Rubi Ate The Fig and It Rocked
Band moves through music and into space
By August March, ALIBI, ALBUQUERQUE, NM - 8.24.16
"Rubi Ate The Fig is the name of a band that conjures a variety of esoteric references from Biblical to sensual. Their music is something else. Their sound is otherworldly; it's mystically inclined with deft instrumentation, passionate vocals, stunning guitar work and enough Middle Eastern and prog-rock influences to fill their growing audiences with grateful wonder.
The seven piece outfit, led by long-time, Israeli-born, Santa Fe resident and rhythm guitarist/composer SharOn Eliashar also features the talents of axe-man Marc Mann, a dude whose work with George Harrison, Oingo Boingo and System of a Down adds deep rock influence to the proceedings.
Rubi Ate the Fig also features an A-list of players that include Polly Tapia Ferber, a drummer that specializes in hand percussion of the Middle East; drummer Danny Montgomery, a session man who has worked with Taj Mahal and Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads; Souren Baronian, a clarinetist who has recorded with jazz greats Phil Woods and Steve Gadd; composer and oud player Adam Good and bass player Kenny Blye, who among other impressive aural experiences, studied with Motown legend Jamie Jamerson.
In concert and on recordings, Rubi Ate The Fig have an effect that is intimately, intoxicatingly intense as well as captivating, bridging the gap between rocanrol and its Middle Eastern and Asian antecedents with poly-rhythmic aplomb.
Eliashar stopped by Weekly Alibi to chat about the ensemble's upcoming AMP Concerts gig at The Cooperage (7720 Lomas NE) on Wednesday, Aug. 31. We chatted blithely and with positive energy about where she has been musically, where she intends to go—backed by one of the finest groups on Earth—and how all of that complexity fits together to create a soulful and singular sound.
Weekly Alibi: So I asked around town about your band. The folks I've talked to say you all are an essential live experience, with dancers, ornate sets, Middle Eastern prog-rock, y todo. Tell me about all of that.
Sharon Eliashar: My husband, Leo Hubbard; is an architect; he designed the sets. When you come to our show, it's like entering The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. You are entering a faraway place. The sets create that first impression. We're primarily a rock band, but the Middle Eastern rhythms, Middle Eastern modes, solos that focus on traditional instruments and expressions are different from rock music. Yet in many ways, we're a straight-ahead rock band. With Western compositional techniques and rock instruments, we really create an unique fusion. My whole vision of the band was to create a new world, another world for audiences to explore.
What's your musical background?
Ok, so, I've had this band for many years now. It has morphed over time, people have come and gone. This particular group has been playing together since 2013. The players literally live all over the world. So it's a special thing to bring us all together. I studied classical music, but have a degree in mathematics. But I was always into music. When I moved to Santa Fe, I decided to focus on music. I studied with Joseph Weber at the College of Santa Fe. What was great about that experience was his honesty. He told me to write honestly. He said if you're from the farm write about the farm. If you're from the city, write about the city. So I had this big realization. I'm from the Middle East, but I was raised on rock and roll. So, that's what I ended up writing about, that is what informed my compositional style. I started studying with Polly [Tapia Ferber] and Souren [Baronian]. They became my teachers. I wanted to play the Arabic drum in a rock band. They're much better players than me and became part of the ensemble. As I was coming from math, classical music, rock and roll and the Middle East, I started to form this idea about a fusion of those influences. At a certain point, I said, “here are my players, this is my dream ticket.”
Why this band and where did the name come from?
Everyone wants to know about the name [Sharon laughs heartily]. It's kind of a mystery. We don't tell people where it came from. It alludes to an alternate story for Eve. It evokes the Old Testament. I've spent a lot of time—I was born in Jerusalem—in the Sinai Desert, living among the Bedouins. All my music and lyrics come from those encounters. So I draw from being in the desert, from the Song of Songs to evoke ideas about eroticism and the sensuality of human experience. The poet Rumi also plays a role, has an influence in what I write about. Ultimately, it's a type of math rock, but not in the typical sense. But the compositions are filled with a lot of time odd changes and poly-rhythms. I don't write intellectually, though. I write organically. In ensemble, with the players in the band, the process is seemless.
Besides creating a mysterious presence, all of this forward movement has resulted in a Western tour this year. What's that about?
Our first gig is at the Cooperage at the very end of August. It's a small tour. After Burque, we head up to Colorado and play in Salida and Boulder. We have a big show booked in Denver. Then we have a really big show in Santa Fe at the Scottish Rite Temple. That happens the weekend Fiestas de Santa Fe peaks. It's a coincidence, but a cool one. Our dancer, Travis Jarrell, will be performing with the band that night.
The dancer part, along with the sets, speak to an all-inclusive sonic and sensory experience for participants. How important is that to your work?
It is, overall, a theatrical experience. Our intention, when the listener comes to our show, is to provide an entrance to another world. We transport you to another place. We go. We go to the desert, we go to outer space. And we bring our audiences with us."
MIDDLE EASTERN MATH ROCK:
Rubi Ate The Fig
By Paul Weideman, PASATIEMPO, SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN - 9.9.16
"Sharon Eliashar carries the desert with her. On stage with her band Rubi Ate the Fig, she sings about suffering and love and a friend who dealt with addiction, but also about experiences in the arid Sinai Peninsula that she can only describe as mystical. It’s a heady mix musically as well as lyrically. Rubi’s sound can be described as jazz-rock fusion with a heavy Middle Eastern vibe and vocals that can recall Grace Slick in her prime. “She’s my archetype hero, in the sense that I resonate with her the most as a singer, in her approach to the song,” Eliashar said of Slick. “I feel like I’m her granddaughter or her daughter or the next generation. I just adore her.” The groundbreaking 1970s fusion bands Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Weather Report were also huge influences, as was The Police, she said.
Rubi Ate the Fig performs at the Scottish Rite Center on Friday, Sept. 9.It’s a CD-release celebration for the group’s Live album, which was recorded in concert at The Lodge. The gig is the last stop on a short tour that includes Denver, Boulder, and Salida, Colorado.
Eliashar performs with a six-member band. Electric guitarist Mark Mann has played with Oingo Boingo and Electric Light Orchestra, and he played George Harrison’s part on several songs in the Concert for George, a 2002 Royal Albert Hall gig that marked the first anniversary of the death of the former Beatle. Rubi’s Middle Eastern quality is solidly stated by Polly Tapia Ferber on doumbek (hand drum); Souren Baronian on duduk (a double-reed instrument of apricot wood), clarinet, kaval (wood flute), and riqq (Middle Eastern tambourine); and Adam Good on oud. Dynamic rhythms are provided by drummer Danny Montgomery and electric bassist Kenny Blye. On at least one song, the band will be joined by dancer Travis Jarrell.
Eliashar likes opening some space for instrumental work in the center of a song. “My song structures are very simple in their big form; however, the details within them are complex, and I like to open it up in the middle for taqsim, or improvisation.” There, everyone is able to stretch, but the most obvious voices are Mann’s heavy guitar and Baronian’s fabulous solos. “Souren is such a master. He can take out 30,000 people with one note. When I first asked him to be in the band, he said, ‘I’m not really a rock ’n’ roll person,’ because he plays a lot of jazz. I told him to just come out and be a guest, and he ended up doing the whole show. He fell in love with it.
“We’ll have this smoking thing going, simmering, pulsating, and Souren comes in just like the wind over the desert mountains when a little bird lands on the one bush in 50 miles and eats the one seed on the bush. The desert is so delicate and simple, and that’s how he sounds.”
Eliashar was born in Jerusalem and was raised in Palm Springs, California, although she spent several months every year in Jerusalem with her family. “The Eliashar family is one of the oldest Jewish families in Israel. We left Spain 500 years ago, from Híjar in Aragon. I’m Sephardic Israeli American.” She loved music as a child but ended up getting a degree in mathematics from the University ofCalifornia, Berkeley.
