A pioneer in the ethnic-rock genre of Israeli music, singer-songwriter Micha Biton released his critically acclaimed Live album in November 2016. Micha’s mesmerizing concert “From Sderot to Jerusalem” utilizes anecdotes and song to tell the famous story of his childhood as a refugee. Today, Micha performs sold-out concerts in Israel’s most popular venues and is traveling the world both solo and with his band.

Tour Schedule

Micha Biton 2023 Israel at 75 Tour

December 7, 2023: Beth David B'nai Israel (BSBI) - Manchester, CT 7:30
*Postponed, new dates TBD.

December 9, 2023: Mandell Jewish Community Center - West Hartford, CT 7:30
*Postponed, new dates TBD.

December 10, 2023: Jewish Federation - New Haven, CT 7:30
*Postponed, new dates TBD.

December 14, 2023: Beth Ahabah - Richmond, VA 7:30
*Postponed, new dates TBD.

December 16, 2023: Synagogue Emanu-El - Charleston, SC 7:30
*Postponed, new dates TBD.

FILMS

ROCK IN THE RED ZONE is an intimate portrayal of life on the edge in the war-torn city of Sderot. Once known for its prolific rock scene that revolutionized Israeli music, for thirteen years the town has been the target of ongoing rocket fire from the Gaza strip. Through the personal lives and music of Sderot’s diverse musicians, and the personal narrative of the filmmaker, who ends up calling the town home, the film chronicles the town’s trauma and reveals its enduring spirit. See links below:

EL ATZMI (ON MY OWN) is a fictionalized story of Micha Biton’s childhood as seen through the eyes of a child that has lost his father at the age of nine. It depicts young Micha’s feelings, doubts, and fears while portraying tensions between youngsters, problems of adolescence, difficulties forming friendships and the need for belonging. This story is the basis for the “from  Jerusalem to Sderot” concert. View here in Hebrew with Hebrew and English subtitles.

PRESS

Jerusalem venue unveils ethnic music program for Oud Days

By Barry Davis    December 23, 2023

Micha Biton has put in the roadwork and paid all his dues, and then some.

The singer-songwriter, 59, has traveled a long and winding road to get where he is today, physically and emotionally, and strutted his stuff here there and everywhere around the country. Next up is his berth in the Oud Days Festival, which takes place at venues around the capital under the auspices of Confederation House, on December 27-30. Biton stars in the curtain raiser (December 27 at 6 p.m.) when he leads a quintet in a roll-out of his personal and creative story.

The four-day event was put together by Confederation House CEO and artistic director Effie Benaya to replace the far grander annual Jerusalem International Oud Festival, which was due to take place last month and would have presented a glittering array of artists from here and abroad. But, it must be said, Oud Days is no makeshift surrogate offering. The artists Benaya has called upon to entertain us at shows at Confederation House, the Yellow Submarine, and the Mazkeka can hold their own in any ethnic musical company anywhere in the world.

The festival roster includes celebrated ethnic rocker Ehud Banai; veteran pop, folk, ethnic music pianist, flutist, and singer Shem-Tov Levy; the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra Ashdod; and internationally acclaimed pianist, conductor, and composer Nizar Elkhater, who plays on all sides of the Arabic and Western classical musical tracks. And there’s some higher energy contemporary stuff lined up for the Mazkeka spot in downtown Jerusalem with the multidisciplinary Land show (December 28 at 9 p.m.) featuring a high-octane blend of spoken word, rap, hip-hop, and liturgical material. On the morrow, the Mazkeka hosts the Acik Telli  (“open string” in Turkish) trio playing classical Turkish and Sufi music.

Being Biton

Micha Biton has quite a life story to relate, right up to the challenging present day. The guitarist-vocalist was born in Sderot to Moroccan-born parents. He grew up in a warm, loving domestic environment where music and merrymaking were very much the order of the day – that is, betwixt the logistics of a large family. “We were seven boys and three girls so, for example, if there was a brit [circumcision], we’d have it at home,” Biton recalls. “My father would improvise tables and, of course, you couldn’t have a Moroccan celebration without music. We’d have a band with an oud player, and a percussionist on darbouka, and others.”

