Not everyone who initially joined the group stuck with it. As with Alei Hazayit, some of the Palestinian musicians were not able or willing to forgo well-paid wedding gigs to devote time to extensive rehearsal and a couple of the Jews were judged not sufficiently competent by other members of the band. After the first year and recording the group settled to a steady seven members. By the time they broke up in 2003 they had issued five original CDs and one compilation of their “greatest hits.” The band toured extensively in Europe and North America and enjoyed sporadic airplay on various world music radio shows in Israel and abroad.
The fundamental challenge facing these musicians – beyond the invention of a new type of music – was how to market that music. They had to identify, attract, and retain an audience where none had previously coalesced. This challenge was not unique to Bustan, but the band’s dedication to instrumental music was an added handicap, at least in the Israeli market, where purely instrumental music is significantly harder to sell and receives relatively little airplay. Building on his prior experience as an impresario for performers from various parts of Asia, Avshalom Farjun developed a sense of what type of music might appeal. He experimented with inserting vocal tracks on two of the group’s albums and featured guest artists (including the world famous Indian drummer Zakir Hussain and the popular Israeli singer Noa) on several. According to band members , however, these attempts at crossover appeal did not yield appreciably higher sales.
The band’s main repertoire, at which they excelled, consisted of fairly lengthy and complex instrumental compositions that featured a wide variety of rhythmic and melodic resources , sophisticated arrangements, tight ensemble coordination, and numerous, lengthy solo improvisations. The flute, ‘ud, and percussion players, in particular, attained levels of virtuosity unrivaled in the ‘Israeli ethnic music’ scene. […] Consisting almost entirely of original compositions by members of the band, rather than familiar repertoire reworked, Bustan Abraham’s music does not call on the familiarity and verbally mediated emotional appeal of the love songs that Shoham and Jamal selected and arranged for Alei Hazayit. Nonetheless this music can be exciting and moving.
The band toured extensively and was well received, but the frequency and extent of these tours was subject to all sorts of pressures, some of them common in the music business and some of them linked to the unique circumstances of Middle Eastern politics. Since all members of Bustan are Israeli citizens, travel was much simpler to arrange and they did not suffer as many outright cancellations as Shoham and her Palestinian partners did. But they did find that the number of invitations to perform abroad rose and fell with Israel’s perceived willingness to bargain with the Palestinians. For instance, when Binyamin Netanyahu became prime minister and scuttled hopes of ongoing rapprochement with Arabs and particularly with the Palestinians, the band found itself suddenly much less popular with festival organizers and other promoters in Europe. With the onset of the second Intifada in 2000, Israel’s economy slid downward, a process that is ongoing at the time of writing. By spring 2003 each of the members was deeply involved in other projects and Bustan was forced to disband for lack of sufficient income, one of many victims of the difficult times that afflicted Israel’s music industry.» (Excerpted from Beyond Israelis vs. Palestinians or Jews vs. Arabs: The Social Ramifications of Musical Interaction, by Ben Brimmer. Click here to read the full essay – highly recommended!)
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