BY ZIVIT SHLANK JAZZ CORRESPONDENT Ravid Kahalani is on a global mission to redefine the blues. Raised in a strict Israeli household, Ravid’s early life was completely devoted to Yemenite religion and culture. His introduction to music was through the singing of Yemenite Jewish chants and prayers. However, it was his voracious appetite to know more about the world through people and music that started him on his quest. After many years and many discoveries, he came to this realization: music that relates to people and brings them together is the heartbeat of the blues. Seems deceptively simple, but for Ravid, the journey to find his voice and make himself heard was anything but. Performing and recording under the name Yemen Blues, he along with arranger/musical director Omer Avital are making music without borders. For the 9 musicians of Yemen Blues, their message is quite clear; it is not a global fusion, but rather, soul music. Experience it for yourself tonight at the Painted Bride Arts Center. Phawker recently got to chat with Ravid on the line from Israel
PHAWKER: Coming from a strict background where you were immersed in all things Jewish-Yemenite, how did your journey to discover what’s out there begin? Did you have to be sneaky about it?
RAVID: From the time I was 5, my parents were very religious. My father wanted me to learn the religion, the culture, the language, the chants and prayers. I started to think about other things like any other kid who wants to see the world and discover things. So yeah, I did have to hide some things. I left home when I was 15 and I left the religion way before that. That’s how I started to go on my way to discover the world and started to build my own life. I was working, meeting new people, started listening to other genres of music like blues, jazz, funk, soul and I loved it. At some point, I felt really connected to the African-American music, soul singing. I always loved singing, even from when I was young.
PHAWKER: Those who create be it music, art, writing, etc., always have that first moment where they realize ‘this is what I’m meant to do.’ When did that happen for you?
RAVID: When I was little, I sang to myself at home or in a very small gathering, but I never thought of me as a singer. The moment happened 8 or 9 years ago. A choreographer, Yossi Yondman, put me as the lead singer in his dance show for an Israeli festival. I improvised on a song of his in an audition and that’s how I got it. It was like a friend asking me to sing even though I didn’t know him. That was my first project I did as a singer. It was kind of magical what happened. It was my first time on stage, I sang in front of a thousand people. When I started to sing, I felt this power in every part of my body. It was crazy and amazing. It was then I knew that this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. It made me feel so happy to sing, so whole and perfect.
PHAWKER: From there you got involved with many projects, most notably playing and singing with the Idan Rachel Project. How did Yemen Blues come together?
RAVID: I can use the word magical again here. The whole process started with me meeting Omer Avital. He’s an amazing arranger, a genius and he’s got a big soul. I showed him these 2 songs I’d written, said I’m really into Yemenite, Moroccan everything and wanted to do something with him. We started to meet, to jam, improvise and it was so much fun. I had lots of things on my mind and I just wanted to bring it out of me. Omer knew how to do that, to make it amazing and give it a modern, sophisticated sound without ruining my concept. We then called on Rony Iwryn and Itamar Borochov. When you see them play together, you’ve never seen such a hard groove in your life. Rony comes from Uruguay and he’s really into latin precussion, and Itamar is from Israel, a very funky, young Arabic trumpter/percussionist. They did all the percussion arrangements. And after a while we thought it’d be nice to bring in strings. That’s when we called HIlla Epstain, an amazing cellist, and Galia Hai, a violist from Israel. One by one, more musicians came in, from different places. 9 musicians sat in the studio and we created something without even thinking about it. We never said let’s combine Yemenite blues with jazz and African music, we never said let’s do a fusion; we just let it happen. We just had a really good understanding, and everyone brought themselves into the sound. We just wanted to make good music, we had no plans to do anything more than that. We recorded 4 songs and sent it to the Babel Med Festival in France. We made it in 2010 and did well. The next day, we got written up in the biggest paper in France as the big success story of the festival. From there, we got invited to many crazy stages all over the world; we did 60 shows in 2011. I feel so blessed, but there is a long way in front of me and there are important things I wanna do with this music.
All seated tickets for the Yemen Blues concert have been sold. There will be a waiting list for seated tickets beginning 2 hours before curtain. You must be in person to be placed on the waiting list. There will also be standing room only tickets sold 15 minutes before curtain.