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I first came across Avi Elman and his United People of Zion project when I was working with Loven Records. A copy of ‘Pure Surprise’ landed in my inbox and we immediately decided to sign him.
When I checked out his other productions, I realized Avi wasn’t going to be a one-hit wonder but would make an impression on the soulful scene in the years to come.
Here’s our interview with Avi:
What is United People of Zion?
UPZ is the name of a project we’ve put together for the soulful side of my songs and productions. I thought it would be really cool to build it as a concept and give it a name which would make the people involved feel like part of a collective. Along the way, I’ve had help from Yaron Trax (one of Israel’s leading soulful house DJs), Patrick G (a vocalist and conga player from Haiti), Azizy, Amichay and Hillary Seargant.
Why such a name?
We wanted a name that reflects where we’re coming from, something that all the people involved could really feel a part of. In Israel, there are a lot of people from wide and diverse backgrounds and the ones involved in UPZ are from Brazil, Haita, Trinidad & Tobago, Ghana and the US. Our shared country has a deep and long history and we wanted to reflect that in the name — United People of Zion.
What about the concept behind UPZ?
The musical concept is soul, r&b, Latin music on house and urban beats. This enables us to deliver not only soulful house productions but also r&bB and funk-influenced shizz.
When did you get together?
The production side of things started to fall into place about two years ago, but it took a lot more time for us to put the marketing side in place.
How did you get into music?
My father used to be an accordion player and I guess I acquired his musical ear. I listened to a lot of my parents’ music as a child (especially the Beatles and the electro-pop music of that time) and, at the same time, I was being exposed to a lot of African music because I was living in Kenya and South Africa. With the political situation in South Africa moving away from the system of Apartheid, me and my friends used to absorb the jazz and Afro-sounds of the country.
What instruments do you play?
I started to learn keyboard when I was about 11. I also play guitar, bass and drums. I
realised I would like to make my living out of music around five or six years ago when I was working in a high-flying job in a bio-technology company. I made the decision to devote myself full time to music production and have rarely looked back.
What influences you?
Musically, Miles Davis, Earth, Wind & Fire and George Benson (both as a guitarist and vocalist). In general, I really respect visionaries — Nelson Mandela, Ben-Gurion & Martin Luther King.
The first record you ever bought?
Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — I must have been about 12!
The first one you performed or produced?
Some Hebrew r&b track which I released independently in Israel in 2004.
What’s your view on the current state of dance music?
The dance music scene keeps on fluctuating, but there will always be a place for dance, house and soulful music (and all three combined). The downside at the moment is illegal downloads/sharing. I think this is seriously hurting many up-and-coming producers. I think labels and producers must start some kind of awareness campaign promoting the fact that it seriously hurts producers and the quality of the music in the long run.
Who have you released music with?
Cr2 (‘Moment with U’), Camio Records (‘Rok Da Funk’), Look At You Records (‘12 Tribes ep), Faderz (‘Mr. Manna’ remixes), and Soulfunk Digital (‘Afrika Wo-Man’).
Who do you plan to work with?
We have a few more tracks we are in the process of finishing and looking
to license. In terms of labels, we are scheduled to have some releases on Bubble Soul (‘TiMoune’), Camio (‘Danger In The City’ featuring Roy Young), and we have signed a track with Soulfuric as well.
How do you see UPZ developing?
Hopefully we will continue composing and releasing our material. I would also like to see other local producers contributing to UPZ so that it can really become a collective. Also, I’ve just launched my own label (soWHAT Records) which is on all the major digi-outlets including Traxsource. So watch out for some UPZ records coming out on soWHAT, starting with the recently released ‘Ki Sa Ou Di’ featuring Patrick G.
What do you have in mind for soWHAT records?
This is Israel’s very first deep/soulful house label. I plan on putting out a few UPZ releases and remixes on there and at later date would like to sign some local and overseas artists. soWHAT’s main focus is soulful/deep/Afro house and some urban beats too!
Are you working on any other solo projects?
I’m working on a Hebrew r&b project and have another project by the name of Tronic Heaven which is on a trip-hop/downtempo/electro-pop vein.
Tell us one non-music related wish you’d like to see happen in your lifetime.
I’d like there to be peace and quiet in the Middle East — for us this is very relevant! And it’s about time, don’t you think?