Us Two: Shuki Shukrun and Gail Nathan

Gail Nathan and Shuki Shukrun: "We're friends because we care for each other. You really feel that when you're in need."
Peter Meecham

Gail Nathan and Shuki Shukrun: "We're friends because we care for each other. You really feel that when you're in need."

Shuki Shukrun, 54, is a software developer who plays the guitar, and Gail Nathan, 52, is a flautist. Together they are Sababa, a band that plays traditional Israeli music. Music brought them together; a family crisis cemented their friendship.

SHUKI/ In February 98, a guy organised an event for the 50-year celebration of Israel's independence. He called me and my bandmate Asher about Gail, who was a flute player; he really wanted to create some sort of ensemble for that event.

When she played, wow. I was amazed. The instrument was part of her body; she was one with it.

There was a click on both sides. She could see quite quickly the magic of this music. After the first gig, we all came away thinking it wasn't as good as we'd hoped. But when we listened to the recording a few days later, we thought it wasn't too bad. So we started meeting, the three of us.

There's a preciseness about the way she plays. She comes to rehearsal with all her notes. Improv is still very hard for her. I say, 'Just go!' She says, 'I'll go, just give me a map.' I've seen her play with her orchestra. It's quite different but I can see the beauty of it, having so many people working together, doing their parts.

For the last eight years I've been living back in Israel, where I come from. Two of my children were born with cystic fibrosis. We thought they'd feel better in Israel – the weather, the food, all my family's there.

Before this, I couldn't work for years – I was a caregiver for my family. I was getting the emergency benefit. Gail told me, many people know your situation and want to help you. If you put a thing about yourself on your website and your bank account, people will help you. That's actually what happened: in about a month or two we raised enough money to go to Israel.

What I want to say about Gail is that she cares. We're friends because we care for each other. You really feel that when you're in need.

We didn't keep in touch on a day-to-day basis while I was away. My daughter passed away in March, and my youngest son said, "Abba, I want to go to New Zealand; maybe I'll feel better there." The moment I told Gail I was coming back… It's such a nice feeling, with old friends, that you can suddenly see each other and it's as if only a week has gone by.

GAIL/ I remember halfway through the audition thinking, I have to somehow sneak myself into this band. There was something very beautiful about the two acoustic guitars and the way they sang in a true, authentic Israeli style, and I just thought, I need to play that sound. I was like, sold.

Ad Feedback

After that first gig we knew that wasn't, by any means, the end of something; it was the beginning. We just wanted to see much more of each other. Then we got completely obsessed. Shuki was living out in Muriwai and I drove out there three times a week. We would jam like crazy people until three or four in the morning. We did that for about 10 years.

Our backgrounds are very different. He comes from Israel, and I'm Jewish, born and raised in South Africa. My music background is classical. I had to learn to put aside all that classical perfection, that strict attitude. It was really hard in the beginning. I wanted Shuki to write down everything for me – I couldn't improvise. They were so laid-back and nonjudgmental. I thought, this feels so much more relaxed, so much more real than orchestra. I feel like something much more creative comes out here.

Shuki is a very authentic performer. His whole soul is in the music. He feels the words. He brings you into the music in a heartfelt way. I'm about the destination and he's about the journey.

There's something that feels incredibly well-connected between us. Shuki's very philosophical, very much a bigger-picture person. I'm more of a worrier. I think that's the beauty of our friendship in a way. If you're exactly the same, maybe there's not so much room to grow or change or learn something . Shuki's a calm, peaceful person. I really noticed that in him and thought, I'd really like that in my personality.

I missed making music while he was away. It didn't feel right without Shuki there. I did have this little dream that somehow Shuki would come back, that we'd have a chance to play, and here we are. The minute he walked in the door we were straight back to where we always were.

Sababa perform at Hanukah in the Park next Sunday, from 5.30pm, at the bandstand area in Albert Park, Auckland.

 - Sunday Magazine

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback