In the Hatikva neighborhood of South Tel Aviv, the streets and parks carry names that pay homage to seminal figures in Israel's history. Menachem Begin Park is named after the Israeli Prime Minister who made a historic peace deal with Egypt. Haim Bar Lev Road is named after a celebrated Israeli military leader who became a minister in several governments. And Al Kuwaiti Brothers Street is named for two Jewish brothers of Arab origin, Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti -- prominent musicians who immigrated from Iraq to Israel in 1951 but fell into obscurity in their new homeland. The Israeli singer-songwriter-guitarist Dudu Tassa, Daoud al-Kuwaiti's grandson, attended the 2009 ceremony that designated al-Kuwaiti Brothers Street and revitalized the their name. Then Tassa did something more important: He recorded Dudu Tassa and the Kuwaitis, a 2011 album that modernized the brothers' songs and became a major hit in Israel.
The success of the album, which features Tassa singing many songs in Arabic instead of his usual Hebrew, has prompted Tassa to go on a North American tour that stops at Yoshi's San Francisco on Thursday, March 20, 2014. The concert is part of the 29th annual Jewish Music Festival.
"I'm really surprised by the success of the album, because I did it for the fun, for the family, for the roots, for my mother, for my grandfather, and for that side of the family," Tassa says in a phone interview from Vancouver, where the tour began.
The story of the album and the al-Kuwaiti brothers has a series of twists that are bittersweet. In Kuwait (where they were born), Iraq and all across the Arab world in the 1930s and '40s, Daoud and Saleh al-Kuwaiti were superstars. Daoud played oud and Saleh violin, and they composed songs that were widely aired on the radio, which kept the brothers in demand at concert halls in Baghdad and beyond. They immigrated to Israel with other Iraqi Jews as part of a mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries after Israel's 1948 creation, but in Israel, the brothers' Arabic-language songs received little attention, while in Iraq and other Arab countries, their songs were still widely played, but attributed to other musicians.