As people from all over the world have flocked there over the past 60 years, it's absorbed a multitude of sounds. And in a place so small, it would be impossible to segregate them and foolish to try; cross-pollination is what keeps music from stagnating.
You can hear the value of genre-hopping in the music of Jerusalem sextet Coolooloosh, which mines American, European, African and Middle Eastern sounds to create their own brand of jammy jazz and funk.
"We follow our hearts and search to connect beyond the limits of styles," bassist Ori Winokur says over e-mail. "Our tradition is heard in every note played and word spoken as a message from home to the Diaspora."
Coolooloosh's funky stew comes more from the particular mix of players finding their groove together than an intention to explore diversity.
"Without deciding on a certain genre, we combine anything we like, and that combination creates the Coolooloosh sound," explains Winokur.
The band formed in 2003, when Winokur got together with guitarist Yuval Gerstein, drummer Yogev Shitrit, saxman Arik Levy and trumpeter Sefi Zisling.
"We started playing totally improvised sessions together," says Winokur. "For over a year, we only improvised and recorded."
But the group only really found its footing when American-born rapper Rebel Sun (né Joel Covington) came into the fold to share vocal duties with Winokur and Gerstein. Rebel Sun's style took Coolooloosh to another level, but his immigration status complicated matters.
Song Says It All>
He and his wife made aliyah in 1999, but as transplanted African-Americans, they had trouble proving their Judaism and establishing residency. Their ordeal is chronicled in "Fight Rebel Son," a hybrid of English rhymes and Hebrew verses, with a hearty hook and funky horns. The song appears on the group's self-titled debut, which was released in 2004, while things were still up in the air.
"Rebel Sun, our rapper, has gone through a struggle with the Ministry of Interior, and only last year received his visa to live in Israel," says Winokur. "And now, he is able to go abroad and represent Israel around the world with Coolooloosh."
The rapper's long battle against the bureaucracy was the biggest obstacle the group has faced, according to Winokur. On a personal level, Rebel Sun's victory means his two young daughters will grow up with a solid claim on the land of their birth.
For his bandmates, it means no more worrying whether their brother will be torn away from them. With his visa, he's free to leave the country to tour — and to return.
Coolooloosh's current tour is taking them from Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center to Mexico, with shows lined up at Jewish community centers and clubs on both coasts. They'll stop in at Philadelphia's World Café Live on Sunday, Feb. 3, but they're interested in more than a one-night stand here.
Though they don't have a record label yet, acclaimed producer David Ivory is taking a chance on them.
"He heard our demo and invited us to record a new album with him in Philly," Winokur says of Ivory, who's worked with major players like Patti LaBelle and the Roots.
When Coolooloosh isn't playing out or holed up in the studio, they intend to make the most of the city.
"We feel like Philly will be like Jerusalem for us in the States — a hometown," says Winokur.
The band arrived in the country just a couple of weeks ago, but Winokur says that East Coast audiences have already been very welcoming.
"We had a good turnout for our debut concert in NYC, so we can't complain about the reception we got," he says.
The band says "Coolooloosh!" is the sound one makes when throwing confetti into the air, and the music reflects that sense of joy. "Music Business" blisses out on the exhilaration of playing live, when the give-and-take between the audience and band makes dealing with the business end worthwhile.
And despite the inherent frustration and anger, "Fight Rebel Sun" is about making the most of life and not letting the bad stuff hold you back.
Whether or not their songs explicitly address their heritage or their homeland, Winokur says that stuff is so essential that it overrides their ties to other traditions: "We are all Jews, so it's a part of our everyday lives and thoughts."