Yosi Piamenta, the Jewish guitarist and songwriter known as the “Hasidic Hendrix”—whose fusion of rock, Sephardic and Chassidic genres left an indelible impression on contemporary Jewish music—passed away in New York yesterday after a long illness. He was 64 years old.
A 14th-generation Yerushalmi (native of Jerusalem), Piamenta moved with his family to Tel Aviv when he was 12. There, with the help of his uncle Albert, a saxophonist, he was given his first guitar, and developed a lifelong interest in musical composition and performance. Yosi’s father, Yehuda Piamenta, was a hero in Israel’s early wars.
Following his own service in the Israel Defense Forces, Piamenta moved to New York in the early 1970s to record an album with famed jazz saxophonist Stan Getz. Although only in his early 20s, he quickly grew tired of a typical musician’s freewheeling lifestyle, and began to long for the traditions and lifestyle of his childhood.
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‘An Electrifying Encounter’
“I really liked his Jewish philosophy and identified with everything he had written, ” Piamenta would recall. “When I came to visit him in Brooklyn, I was immediately hooked. It was an electrifying encounter.”
Right after his meeting with the Rebbe, Piamenta went home and found his tefillin, which he had brought with him from Israel as a memento of home but had rarely worn since his bar mitzvah. From that day on, he said, he began a journey to fully return to Jewish tradition and practice, while continuing to develop his musical style.
Over the years, Piamenta received many blessings from the Rebbe, he would recall. After their spiritual reconnection, Piamenta and his flutist brother, Avi Piamenta, settled in Brooklyn, N.Y., where they continued their Jewish studies while focusing the Piamenta Band, mainly towards a traditional Jewish audience.
A 1998 article in The New York Times noted that Yosi Piamenta was “widely acknowledged by rock critics as a guitar virtuoso, ” observing that he and his fans had little trouble negotiating a rousing rock-style music and an observant Jewish lifestyle.
According to one critic, “The Piamenta Band forever redefined the face of popular Jewish music, by injecting a frenetic fusion of Judeo-Arabic Oriental music, with its quarter-tones and wild spiraling improvisations, with classic rock wha-wha guitar riffs and manic flute interplay.”
Together with his brother, he recorded a number of successful albums over the years, and was featured at Simchat Beit Hashoeva celebrations in New York and at concerts around the globe.
The late 1980s and early `90s saw the Piamenta Band successfully bring their original material to New York clubs like Wetlands, Tramps and the Knitting Factory, and they continued to record and perform in concerts worldwide in recent years, also performing at countless weddings, a mitzvah that they did gladly.
Yosi Piamenta is survived by his children: Geni Barakat, Tzippy Rush, Moni Piamenta, Yuda Piamenta, Racheli Piamanta and Avi Piamenta, all of New York.
He is also survived by his siblings: Chaya Meer of Morristown, N.J.; Chana Lorber of Kfar Chabad, Israel; and Avi Piamenta, also of Kfar Chabad.
The procession passed by 770 Eastern Parkway yesterday evening before being flown to Israel. The funeral will be tonight at 10.30 p.m. at Shamgar in Jerusalem, followed by burial at the Chabad Section in Har Hazaytim (The Mount of Olives).
Chabad News, By Yaakov Ort