Idan Raichel

Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

A D’’ash exclusive with singers Idan Raichel and India Arie

For the past 10 years, Idan Raichel has been one of Israel’s most popular, unique and beloved musicians. Unlike most band leaders who stand at the center of the stage, Idan, with his long dreadlocks, thick hair band and baggy pants, sits at his keyboard at the far left of his stage. In extensive tours of Israel and the world, the composer and director prefers to showcase his enchanting blend of musicians – from various countries in African, Latin America and the Caribbean – and their unique sounds.

As the director of the Idan Raichel Project, the 34-year-old from Kfar Saba shares a message of tolerance and love. He has changed the face of Israeli music. Idan Raichel has grown from being a nine-year-old accordion player to an Israeli Army Band musician, to a counselor at a boarding school for immigrants and troubled youth, to the leader of the always evolving Idan Raichel Project, which has so far released three platinum albums.

Now, Idan Raichel is composing music with India Arie, the famous African-American singer songwriter who has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide and won four Grammy Awards.
Raichel and Arie performed their song, ‘Gift of Acceptance’ at last year’s Nobel Peace Prize awards. The pair will release their new album, called Open Door, album in March 2012.

D’’ash reporter Howard Blas caught up with India and Idan following their concert at New York City’s Beacon Theater.

D’’ASH: When did you guys first meet?
India: I was traveling in Israel in 2008 and was exploring historical sites. I left the tour early and went down to Tel Aviv. I like to explore the music traditions and the populations of a place. I asked people “who are the forward thinking people with intelligent lyrics?” Everyone said “Idan Raichel,” so I arranged to meet him.
Idan: I am a big fan of India’s. I was very happy such an established American artist is so open-minded to explore music from other parts of the world. When she came to Israel, it was a really cool dream to have an American singer singing with us in English. I realized there was good chemistry between us so we wrote a whole album together.

D’’ASH: What attracts you to each other? 
Idan: India is very modest and artistic, and she has a lot of confidence. Sometimes in art and hip hop culture, there are a lot of sexy elements. India presents herself in a very modest way with a lot of grace. It is beautiful to see.
India: We just have very similar musical tastes. When I hear his chord progression and melodies, I like it, but even more, I feel it is something I should be singing. I love his music and relate to it and want to sing it. That happens rarely! 

D’’ASH: Your New York concert took place the the very same day Gilad Shalit was released. What was your reaction when you heard that he was home? Tell us about your hopes and dreams for the Middle East.
Idan: It is a new year in Israel. I hope it will be a year of building foundations for peace. I hope that all prisoners who went back to their side and Gilad Shalit, who came to our side, will represent a movement for fighting for peace and not wars.
India: Idan first told me the story of Gilad Shalit when I went to Israel in September, 2010. I don’t know enough about Gilad Shalit and his situation. But it is always beautiful to see someone survive. I hope the prisoners released will commit to peace. It was interesting to be up close with three Israeli musicians from Idan’s band and see how they felt. It was very moving to hear them debating. All had different points of view about the prisoners being released. In the end, they were happy about the release; whatever their previous beliefs had been, they were all happy he was out.

D’’ASH: Can you describe the message of your song ‘Gift of Acceptance?’ What what was it like performing it at the Nobel Prize ceremony?
Idan: The melody I had in Israel for the past three or four years.

I sent it to India and she wrote beautiful lyrics. It was everything she wanted to say until now and couldn’t say it, until today. “Gift of Acceptance’ turned out to be one of the most beautiful songs on Open Door. The song represents the idea that people all over the world, regardless of race, gender, and political views, can join together and become a big community.
India: It was satisfying and fun and not only because it was at such a prestigious event. My whole life, I have been committed to making music in the name of peace. It was fulfilling to be there and to be singing a song I feel passionate about! It is aligned with my values.

D’’ASH: What was your funniest moment on tour? 
Idan: To go on stage and start to say, “Good Evening New York, or LA, or Denver” and then pause and realize you don’t even know where you are! 
India: At our last show of the tour, we were playing Open Door music. There is one part where I sing a song in three part harmony with my back up singers (we sing like sisters!) Anyway, during the show, Idan and Gilad and Yankele (his musicians) surprised me. They suddenly came out from backstage with one microphone, pretending to do the three part harmony. It was terrible! 

