Last updated: 24 August, 2016

Israel jazz fest trumpets local talent against jihadist backdrop

A jazz festival within rocket range of jihadist fighters might sound offbeat but organisers of Israel's Red Sea Jazz Festival are confident no missiles will rain on their parade.

For the first time in its 30-year existence, the four-day event, starting Saturday in the seaside resort of Eilat, will be mainly comprised of combos led by Israelis, for whom a security threat is almost part of normal life.

The exception will be American keyboard great Chick Corea, who has in the past played the Red Sea festival with Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen and will reunite with him on the same stage in Eilat.

“Even if 100 rockets fly this way, nobody will cancel,” the festival’s artistic director Eli Degibri told AFP.

Calm in Israel’s southernmost city has in the past been shattered by rockets fired from neighbouring Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where jihadists are at war with Egyptian security forces but have also targeted Israel, most recently in July 2014.

An attack by gunmen on Israelis on a road just 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Eilat in August 2011 caused some international artists to cancel performances that year.

This year’s 30 acts, mostly by Israeli musicians, is expected to attract more than 12,000 people, way above the normal attendance of around 7,500.

“This is an artistic concept and out of respect for Israeli jazz,” said Degibri, himself a saxophonist who played with some of America’s greatest musicians before returning to Israel.

“It occurred to me it would be much more special to have this concept,” with a heavy reliance on homegrown talent, he said.

The Israeli jazz scene has been gaining steam.

Some of the musicians at this year’s festival — pianist Shai Maestro, Cohen, trumpeter Avishai Cohen (no relation), guitarist Gilad Hekselman and Degibri himself — are acclaimed worldwide.

“That’s the beauty of it, that nowadays Israeli musicians are international musicians,” Degibri said.