One Love Israel's 'Dr. Reggae' does not look like you might expect, given the name. This thin, balding Ashkenazi sabra wears no dreadlocks. But he's as big a reggae freak as you'll find anywhere.
Tal Grubstein, a 41-year-old Egged driver, has turned his love of reggae into a mission - to bring the Jamaican music to Israel and Israeli reggae (yes, there is such a thing) to the world. Grubstein's 'Official Israeli Reggae Website' (Irielion.com/israel), launched three years ago, has attracted attention from reggae devotees worldwide, who are thrilled with the idea of Israeli reggae.
The site includes complete listings of the local reggae scene ('Dis ya page is livicated to de reggae lovers inna Israel'); background information about reggae legend Bob Marley, Abyssinians, and various reggae groups; photos; and a Hebrew-Patois dictionary of reggae vocabulary. There are also sound tracks from albums by Israeli reggae artists, which can be downloaded.
Through the Web, Grubstein corresponds with reggae fans abroad. 'Sometimes they have no idea where Israel is, and they certainly don't know that reggae is known in Israel.'
One of the people with whom Grubstein maintains contact is Hans van der Linden, a Dutch Jew involved in the Holland reggae scene who runs his own Web site. Last year Irielion joined forces with the Dutch-Belgian reggae Web site.
Dear Dr. Reggae,
A big up and cool respect for IRIELION from a reggae veteran in Italy of reggae sound. Your site is great, truly. Jah Blessing You Forever - a fan in Rome.
GRUBSTEIN ALSO hosts a weekly radio program, Reggae Power, which is heard in the south the country on Radio Eshel Hanasi (106 FM). It is no accident that the program gained popularity in the south, where large numbers of Ethiopian immigrants form the nucleus of local reggae fans.
Every Sunday from 8 to 10 p.m., the studios, on the campus of the Eshel Hanasi regional high school midway between Beersheba and Ofakim, fill up with Ethiopian teen fans of Dr. Reggae and the music he plays. In Dimona, where there are many Ethiopian immigrants but sometimes spotty radio reception, fans drive a van to a nearby hilltop to record the weekly programs. The same happens in Kiryat Gat, where Ethiopian youngsters gather to listen to the program.
Grubstein says he has established a connection with Ethiopian immigrant youth here who identify with reggae. 'They... don't know with whom to identify...Are they Israelis or Africans? So they are confused,' he explains.
Grubstein believes he has a social message for Ethiopian kids.
'During the show we talk to them directly - like the song says, 'Keep your head up.'
'I think reggae brings people together,' he continues. 'White and black people can sit together and understand the message of brotherhood. The message is to get together.'
Although many Ethiopian youngsters sport Rastafarian-style dreadlocks, whether they actually understand the esoteric meaning of many reggae lyrics is doubtful. But there can be no doubt that there's something about the music that cheers you up.
'The Jamaicans call this 'irie', explains Grubstein, 'which means 'great' or, in Hebrew slang, 'sababa'. The music sends positive vibrations.'
Dear Dr. Reggae,
Greetings. Nuff respect for the New Year. We didn't know reggae was played that much in Israel. We must correspond more to see how we can help each other.
- Sugar Minott, Jamaican reggae star
GRUBSTEIN WAS 'converted' to reggae while completing his regular army service in the late 1970s. 'Somebody brought some reggae records to the base. It was the first time that I'd ever heard [it]. I'd known Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, but this was something different. It had a message of unity, telling people to 'Get up, stand up.'
'At the time there was nothing available in Israel, so I started collecting records from abroad.'
Grubstein became part of the emerging local reggae scene: meeting with artists, going abroad for festivals, and acting as a sort of reggae clearing house from his home in Meitar, near Beersheba. Today, there are several 'native' Israeli reggae bands: Ras Dan and the Desert Lions, Tony Ray and amjah, Silver Don, Avi Matos, Yahzlciah Avrahami and Root Africa. Most of the groups are a mix of sabra and Ethiopian musicians.
'When I sent Roots Africa's album to other reggae stations around the world they didn't believe they weren't Jamaican, they sound so authentic,' says Grubstein, who promotes Israeli groups on his program and Web site.
But when he tried to persuade the southern regional radio station, Kol Hadarom, to broadcast reggae , they refused. 'I tried to explain to them that there are lots of people in the south who want to hear reggae - the Black Hebrews, the Ethiopians, and the volunteers on the kibbutzim. But they claimed no one is interested. Ethiopians aren't the types to call up a radio station to request something.'
Radio Eshel Hanasi is part of Israel Radio's local radio network, and is used as a training workshop for high-school students studying communications. In fact, Grubstein's reggae message has been youth driven.
His 16-year-old twins encouraged him to develop his Website, with son Yotam designing it , and daughter Amit doing the artwork. Yotam also serves as studio engineer during the weekly radio programs.
While Tel Aviv has the Soweto reggae club, and Jerusalem has one club that plays reggae once a week, fans in the south have to make do with the radio program. But this month Dr. Reggae launches weekly live reggae performances in Omer.
In the meantime, if you're on an Egged bus in the south and hear reggae on the loudspeakers, you know you're on Grubstein's route.
'My passengers have learned to like the music. My bus is like a reggae club on four wheels.'Another, slightly older article in Yediot Acharonot (hebrew)