Yinon Tayeb lives in the moment. It's an outlook that he picked up after spending a chunk of his life in an Indian prison. It's also the subject of his debut album and its title song, aptly dubbed "Meantime." At the age of 43, after enough reincarnations to last several lifetimes, he has found solace and peace in the present.
Tayeb is a musician of multifarious talents; he plays practically every instrument, writes, composes and sings in a deeply textured voice. The tracks on his album are as varied as his skills; Jewish reggae, punk and African tones are all part of his repertoire – befitting a man that was around for the dawn of ethnic Israeli music. He is credited with co-founding several Israeli music festivals, and was a member of the Adraba band for four years.
He was born in the southern kibbutz of Mashabei Sadeh – far from eastern influences and Jewish spirituality. He bonded with music at the age of six, and has yet to put down the flute, mandolin, clarinet, guitar, drums, saxophone and any other instrument he may get his hands on.
After serving in a combat unit in the IDF, Tayeb embarked what had become the journey of his lifetime. His trip began in Africa, continued through India and eventually led him to Jerusalem's ultra-religious neighborhood of Ramot Bet.
Making a run-for-it
In eastern Kenya, a tribal drummer exposed Tayeb to "the secret of the beat."
"For a month and a half I lived with them the way that people lived 2,000 years ago," he recalls. "(…) For the first week and a half I sat there and couldn’t understand a word of what the teacher was saying. As a musician I was frustrated, but gradually I peeled away the layers of the Western world, until one day something in my brain unblocked and I began understanding everything was teaching me."
Confident but penniless, Tayeb returned to Israel after six months on the road in order to save up for the next leg of his journey – India. Once in the south Asian country, he learned meditation and Tai Chi, but did not avoid the party scene. Tayeb considers himself a "pioneer" of the infamous Israeli beach raves. One such party changed the course of his life.
At the time, the local police was criticized for its inability to curb what Tayeb describes as the "freak tourist phenomenon." On that fateful night, the police was out in search of scapegoat. While he and his friends were out at a 3,000-person rave, cops raided the house in which he was staying, and found drugs in a bag the belonged one of his housemates.
"They put us on a police Jeep, but I jumped out and started running," he says. But he couldn't find a place to hide in the night, and was soon caught. Along with a friend, he was taken to a prison in Pune.
Israeli authorities attempted to free him and his buddy, but to no avail. They hired a lawyer who was considered the best in the country, and for three months were under the impression that they are to be released on bail. But the politically-charged nature of the arrest later made it clear that the battle won't be that easy.
To survive in jail, they needed money, which Tayeb's family soon provided.
"We began smuggling bills in, and bribed almost all the officers at the prison," Tayeb says. "After four or five months, we became the sheiks in jail."
The two Israelis were soon transferred a different facility – the same one where Mahatma Gandhi spent a year of his life. Tayeb shared a constantly-lit cell with his friend and another inmate. They slept on a concrete floor. They found someone who was willing to smuggle food in, and slowly adjusted to the new reality.
"We realized that the only way to survive is to focus on the present, and purge all thought of the past and the future," he says. "This word, meantime, is the motto that has accompanied my whole life since. There is nothing else except what exists now. When a person focuses on the present, he can really live."
After a turbulent legal battle that saw four judges and lasted 16 months, the two Israelis were acquitted and freed.
"I'll never forget the day of the trial," he says. "The moment they told us that we are free, I had chills all over my body. I realized the existence of the creator of the universe.
"And it wasn't a belief. It was knowledge," he stresses.
He returned to Israel – to sanity – after three months, during which he waited for a visa. It was then that he realized that music was his calling. He was accepted to the esteemed Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, but left after a short while. The road was calling him. He traveled to Germany and Switzerland, and worked as a street musician – the first step in his musical career.
Freaks in loveThe next chapter of his life includes a stint with the Rainbow movement, which is considered by some as a cult.
"Freaks from all over the world get together, people who love nature, music and art, and want to connect to themselves and to nature," Tayeb describes. "The members of Rainbow don't want to follow the ways of the Western world. I joined them out of principle."
The year and a half of life in the wild exposed him to alternative music, and he joined Adraba, a band that Tayeb says was like his family at the time. The experience brought him closer to religion and introduced him to the woman who within two months became his wife.
"It was love at first sight," he says.
A short while after getting married, the couple became religious. Tayeb says he severed all ties and moved to the Jerusalem-vicinity town of Beit Zayit.
"I didn’t have a choice," he says, referring to leaving his old life behind. "Society influences the person, and we didn't associate with simple people. We were all strong, happy artists… Becoming religious wasn't accepted there.
"I felt that if I wanted it to make a change, it would have to be drastic, not partial."
Tayeb doesn't associate himself with any movement within Judaism. He sees the worlds of music and religion as interconnected.
"Music is a spiritual thing. You cannot touch it. You cannot see tunes, only hear and feel them," he says.
Music, Tayeb notes, has the power to hurt or uplift, and he considers his creations a counterweight to the harmful music out there.
His new album is indication that he has found his way.
"This is the conclusion of my quest, of the journey that I've been through both musically and spiritually," he says. "I will convey this journey on my album tour."