The single word that comes to mind after seeing the Idan Raïchel Project in Montreal on May 11, 2014: HOLISTIC.
The other words that closely follow are PEACE, and RESPECT. Because, by virtue of Idan Raïchel‘s eclectic and inclusive musical worldview, his audience is permeated with the feeling that every cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity known to man is respected, leaving no argument for dissidence or strife… And between the impeccable pacing of the show, visually pleasing lighting designed to change with the phrasing of the music, Idan Raïchel’s intelligent conversation and comfortable zen demeanour on stage and the exquisite talent of his musicians, the audience is enveloped in a sort of peaceful serenity that seems to define the aura of the collective and the reason for its international success.
Picture on keyboards an Israeli who first started playing music during his mandatory military service, sporting dreadlocks under a turban (although he appeared in Montreal totally shaven, upon a “request from his lady”), add a Brazilian on percussions, Ethiopian, Sudanese, and Israeli vocalists who each sing in several different languages, and you are immersed in a culturally rich and diverse collective that transcends borders and ideological trenches in a way that remains very rare on the music scene.
In fact, the Egyptian Consul General, Mr. Amin Meleika, who is apparently an avid follower of Idan Raïchel, was present at the Montreal concert, giving quite a bit of credibility to the Project’s influence and reach across social and political divides.
The Idan Raïchel Project has toured South Africa, Asia (Hong Kong), Europe, and South America, and played in the world’s greatest venues, including Central Park Summer Stage, Apollo Theater, Radio City Music Hall and the Town Hall in New York City, the Sydney Opera House, the Zénith and the Bataclan in Paris, the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, and the Royal Albert Hall in London. He has worked with nearly 100 world class artists, not the least of whom is Alicia Keys who invited him to play at her sold out show in Tel Aviv in 2013. He has played privately for President Obama and alongside India Arie during Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies in Oslo, and found time to co-write a song for racial harmony in dedication to Israel’s Ethiopian community with Israeli President Shimon Perez in 2012 while picking up a nomination for best World Music at the BBC Radio 3 Awards. And this is just a few of Idan’s credits, which also include extensive work with Yemenite musicians.
In fact, curiosity and cultural inclusiveness seem to flow in Idan’s blood as he remains unequivocally open to musical influences, especially from what could be called “roots music”, which gives his soft rock crossover format its grounded, “ethnic” edge.
What we hear are tame ballads in Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese on a soft Mediterranean rock beat halfway between Henry Salvador and Enrico Macias, with violin orchestrations that rise above worldly concerns in a way almost as ethereal as Andreas Wollenweider or Catherine Lara.
On the Project’s latest album, Quarter to Six (2013), several collaborations define its uniqueness. First, after the acclaimed Tel Aviv Session (2012) with Mali’s Vieux Farka Touré that brought Idan deep into West African pentatonic musical structure, Touré is again featured on Mon amour, a sweet ballad reminiscent of Amadou et Mariam’s Je pense à toi. Then, with the same ease, the sublime Sabe Deus (God knows) is sung by Ana Moura in Hebrew and Portuguese, and the jasmine scented Ana Ana wa Enta Enta (I am what I am), sung by Mira Awad, enchants in Arabic until finally church chimes and an unexpected German countertenor, Andreas Scholl, In Stiller Nacht (A Quiet Night), say that Idan’s creative reach has no borders at all.
Yet despite these different nationalities and styles, there is a common element. Beyond Idan’s arrangements that provide the fluid cohesiveness of the album, we hear Respect. For the Music. For the Peoples. For the Cultures.
In concert, Idan chose to intersperse the ballads with syncopated African rhythms and Brazilian percussion sequences — with water filled calabashes! —, Arabic dance music with multiple quarter toned vocal elasticity, and songs laced with East African intonations resonant of Ethiopia’s Aster Aweke.
It’s easy listening, appeasing, head and body rocking music which can break out in dance mode at any moment and holds as much raw talent as promise for a new day. Idan travels with some extraordinary musicians and top shelf vocalists, especially Cabra Casay — a Sudanese refugee who arrived in Israel at the age of one with Operation Moses, which enabled Ethiopian Jews to return to Israel, and who met and sang with Idan during their military service when she was 18 — and Maya Avraham whose sumptuous, undulating vocal prowess mirrors that of a younger Feyrouz.
For a glimpse of the show:
Photos and video by Sophie Pascal
And this is the beauty of Raïchel’s music. He is careful to put an emphasis on pop, diffusing many of the savant depths of ancestral rhythms and intricacies present in traditional musical genres, and arranging them into a consistent blend of what I will qualify as accessible diversity. It works marvellously, because Idan clearly values the original fibres from which he weaves his musical fabric. Neither does he dilute nor does he trample or substitute those essential origins, making for a modern kind of World Music that remains authentic and that all audiences can identify with and be touched by.
He also leaves his artists full freedom to contribute their own specificities to the Project. In fact, it is Idan’s goal to let talented multi-disciplinary artists bring their own cultures to the Project. This is a collective, rather than a band, because of the constant movement, and this is apparent as each vocalist takes absolute possession of the stage, belting out songs as if they headlined the show, but never in competition with each other.
Never since the enlightened Cuban Omar Sosa have I heard such reverential diversity in such a quality production. Leave it up to Traquen’Art to consistently bring us the most nourishing world-inspired music to quench the soul. In fact, the audience on Monday was a happy mix of music lovers representing the Jewish community as well as other franco and anglo Québécois who follow the World Music promoter blindly.
Perhaps Idan’s collaboration with India Arie speaks the loudest to what he stands for, and why he speaks to so many people across the globe today. He seems to have found the recipe for Peace, something like a Jah love that sleeps in all of us.
When I look at you / I don’t see a country / I see my friend / We want peace, love and prosperity / Give up your need to be right / Give the world the gift of acceptance
Idan’s American label, Cumbancha, thought it wise to offer a definition.
Idan Raïchel featuring India Arie – The gift of Aceptance
Idan Raïchel featuring Vieux Farka Touré – Mon amour
Idan Raïchel with Alicia Keys in Tel Aviv, 2013