March 2020, Saturday morning, in a taxi back to the East Village. A lovely melody is playing from the radio, the name of the musician, Estas Tonne. In the evening l listen to the discography, traveling with his music and the imagination. Lockdown begins, one melody continues to play in a loop, the name of the song, Paris Heart.
During the days I document the empty streets of New York and every evening at 7, I go up to the roof and film the most sane moment in the most insane time. The sound of church bells begin the daily ritual. The neighbors clap from the balconies, windows and rooftops of the city. Some are banging on pots and pans, every now and then a Sinatra song is heard in the background. People, adults and children, searching for a moment of human connection, to lower the stress, to breath, together, a few minutes of sanity.
Phone call from dad. My mother has to undergo surgery following a damned accident, she has a long recovery ahead of her. The plane is empty, we land in Tel Aviv and the military transfer us into a bus without windows, from there to a Covid hotel in Jerusalem. Strange days, nothing makes sense, the melody continues to play and I’m already editing by my mother’s bedside in hospital. She asks and I explain that the melody perfectly expresses the period of lockdown in New York. She suggests to approach the musician, to collaborate. Of course I listened to her.
Six months later, 7PM won the best director in a short film award at Ferrara Film Festival. The film’s soundtrack none other than Estas Tonne’s Paris Heart. From then on, the journey continues, like a fast roller-coaster ride that stops now and then in wonderful stations for a few minutes and continues again. I decide to jump off the train for a few days and write these words.
During the months after the film festival amidst the ongoing lockdowns, Estas and I exchanged voice messages, each from his own ‘cave’. Curiosity got the better of me. Together with my partner on this journey and film, my dear friend, director Luca Ammendola (winner of the Unicef award for his film, Dear Child), we met Estas for the first time in Dresden. It was his first live event in two years. The plan was just to get to know him and look into the possibility of a feature-length documentary film. We returned with a lot of footage and began to edit.
His life story is intertwined with world travels as well as a difficult past in Israel. This we learnt when he read to us from his private diaries and revealed an inspiring odyssey. He is a native of Zaporizhzhia with Jewish roots, deaf on one side and experienced a harsh immigration to Israel as a teenager, which halted his musical momentum. A decade later, in New York, music found its way back into his life where he played on the streets and subway stations with violinist, Michael Shulman. His musical and spiritual journey continued west to Los Angeles and it was there that Stas’ (Stanislav) became Estas and his unique sound began to take shape. With the little money he earned performing on the streets, he bought an old car and drove south to Mexico with the guitar. This journey across Mexico looked like something one could read in Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road: The Original Scroll. His ongoing journey took him around the world and his reputation as one of the world’s greatest guitar artists began to spread.
In September 2011, Estas played at the Buskers Festival Stadtspektakel in Landshut, Germany. Sitting in the corner of the town square, he played The Song Of The Golden Dragon. The audience gathered and the festival staff filmed the performance without knowing that they were documenting the birth of an icon. As of today, the video has over 100 million views.
Estas continues to travel the world and tries to build bridges within a divided, conflicted and confused humanity, like a beacon of light for those searching for a deeper meaning to their existence. During a long stay in India, he developed a melodic journey titled Internal Flight, which directed him into new realms of longer meditative sound journeys. These days, between the big events and almost in every stop along the way, he conducts special gatherings. Healing rituals of sound and movement for smaller audiences that live up to the same name, Internal Flight.
On November 15, we will film Estas’ performance at the Cultural Hall, Tel Aviv as part of the film. On November, 17 we will participate in an Internal Flight gathering at Beit Ha’am in Rishpon.
A visit to Israel is always accompanied by certain feelings and the question of all questions, where is home?
The possibility of doing so through the melody and the film is the closing of a small but significant circle and symbolizes a special connection to Israel even when ‘home’ reveals itself more and more as a state of mind.
See you there.
A Melody Home is an essay by guest editor Tal Cohen-Litant, an international filmmaker who’s currently on tour with Estas Tonne. Tal was awarded Best Director at the Ferrara Film Festival 2020 for his short film 7PM. He’s currently working on a film about guitarist and composer Estas Tonne.
Photos: © Geri Dagys (all photos except no. 5); © Ekaterina Rousskikh (photo no. 5)