In New Mexico, she taught math at Santa Fe Community College, learned and taught gamelan music, and studied classical music and composition with Joseph Weber. “Joe told me, ‘Write who you are. If you’re from the farm, write about the farm. If you’re from the city, write about the city.’ And Rubi Ate the Fig is who I am. For me, Joni Mitchell is the queen, and it’s the perfect example because I don’t sound anything like her. Nothing. I’m not trying to imitate anybody.”
Rubi’s music is all written by Eliashar, and the melody always comes before the lyrics. The songs are typically conceived on the guitar, although she did some composing on the doumbek after studying with Tapia Ferber. Her music strongly relates to the time she has spent in the high mountains of the Sinai desert, including living with the Bedouin people. And she has a predilection for odd time signatures.
“Middle Eastern music is the ultimate math rock,” she said. “But math just helped me with structure in music. I don’t like an intellectual point of view. I’ll just play five measures of five, and I’ll throw a measure of six in there, and the guys go crazy, but that’s what I want. The players in Rubi are so advanced. We can have such complex time signatures, and you won’t notice it because they make a groove. Danny and Polly approach this like they are one player. She’ll lay down the bedrock for the camels walking on the sand, and he’s right there with her.”
Her songs are all about emotion and cultural experience. The chorus of “Breathe With Me Slowly,” which opens the Live album, is “All alone at last/Eyes touching eyes on the grass,” and it speaks volumes about the “entirely different game” in the Middle East. As an American woman, Eliashar considers herself lucky to be able to experience both the female life and the male life in the Sinai. “There are strict separations, but I’m an outsider. The girls will come up with their goats into the high mountains, and they’ll take them to the final watering hole. And it just so happens that at the end of the day the boys have to go to the final watering hole, too. There will be like 30 girls and 30 boys, and they’re apart, and the goats are doing their thing, and all the girls and boys are looking at each other, going like, ‘Oh’ and ‘Aha.’
“My lyrics are of the desert, and they’re of the Middle East, which we don’t know about anymore because right now the Middle East is getting so blasted. Yes, there are problems, but people don’t see the beauty. There’s a beauty to this culture."
RUBI ATE THE FIG AT SCOTTISH RITE TEMPLE
By SANTA FE MUSIC REVIEWS - 9.14.16
"Exhibiting an impressive, expansively diverse array of superb musical talent, Rubi Ate The Fig showcased their all-original music at a packed Scottish Rite Temple in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Friday evening."
Touting a truly unique rock fusion sound with a Middle-Eastern vibe, Rubi Ate The Fig consists of multi-skilled band members Sharon Eliashar (composer, vocals, guitar), Marc Mann (guitars, keyboard), Polly Tapia Ferber (dumbeq, riq, tar), Souren Baronian (clarinet, duduk, riq), Adam Good (oud), Kenny Blye (bass), and Danny Montgomery (drums). Beginning the evenings entertainment with the provocative song “Five In Scorpio“, Rubi Ate The Fig then played what may have been one of the best authentic songs of the set in “Waiting For You“. Moving on, the troupe rattled-off a series of excellent numbers, including the reverent, sultry groove “Gilgamesh“, the rocking piece “Black Eyes“, and the profound melody “I Must Go“, which is also a live video.
After the inspiring ballad “Your Story“, written about a dear friend dealing with addiction, Rubi Ate The Fig transitioned to the soothing creation “Yellow Songs“. Not to be outdone, the septet performed the ethereal anthem “Breathe Me Slowly“, which is also a video, followed by, again, what was perhaps one of the best songs of the evening in “Drink“. Closing things out with well-deserved encouragement from a lively audience, Rubi Ate The Fig played a dual encore, including the hauntingly radiant tune “Glow” and the jamming refrain “I Wonder, The Mystic“.
You can learn more about Rubi Ate The Fig at their website, as well as on Rubi Ate The Fig LogoFacebook and Soundcloud. Be sure to pick up a copy of their newest live CD release, and, check back regularly for updates on the bands California tour in November. Santa Fe Music Reviews thanks Sharon Eliashar for the hospitality, generosity, and kindness, Rubi Ate The Fig for the outstanding music, and Scottish Rite Temple for the great venue and service."