2019 American Music Awards

Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis on Radiohead Tour: 'This Is a Chance That You Don't Miss'

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Coachella
Nasrin Kadry and Dudu Tassa of Dudu Tassa & the Kuwaitis perform at the Gobi Tent during day 1 of the Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival (Weekend 1) at the Empire Polo Club on April 14, 2017 in Indio, Calif.

Every band on the Coachella field has some sort of story -- but none has a story like Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis, the Israeli group that opened the festival both weekends this year and has been primary support on Radiohead's spring tour of the U.S.

That's because no band in the world has a story like Tassa and his group. Tassa is the grandson of a Kuwaiti musician Daoud Al-Kuwaiti, whose music collaborations with his brother became famous in the Arabic world in the '30s-'50s -- and was subsequently banned in Iraq by Saddam Hussein when he found out that the singer was not, in fact, Arabic at all, but was Jewish. Tassa has spent the last decade gaining a reputation in Israel for his own original work, but came across a box of his grandfather's old records and decided to re-record some of his songs with a modern edge and rock instrumentation -- a decision, he told Billboard backstage in the band's trailer at Coachella following their set on Friday -- that wasn't exactly an easy sell.

"It was a little bit of a risk [to sing in Arabic] after so many Hebrew hits," Tassa said, veering between English and Hebrew translated by his bassist and creative partner, Nir Maimon, and the band's manager, Or Davidson. The band certainly never expected the response they got at home, with generations of fans now coming to see their shows in Israel -- grandmothers reliving the music of their youths, 20-somethings who knew Tassa from his Hebrew hits finding roots in traditional music played by an atraditional band, and young children being exposed to a new culture for the first time.

Now, thanks to Radiohead, the band's being exposed to a bigger audience in the states and beyond; they're working with Ohle! Records, who bring Israeli bands to the U.S., and vice versa, to promote the music, and Radiohead have been cheerleaders themselves. Tassa has been friends with Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood for years, and Greenwood brought their music to the rest of the band -- who decided to take them on the road just a few weeks before the tour. "We canceled all the shows that we were doing in Israel and for three and a half weeks, that's all I did at my office," Davidson says, referring to clearing the band's visas and travel arrangements. "We had a lot of things to do, but this is a chance that you don't miss. You just don't miss it."

Thankfully -- despite the immigration issues that have emerged for other bands hoping to make their way to the states recently -- Tassa and his crew were cleared. The guys from Radiohead watched their first soundcheck and were duly impressed -- and the band's audience has similarly embraced Tassa and his group. "The thing that we had [worried about] in our minds before we came is how the American audience would take to Arab music and Arab players with Jewish players, playing those concerts," Tassa said. "We were surprised -- because they loved us."

Coachella isn't the end of Tassa's U.S. run: the band has plans for more touring this year, as well as an official release of their two albums of the Kuwaiti Brothers material, which is available on iTunes but has never had an official roll-out in the states. And there's more where that came from, as well. "We'll take the box, and we'll [try to] find another nine or 10 songs," Tassa says. "Maybe we'll do another one."


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