beginning because the crowd is so enthusiastic. It’s a sight that gives me the chills.”
In Jamaican dance halls they sing against the white establishment. How do you express this in Hebrew?
“I have a song called ‘Paka Paka’ that talks about corruption in high places. It’s similar to Jamaica, although there it’s more corrupt. I appeared at the National Stadium in Jamaica before 60,000 people, 14 hours of performing, and a policeman named Lang produced it. He went around with a street gang among beer stands near the stadium and just broke everything.
"I personally know that a lot of money from the drug trade built community centers and things for the community. The people just look at the drug barons as the saviors of their neighborhoods.”
What Hebrew song would you record with Ziggy Marley?
“One of Zion Golan’s songs because it’s a similar vibe. I had a girlfriend named Tanya Hudson who I made a single with in Jamaica. We just took a song by Zion Golan in the Yemenite Jewish dialect and sang it in English. It’s called ‘Peace for the People.’ Zion Golan is authentic. Perhaps one day I’ll do a trio with him and Ziggy.”
Reproduced with permission: Ynet