Ehud Banai (credit: SHLOMI PINTO)
Ehud Banai (credit: SHLOMI PINTO)

The impromptu musical gatherings opened the door to a magical world of melodies and rhythms for Biton, and he quickly got in on the act himself. “My father would get me up to sing with the band from the age of five, and I soon became a sort of attraction.” The kid clearly had the requisite gifts and got all the seasoned parental encouragement he needed. “My father nurtured my talent. He wasn’t a musician himself, but he’s had a café in Morocco and would host all sorts of artists there. He was very musical and loved music. He had a strong bond with artists and was very sociable. He loved playing the host.”

Not a bad domestic backdrop for a budding musician. “I think all of that fed into who I became,” Biton observes.

However, tragedy struck a few years later. Biton’s father died suddenly when the youngster was just nine years old, and his world was turned on its head. The distraught boy began playing truant and couldn’t keep his mind on his classwork. That was hardly surprising, considering the seismic emotional shift he’d experienced. “My mother was left to take care of 10 kids, and my father took my [musical] dream with him when he died,” Biton says.

Matters took an even more dramatic turn when, on the advice of a social worker, Biton found himself farmed out to a foster family in Jerusalem. That was tough on him, and he went through the emotional mill at the beginning of his Jerusalem sojourn, despite the improvement in creature comforts. “It was a very difficult transition for me. It was a very tough crisis for me. I remember my first night there was very frightening. Instead of being curled up with my siblings in the same bed – head to toe, I was suddenly in a bed of my own, on my own.”

However, it wasn’t a total disaster. Far from it. Biton’s new temporary home belonged to famed children’s book author Galila Ron-Feder Amit who, naturally, appreciated the arts and showered the displaced child with warmth and love. Biton’s story found its way into Ron-Feder Amit’s oeuvre when she based her 1976 book To Myself on the Sderot boy she took into her home and heart.

For Biton, finding his place at school, and in a totally new and different social environment, was something of a rite of passage. The mostly Ashkenazi classmates made fun of his Moroccan accent, which he quickly tried to refashion to more socially acceptable diction. Eventually, his musical gifts came to the fore, and the newcomer from Sderot was admitted into the fold. “There was a social hour, and the teacher wanted to get me interested in what was going on, so I sang a song called ‘Chaneleh Hitbalbala’ [Confused Chaneleh],” Biton recalls. The somewhat risqué lyrics were written in the 1930s by Israel Prize laureate poet and playwright Natan Alterman and became one of the country’s first Mizrahi music hits.

The impromptu classroom performance received a dismissive official response but still paved the way to Biton’s social emancipation. “There’s a line that goes ‘How come there’s a brit mila when she’s still a virgin?’” Biton laughs. “The teacher stopped me right there and scolded me for using such words.” But it was a different story the next day in the schoolyard. “The guys from the class invited me to play soccer with them for the first time – actually, I was a pretty useful player,” he chuckles. “Things changed, and suddenly I had friends.”

Being in the mainstream thick of things in Jerusalem rather than remote Sderot also meant that Biton had more immediate access to the evolving Israeli Songbook, as well as imports by the likes of stellar singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

Down south

Biton’s road to artistic expression took him to the Beit Zvi School for the Performing Arts in Ramat Gan. But, true to his unwavering determination to follow his own singular path through life and music, he abandoned the fleshpots and relative comfort of being where the entertainment action was and returned to Sderot before relocating even farther away from the center of the country to Netiv Ha’asara, the closest Israeli community to the Gaza Strip.

On Oct. 7, Biton was at home with his wife, four children, and two grandchildren when Hamas terrorists began infiltrating the moshav. His house, at the northern end of the moshav, was very close to where the terrorists began their murderous rampage. Miraculously, the killers passed by the Biton household, leaving the family terrified and isolated for hours, but physically unharmed, before they were eventually rescued by IDF soldiers.

Despite that harrowing experience and the constant missile attacks and red alerts he and his family have endured over the years, Biton does not regret his decision to return to the South. “So many people from the center of the country have told me I was crazy to try to develop a career in music from the South. When I was at Beit Zvi, I realized it couldn’t work for me being somewhere so cold. I needed the warmth, the human warmth, of my community in the South.”

And so it came to be, with a little help from some like-minded professionals. In the late 1980s and 1990s, a music scene began to emerge in and around Sderot. The Teapacks Mizrahi-rock band was one of the first to blaze a trail for the region, and Biton followed suit.

“I knew the South was where I was going to achieve the breakthrough, and I did it!” he exclaims with undisguised pride. “I did it with my band Tanara.” The group’s self-titled debut album, which came out in 1996, offered an intoxicating mix of rock and Biton’s Moroccan roots with such hits as “Ezor Dimdumim” (Twilight Zone) and “Atta Lecha Ve’anee Lee” (Each on His Own), cementing the southern rocker’s place in the popular music domain.

The southern local scene was well and truly bouncing at the time, and a large-scale rock concert took place in Sderot later that year. That was an unprecedented event in the Tel Aviv-centric commercial music sector. Biton eventually went his own solo way and continued to resist calls to set up camp in downtown Tel Aviv. Instead, he devoted himself to nurturing new generations of southern artists, establishing a performing arts facility in Sderot.

Over the years, he has maintained a busy solo performing and recording schedule, putting out three albums under his name, and even published his autobiography last year. Not bad for a traumatized social misfit kid who refused to budge an inch from his chosen personal and creative path.

WHEN I ask him about how he views his musical road over the past three decades, he characteristically initially references his quotidian life as the formative platform for his artistic endeavor. “Of course, after I got married and the children were born, new things began to form [in the music]. Over the years, the content has always changed shape and appearance. But I think one of the things that hasn’t changed is the songs that come from that time when I was a kid with an unusual life.”

Biton continues to mine that emotionally turbulent and rich biographical seam. “In my latest album, which is called “Baderech el Atzmee” [On My Way to Myself], I tell my story, about a kid who is sent to a foster home far away from Sderot, and all the things he went through.” True to his warts-and-all style, Biton spells things out per se. One of the stanzas from the title tracks reads: “On my way to myself, the sky did not fall in. The bed is so big, the fright at night. On my way to myself, I am riding a bike. Hey, black kid, want a beating?” That spells out that trying character-forming episode as is.

All these years down the road, Biton is coming back to Jerusalem for Oud Days to show us just how far he has come since those trying youthful times. He is looking forward to it for all sorts of reasons. “That past is part of who I am today. And Galila will be in the audience at Confederation House,” he smiles. “I have always related to the Oud Festival as something special. It is a great honor for me to be invited to perform there. Coming back to Jerusalem, and Confederation House, that connects all sorts of dots for me.”

For now, Biton is living the life of an evacuee, but he says that he and his family plan to return to Netiv Ha’asara just as soon as they possibly can. He says he has tried his musical hand at generating some goodwill between the neighbors. “I have tried to set up some kind of collaboration with musicians from the other side, but it hasn’t worked out yet. They are suffering so much, not because of us but because of the [Hamas] people that control them. They have to be involved. They have no choice.

“The ones that came here, that murdered, raped, and looted, were not just soldiers in uniform; there were simple country folk, too. That really broke me. Until they have some hope or some other way, they will all be in darkness there.”

Perhaps at some stage, Biton’s dreams of cross-border musical confluence will become a constructive reality. One can only hope. 

By Jessica Steinberg    December 20, 2023

Musician Micha Biton will perform in Jerusalem's Oud Festival, December 27-30, 2023 (Courtesy)

Singer took two weeks to pick up his guitar, salvaged from his home at Netiv Ha’asara following October 7; will perform at upcoming Oud Festival

Evacuated musician Micha Biton sings about life near Gaza Musician Micha Biton has always been identified with the south, the town of Sderot and his brand of ethnic music. For the first two weeks following the October 7 attacks, however, he was in a state of shock and couldn’t even pick up his guitar.

“The crisis is so deep,” said Biton.”We’re trying to learn to live anew.”

His guitar was one of the only items that Biton took when he was evacuated from his home in Moshav Netiv Ha’asara, one of the Gaza border communities attacked by Hamas terrorists on October 7. Some 35 residents were among the 1,200 people killed across southern Israel during the multi-pronged assault. 

