An interview with Israeli music icon Idan Raichel

Idan Rachel photo image

For the last 10 years, the Idan Raichel Project has continued to change the way people think about popular music. The Israeli collective has featured countless singers and musicians of all ages and from all parts of the world in its recordings and tours, painting a musical mural of Israel's diversity, all while topping Israel's pop charts.

The project comes to Chicago on Thursday, May 15, at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, for the Israeli Jazz and World Music Festival, part JUF's Israfest. Those interested in a taste of Idan Raichel Project can email to receive a link to a free download of a few of their songs. 

Raichel, the project's architect-or director as he would say-spoke to JUF News about the evolution of his group, the collaborative process and the power of music as a cultural education tool.  

JUF News: Tell us about the direction of the project in 2014.

Idan Raichel: In the past we have been touring all the time and recording on the road … we don't have the privilege of taking the time just to record, then go on the road for a few months, then concentrate on recording-it's all mixed together. After many years, the routine became very exhausting for us. We felt we needed to go back … Kurt Cobain once said with all the success of Nirvana, at the end of the day he missed the times they would've met a few friends in a garage. This is something we are focusing on now. I've asked not to perform much before the USA tour and just to be concentrated in the studio and go back to the jam session process and play with my friends and new musicians. It also makes you hungrier and ready to go on the road.  

Why has your passion for music always involved working with so many other musicians and featuring their talent?

I see myself as a director of a film. As a director of a film, it's not for granted that I will write the script; sometimes someone will write the dialogue with me. Sometimes as the director of the film, I will also play one of the roles, but sometimes I'm casting different "actors" to sing the "monologue" in this song. I don't feel as a singer that it's a must that I sing my own songs. It's important not to let the band structure limit you from your artistic goals, to make the scene in the movie that you're making perfect.

Do you see the diversity of the project
as a way to show the potential for peace and collaboration among people of different backgrounds?

Through musical collaboration, we can give a different perspective about cultures they don't know. It goes deeply even to conflict regions, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … My band was the first to bring a Palestinian vocalist into the mainstream, the first to bring the voices of the minorities from East Africa facing questions of racism. In a country where it's still forbidden to play Wagner, we brought a German-speaking singer into the Israeli mainstream. It's an opportunity to expose people to music from all over the world, but also to bring our music to people all over the world. 

Why do you think music is a big part of the boycott movement against Israel?

Sometimes people think that by putting pressure on artists or singers to not come to a conflict region will put pressure on the government of the places the artists are coming from. I feel by boycotting you're actually boycotting people. If someone doesn't want to play in Israel, they're boycotting their fans who just want to listen to their music. The government doesn't care about their music. They're losing all their fans here who are disappointed because they just want to listen to their music. 

How do you approach the responsibility of being a musical and cultural representation of Israel to audiences in the U.S.?

I see myself as an Israeli musician. I don't see myself as an ambassador for Israel, I see myself as a cultural ambassador for the culture of Israel. These people are coming to my concerts. At the end of the evening, if I can have one wish, it is they will remember this music as the soundtrack of Israel. If people after listening to the concert want to know more about Israeli art, it would be a success. People who will remember the music Idan Raichel Project as something that reminds them of the landscape of my country, it would be great. But I have no expectations-I would love just to see people coming to the concert and enjoying it.


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