D’’ASH: What advice can you give to young musicians? 
Idan: Do it in YOUR way; follow your own dreams and inspirations. Learn from the past to build your own foundations for what you want to do in the future.
India: Know that you have to do what you love. Sometimes you do what you THINK will make money or will be popular. When you do what you really love, things fall in to place in a special way.

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RIDGEFIELD — The Idan Raichel Project, one of Israel’s most unique and popular musical groups, kicks off its 2009 World Tour with a March 22 appearance at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield. The “Project” is so much more than its namesake, the dreadlocked, 31-year old keyboardist, composer and producer, Idan Raichel.

According to Dalit Katz, adjunct assistant professor in the Religion Department at Wesleyan University, and coordinator of both the Contemporary Israeli Voices and the Israeli Film Festival, “Idan Raichel’s music, an innovative blend of Ethiopian, Middle Eastern and Caribbean elements, resonates with messages of peace, hope and tolerance. … His spectacular live shows combined with sophisticated production techniques contribute to Idan Raichel’s great popularity – especially among young audiences.”

The Idan Raichel Project first appeared on the Israeli music scene in 2002. The group’s music is intended to appeal to audiences of all ages, cultures, religions and backgrounds.

Raichel, born to Ashkenazic parents and raised in Kfar Saba, Israel, was always interested in music. He started playing the accordion at the age of nine, and later picked up the keyboard. He studied jazz in high school, where he learned improvisation. In the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Raichel toured military bases where he produced live shows and performed Israeli and European popular songs. His musical interests continued after his discharge, and Raichel worked as a backup musician and recording session player for some of Israel’s most popular musicians.

When Raichel took a job as a counselor in a boarding school for immigrants and troubled youth, he interacted extensively with Jews from Ethiopia and became interested in their music and culture. He set up a small recording studio in his parents’ basement and invited over 70 of his friends and colleagues from Israel’s diverse music scene to participate.

Released in 2002, the group’s first album, “The Idan Raichel Project,” featuring its hit song “Bo’ee” (Come With Me), sold more than 150,000 copies. Their 2005 album, “Mi’ma’amakim,” topped sales of 120,000. 

In January 2006, The Project traveled to Ethiopia, where the group opened the Fifth Ethiopian Music Festival in Addis Ababa. It was the first time any Israeli artist performed in Ethiopia. It was also the first time two of the Project’s lead vocalists had returned to Ethiopia since making aliyah. The trip is chronicled in the documentary, “Black Over White.”

In November 2008, The Idan Raichel Project released the album “Bein Kirot Beiti” (Within My Walls). The album which is now available in the United States on the Cumbancha label, presents artists to the wider public. The album was recorded while the group was on tour, with recording sessions taking place in such diverse settings as dressing rooms, backstage, and hotel rooms. The new album features lyrics in Hebrew, Moroccan Arabic, Spanish, Cape Verdean Creole and Swahili.

From the beginning, Raichel never wanted his group and their work to be known simply as “Idan Raichel.”

“If I had called the album just ‘Idan Raichel,’ people would have thought that Raichel is the main voice on all the songs. I wrote the songs and I arranged and produced them, but I perform them together with other vocalists and musicians. On the other hand, we are not a group. It’s something in between,” he notes. In concerts, Raichel plays keyboard from the side of the stage.

The Idan Raichel Project has headlined at the prestigious Central Park Summer Stage in New York City, the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, and the Sydney Opera House. The group has also performed across Europe as well as in Mexico City, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Singapore, and Mumbai.

“We try to introduce the community to all aspects of the arts, including world music. We’re excited when we can get a world musician of this caliber, who usually plays such venues as Radio City Music Hall, into our intimate theater,” says Allison Stockel, executive director of the Ridgefield Playhouse where Idan Raichel Project will begin its 2009 world tour. “We hope the community will take advantage of seeing this great performer in a small intimate venue such as The Ridgefield Playhouse.”

The Ridgefield Playhouse is located at 80 East Ridge in Ridgefield, CT. For ticket information call (203) 438-5795.

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