It’s not every day that a chassidic singer, a guitarist and a drummer find themselves submerged in six feet of water.
But for singer Benny Friedman it was all in a day’s work – albeit a rather chilly day.
The idea for an underwater music video came about when Friedman traveled from his Crown Heights home to Waterbury, Connecticut, for a photo shoot at the end of last summer, prior to the release of his second album, “Yesh Tikva.” Just for fun, photographer Dani Diamond took a few pictures of Friedman jumping into a backyard swimming pool, clad in dress pants, white shirt and a skinny black tie.
“Yesh Tikva” assistant producer Sruly Meyer, who also serves as director of marketing at Aderet Music which distributed the album, found the pool pictures intriguing.
“They were so cool,” recalled Meyer. “But what in the world could we do with pictures of Benny in the water? Then it came to me. ‘Maaleh Ani,’ one of the songs on the album was about purifying yourself for Hashem’s sake and water has purifying properties in Judaism. An underwater video seemed completely crazy. And very appealing.”
Meyer contacted producer Moshe Bree who had always wanted to shoot an underwater video and had already suggested the idea to Friedman, who vetoed it immediately. Meyer and Bree worked out some of the preliminary details and Meyer contacted Friedman in the hopes of convincing him to reconsider.
“The first thing I thought when he called me was, ‘Yeah, right. That’s never going to happen,’ ” said Friedman.
But after giving the concept some thought, Friedman saw the potential and with that, the video began to take form. With the Yamim Tovim and colder temperatures quickly approaching, scheduling the video as quickly as possible became a top priority. Hoping for warm weather in early October, the shoot was set for the day after Sukkos, October 10.
Temperatures were hovering in the 50’s when the crew, consisting of guitarist Aryeh Kunstler who arranged the song, drummer Yisroel Reches, bass guitarist Elimelch Sperling and Bree first jumped into the water, soon to be followed by Friedman, in his trademark black suit.
“We managed to get a set of inexpensive drums at a garage sale,” said Meyer. “We also got a pair of speakers on the cheap, a busted bass guitar and Aryeh brought along an old, non-working guitar that he didn’t mind ruining.”
While the pool was heated, the crisp temperatures proved to be bone numbingly cold.
“It got crazy after a while,” reported Meyer. “One of the guys was turning blue. We had to take him out of the pool and get him some hot cocoa.”
Keeping the drums from floating away presented another challenge.
“We bought tons of weights and weighed everything down, including the guys, who wore weights around their legs to keep them on the bottom of the pool,” said Meyer.
“Maaleh Ani,” composed by Elimelech Blumstein, is the fourth track on “Yesh Tikva,” produced by veteran producer Avi Newmark. For Friedman, using this particular song was an obvious choice.
“Words like this just jump out at you,” explained Friedman. “Hashem is so emotionally invested in us that He actually equates our holiness with His own.”
The innovative video clocks in at just over four minutes and features both the aquatic footage as well as shots of Friedman singing at sunset on a Malibu hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. With over 27,000 hits on YouTube in its first four days, “Maaleh Ani” is clearly making quite a splash in the Jewish music world.