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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