Ori Naftaly and Eleanor Tsaig were destined for Blues greatness. They just didn’t know it until about two years ago.
Naftaly and Tsaig, both from Israel, met when they were 11 years old, and have shared a passion for music ever since.
“I grew up as a classical musician, playing the cello,” Tsaid said. “Ori exposed me to Blues and rock.”
“We went to high school together,” Naftaly said. “Growing up, a lot of our friends were into music too, and we played together throughout the years. We’re a family-oriented group.”
It was those friends, a musical family of sorts, whom Naftaly called upon when he was putting together an album in 2012. Naftaly discovered the guitar when he was 5 and was raised on Rock and Roll. Making the transition to Blues music was easy.
“I’m a Blues guy. I just feel comfortable there,” he said. “I start playing, and this music just feels natural to me.”
The Ori Naftaly band, formed in 2012, currently has five members: Naftaly on guitar, Daniel McKee on bass, Yam Regev on drums, Steven Kirsty on the saxophone, and Tsaig on vocals. They performed throughout Israel before taking their music to Holland. That trip was a turning point.
“Our music was played on some Internet radio stations,” said Tsaig. “And then there was a sort of buzz that started coming from America.”
The Holland tour ended in October 2012, and just one week later, The Ori Naftaly Band competed in Tel Aviv, winning the Best Blues Act of 2013. That performance led them to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., in January 2013.
“There were 15 other bands playing 20 minute sets in front of three judges,” Naftaly said. “We were the first Israeli band to ever make it to the semi-finals. It was the break we needed.”
The group was a crowd favorite as well, selling the most CD’s of any band at the competition. In fact, it was the fans that convinced Naftaly and his band to come back and tour America. It was a big change for Tsaig, who had already built a career back home in Israel.
“Things were falling into place in a way that made us feel overwhelmed,” she said. “Fans kept telling us, you have to tour! Different venues called, inviting us to perform. Israel doesn’t have enough of a Blues scene to make money, but in America, it seemed like we could make it happen. There wasn’t an option.”
They ended the lease on their apartment, sold their belongings, and headed to America. They now tour around the country in a Chevy van.
“In America, people are so hospitable, and they take care of you in ways you can never imagine,” said Naftaly. “When you spread love and try to be positive, they support you and appreciate you. People look at us and see a mirror, I think. We absolutely love it.”
Naftaly describes Colorado as a second home. He even has a state ID.
“Winter Park is one of our favorites places,” Tsaig said. “We’ve played here quite a bit, most recently a New Year’s Eve show at Smokin’ Moe’s. It’s like coming back home for us. “
“Blues from the Top” festival organizer John Catt is impressed with what Tsaig and Naftaly have been able to do in the past year.
“Ori and Eleanor have such a great love for America,” Catt said. “They’ve spent months zig-zagging around the country, documenting their experiences. I’ve never seen a band do anything like this.”