On Oct. 9, the Idan Raichel Project, Israeli world music pioneers, will kick off their U.S. tour with a live concert at the Fox Tucson Theatre. Voted “Musical Group of the Decade” in an Israeli national media poll, the Project blends a range of cultures, languages and musical influences to create a multicultural “soundtrack of modern Israel,” Raichel told the AJP.
“It is a unique band,” Raichel said by phone from Israel. “We represent the culture of music. Although we are not some kind of rebels at home, we did create a revolution 10 years ago, when it was the first time that people [in Israel] started to listen to music from all over the world … But to me, this is a natural process, a natural way of living. Where I live, in Tel Aviv, you see people integrated from all over the world: Addis Ababa, the former USSR, Paris, the world over. So it’s a natural thing for me.”
The Project’s latest album, “Quarter to Six” debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes world music chart when it was released in June. It features guest appearances by Portuguese fado (folk music) star Ana Moura, Palestinian-Israeli singer Mira Awad (who performed in Tucson in March 2013 with
Israeli songstress Noa), German counter-tenor Andreas Scholl, Colombia’s Marta Gomez, Malian singer and guitarist Vieux Farka Toure and several up-and-coming Israeli artists. During their U.S. tour, the Project will perform at least eight songs from the new album, specially arranged for the live band, along with songs from earlier albums.
Over the last decade, 95 vocalists and musicians from different musical cultures and backgrounds have performed with the Project. Since it is impossible to travel with such a large entourage, Raichel’s U.S. tour will feature 10 artists who capture the multi-ethnic ambience that spans the group’s recordings.
You don’t need to speak Hebrew (or Amharic, Arabic, Portuguese, German or any of the other languages in which the band performs) to enjoy Raichel’s unique fusion of styles and cultures. “You can imagine the same feeling you get when you listen to the songs of Edith Piaf. You don’t need to understand French to be captured by her voice and her ability as a storyteller to take you to the streets of Paris,” Raichel said. “You can enjoy the colors, the musicianship of this really versatile band. My goal is that when people leave the concert, they’ll say, ‘I saw Israel in my eyes or in my heart.’ ”
“I don’t speak Hebrew, but I was completely mesmerized by the music,” said Charae Stewart, operations and office manager of the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation, who’d sought out a video to promote student ticket sales on the UA Hillel website.
Raichel has performed for President Barack Obama and his family at the Kennedy Center on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, at the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony in Oslo, and at the ceremony inaugurating the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. He co-wrote a song calling for racial harmony with Israeli president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres, and has co-written and toured with Grammy award-winning American artist India.Arie.
Raichel’s interest in multicultural music started in high school, playing with friends and musicians of different backgrounds. “The place where I grew up [Kfar Saba]was a melting pot,” he said. At the age of 18, he began his compulsory military service, playing with the Israel Defense Forces band. After his army service, he volunteered as a counselor at Hadassim Children and Youth Village, where many of his students were Ethiopian immigrants. He listened to the music they brought with them from home and this piqued his interest in Amharic, the language of Ethiopian Jews.
While working as a backup and studio musician for some of Israel’s most popular performers, “I came to the conclusion that the voices of the minorities were not being played enough in the Israeli mainstream.” He decided it was time to pursue a project that reflected his musical ideals and began working on a demo recording in a small studio he set up in the basement of his parents’ home in Kfar Saba. He invited 70 of his friends from Israel’s diverse musical spectrum to join him. In 2003, the Idan Raichel Project pioneered the world music genre in Israel when “Bo’ee” (“Come to Me”) became the first song with lyrics in Amharic (and Hebrew) to air on Israeli pop radio.
Raichel continues to break down cultural barriers. He said that“In Stiller Nacht” (“In a Quiet Night”) from “Quarter to Six” is the first German-language song to be played on Israeli mainstream radio. “This is actually amazing. I am very happy of the response to this. People are opening their hearts and their souls,” he said.
And that is Raichel’s objective, everywhere he goes. “I am lucky to bring the music of Israel to the world, and bring stories and music back to Israel. I love meeting people all over the world. It’s nice to see the shining eyes of people from all over, being moved by the music we bring from other parts of the world.”
His touring schedule may slow down a bit after he becomes a father, two months from now. “Touring will get a different perspective. ’Til now, I just go on the road and I am lucky to have audiences all over. Once I have a baby, maybe I will pick more carefully when and where to travel. But this is definitely a part I want to keep.”
Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. concert on Oct. 9 are $24 to $59 through www.foxtuc sontheatre.org or at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, 577-9393. Special discounts are available for Heartbeat of Israel series sponsors: a $360 package includes two orchestra tickets; a $180 package comes with two half-price tickets for any level. For sponsorships, contact the Weintraub Israel Center at 577-9393 or is [email protected] To get a taste of the Idan Raichel Project’s music, visit www.idanraichelproject.com and click on “Video.”
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson. She can be reached at [email protected].