Biton and his wife and the rest of the Netiv Ha’asara survivors were taken to a Tel Aviv hotel, where they’ve been ever since.

Two weeks later, Biton was invited to a radio interview and brought his guitar, reminding him that “you have to get up at some point after a period of mourning,” he said.

Since then, Biton said he realized that playing the guitar and singing his music is healing, and more than that — it’s resurrection.

He began playing at small concerts for evacuees from the north and south, saying that he was helping himself as much as helping the audiences.

Now he’s in the lineup for the 24th Oud Festival, rescheduled from November to December 27-30, under the direction of Effie Benaya at Jerusalem’s Confederation House.

This year’s opening event is a performance by Ehud Banai, and other performers include Sderot band Knesiyat Hasechel, pianist and composer Nizar Elkhater, Sofi and the Baladis, and the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra.

It’s Biton’s first time at the annual musical event, where he’ll perform on December 27 at 6 p.m.

He’ll perform with his usual roster of four musicians, taking from their playlist of ethnic rock along with two additional songs in memory of friends from Netiv Ha’asara who were killed on October 7, and a song for the hostages and soldiers.

“I’m from that region and I have to bring that in, but it will still be a happy show,” he said. “We’re really so pleased to be a part of it.”

In Bitton’s shows, he sings and talks about his childhood in Sderot with parents who emigrated from Morocco. Biton spent time as a boy with a foster family in Jerusalem, and as a teenager was educated in public boarding schools.

He eventually developed himself as a creative artist and married, settling down in Netiv Ha’asara with a studio in his backyard, a place that he calls his “factory.”

“You think you’re in a pastoral place and your life is there and then in one fell swoop, it’s all broken, destroyed,” he said. “My musician friends would look at this pastoral place and say, ‘you’re in the Garden of Eden,’ until we understood we’re in hell.”

Biton lost at least 20 friends from the moshav. Somehow his home was skipped by the terrorists.

“They started with our neighbors, just two houses away,” said Biton.

He and his wife spent 14 hours in their safe room, with 10 other members of their family who visiting for the holiday weekend.

“The pressure was so great,” said Biton. “My kids, my four grandchildren, we were just so scared, so, so tense.”

The surviving population of the moshav is now in Tel Aviv, “very far from home,” said Biton. “We’re so hurt and injured, we’re just staying in one place.”

They haven’t been able to bring themselves to move to an apartment and start all over again. Staying in a hotel is temporary but it gives the sense that any day “a miracle will happen and we’ll return home,” said Biton.

“It’s very hard to play, but it’s helped me to get over the initial part of the loss,” he said. “The audiences give me strength.”

Interview with IZZY 

‘Music opens hearts and makes the world much better.’ — A Conversation With Israeli Musician Micha Biton

 

Micha Biton is one of the early pioneers of the renowned music scene in Sderot, Israel.

As a young child, he performed in major festivals and competitions representing his city, and was considered a musical child prodigy. His father, Amram, recognized his musical talent when Micha was only 5 years old, and he encouraged him even then to take the stage.

Micha captivated audiences by singing in Spanish, Moroccan, and French. But his life took a dramatic turn when his father died suddenly at the age of 41, leaving his widow, Perla, to care for 10 young children.

After his father’s death, a decision Micha was moved to a foster family in Jerusalem, where he became the foster child of Israeli author Galila Ron-Feder Amit, who’s gone on to publish some 400 books, most of them for children and teenagers.

Micha eventually become the subject of her most beloved youth novel, “To Myself” (“El Atmzi” in Hebrew). Over the past four decades, more than a million children have had the pleasure of reading this moving story about finding hope through despair and of seeking light through darkness.

Micha has been singing ever since, and was one of the first Israeli musicians to experiment with “ethnic rock,” combining Western rock music with Moroccan inspired scales and instrumentation. In the 1990s, he founded the popular band Tanara, and then released five studio solo albums of original music.

Today, Micha performs across Israel and abroad, bringing his story and his songs of inspiration and joy to audiences throughout the world. We caught up with Micha to learn more about the longtime Israeli musician.

IZZY: How would you describe your music to a stranger who’s never heard it?

