By Stacey Dresner
Micha Biton’s love for music began when he was a small boy in Sderot, Israel.
“My father had a phonograph and records brought from Morocco. He liked to listen to music after he got back from work,” Biton recalls. “I enjoyed listening to and humming along with all the songs that were playing on that old record player in our little house in Sderot.”
His father recognized that Micha had singing talent when the boy was just five years old.
“My father was excited that I could sing all the songs in Moroccan,” he says. “He asked the band to get me to sing at a family event when I was at the age of five, and the stage became my great love, thanks to my dad.”
Soon after, Biton’s father began taking him to perform Spanish, Moroccan, and French songs at festivals and competitions around Israel.
He has been singing ever since.
In June, Micha Biton will bring his unique mix of Rock and Moroccan music to Hartford as part of the area’s Israel@70 celebration. Biton will perform concerts at three local venues: Beth El Temple in West Hartford; Beth Sholom B’nai Israel in Manchester; and Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation in Simsbury. (See below for details.)
“I feel very lucky to have met Micha Biton and to work with him and I know that his music will bring great entertainment and joy to our Israel@70 celebrations across the Greater Hartford community,” said Sharon Efron, a member of the Israel@70 committee. “He is incredibly talented and I hope as many folks as possible come to hear him sing, get to meet him and enjoy his music for years to come!”
Biton’s life has been as dramatic as any American Idol’s backstory.
The fifth of 10 children born to Amram and Perla Biton, both Moroccan Jews, his life was turned upside down at the age of nine when his father suddenly died from a heart attack at the age of 41.
“I was broken. I felt that the whole world had fallen apart,” he remembers. “I stopped going to school and everyone feared for me… so a social worker offered to send me to a foster family’s home in Jerusalem.”
His foster parents were Galila and Avi Ron-Feder. Galila, an author, based her best-selling children’s book El Atzmi on Micha and his dramatic childhood.
Through it all, Biton created music.
“UnfortunateIy, I never studied music. There was no such possibility when I was a child in Sderot,” he says. “When I held the guitar, I learned to imitate the sounds I heard on the radio and recordings… And I learned to play. Later I began to write songs and original music.”
Many of his songs were written about his struggles and the loss of his father.
“The unusual story of my life greatly influenced my writing. I wrote a lot of my dad and longing and the experiences of my childhood and adolescence.”
In the 1990s, Biton founded the popular Israeli band Tanara and was one of the first Israeli musicians to experiment with “ethnic rock,” combining western rock music with Moroccan inspired scales and instrumentation.
“In my childhood I heard a lot of Moroccan music. My parents came from Morocco to Sderot and the music they brought with them was rooted mainly Moroccan music,” he says. “When I was a teenager I heard a lot of rock music – Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan. I really liked the Beatles and was influenced by their melodies. I was interested in combining the effects of my Moroccan roots and also my love for rock music…so I found myself combining Western Groove with ethnic instruments.”
Biton is featured in “Rock in the Red Zone,” a 2014 documentary about the music scene in Sderot – which the film’s website describes as “a city of factory workers and rock musicians, [inhabited by] the children of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East. .. Despite being pummeled for years by homemade missiles, the people of Sderot persevere.”
The film will be screened as part of Biton’s performance in Manchester in June.
Today, Biton lives in Netiv HaAsara, a moshav on the border of the Gaza Strip, with his wife Naama and their teenaged children.
“We’ve gone through three wars and the threat of tunnels and terrorists attempting to enter the city and hurt us. Many Qassam rockets landed in the city and all the communities that surround it,” he says. “There were periods when it was really unpleasant to live here. We especially feared something would happen to the children.”
Still, despite the great trauma they have experienced in their hometown, they are determined to stay.
“We live here and pray for peace and peace with our neighbors,” he says. “It’s a beautiful place overlooking the sea. We love the place and despite the constant rockets that we must endure, we are strong and we stay.”
Biton, who performs throughout Israel as well as internationally, is excited to be performing in greater Hartford to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday.
“Many times I have performed all over the U.S. but this is the first time for me to appear in West Hartford,” he says. “I hope the audience will enjoy the songs and the music and sing with me. It will be great music celebration in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday.”
Schedule of Micha Biton in Concert:
June 3, 7-9 p.m. – Beth El Temple, 2626 Albany Ave., West Hartford
June 7, 7:30-9:30 p.m. – Beth Sholom B’nai Israel, 400 Middle Tpke East, Manchester
June 8, 6:30-8 p.m. – Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation-Emek Shalom,
55 Bush Hill Rd., Simsbury
For information on these and other Israel@70 events in the Hartford area, visit mandelljcc.org or jewishhartford.org.