Micha Biton: My music style is ethnic rock, a combination of Western music and North African music. I combine basic Western instruments, bass drums, and electric guitars with darbuka (a goblet drum) and Arabian violin. My lyrics I write are composed of personal stories and life experiences.

IZZY: Who were you musical influences as a child?

Micha: The musicians who influenced me the most are Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, two tremendous composers whose writing is personal and touching. They are poets who changed the face of music in the world. And on the other hand I was influenced by musicians from North Africa like Salim Halli and Rabbi David Buzaglo, Moroccan Jewish musicians who composed poetry and scriptures in the synagogue, and from there it burst out into the world.

IZZY: How has your father’s death influenced your music?

Micha: My father was the first to recognize my love of music. Just when I was 5, he took me on stage to sing songs I learned from the records he played on the old turntable in our house, records that played Moroccan Arabic music, French chansons, and Andalusian music.

Everything my father loved to listen to I learned and sang. My father inflated me when I was a child and for him I was a child prodigy. When I was 9, my father died suddenly of a heart attack and it was a disaster for me. He was all my world and suddenly my life changed.

IZZY: Israeli music is beginning to gain traction abroad thanks to more Israelis creating music in English. What do you think Israeli music can do for the country in terms of how people around the world perceive Israel?

Micha: I follow and see how young Israeli musicians create in English and succeed in the world. There is no doubt that music can be of good service and an ambassador for our country. Music opens hearts and makes the world much better.

I always pray and hope that whether it is through music or through a visit and personal acquaintance with Israel, people will see the truth that Israel always wanted and still wants peace with the Arab world. I hope music will contribute to the longed-for peace for Israel and the Arab peoples.

By Stacey Dresner    April 11, 2018

Musician Micha Biton brings his special brand of rock mixed with Moroccan music to Connecticut

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.”

REVIEWS

StandWithUs Midwest is delighted to include Micha Biton in our annual gala celebrating Women of Valor. His beautiful talent is a great addition to a star-studded program.
"I have had the pleasure and honor to work and make music with the dynamic and special singer-musician, Micha Biton. He brought to not only his consummate musicianship, but the wonderful performer and perfectly lovely human being that he is! The people at the concert absolutely loved Micha and the exuberant energy that he created. All the musicians were taken by his sweet demeanor, sensitive musicianship, superlative guitar playing, and his wonderful and sweet lyrical voice! I attended another concert that he presented later in the week and the same magical vibrancy and sparkle emanated from him and his wonderful songs. He is a magnetic Israeli Rock n’ roll singer with a twist. I will always look to make more music with him and look forward to hearing his marvelous songs!!!"
Cantor Joseph Ness
Music Director/Conductor Beth El Temple - West Hartford, CT
"As a DJ, I can say that Micha Biton’s concert resonated with old and young with outstanding music, getting the audience on their feet- singing, clapping, and dancing in the aisles. With his personality, it didn’t matter if the lyrics were not all in English- the language of music itself spoke to the whole audience for an outstanding time!"
DJ Yariv Azran
West Hartford, CT
"Micha was wonderful to work with. Very down to earth and relaxed. His music really moved the whole community. We have had nothing but overwhelmingly positive feedback on the addition to our worship. So blessed to have been able to work with him."
Rabbi Rebekah Goldman Mag
Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation - Simsbury, CT

EVENTS

Impact Israel Concert invite

The Mizrahi Project StandWithUs Miidwest: Exclusive Access to Screening for ZMC Members. Tuesday, October 13, 2020 – Discussion with Pastor Dumisani Washington, Originator of the Mizrahi Project and Micha Biton, Israeli Rock Star Featured in “Rock in the Red Zone.”

StandWithUs Midwest Gala 2020

StandWithUs Midwest presented the 9th Annual Campus Champions Virtual Gala: Honoring Women of Valor. Featuring Micha Biton – pioneer of the renowned music music in Sederot, Israel.

CONTACT

For all bookings in the USA and outside of Israel, please contact: Sharon Efron – Manager: +1 (860) 559-4010 sharon.for.michabiton@gmail.com

Copyright © 2023 Micha Biton. All Rights Reserved.