Bridging sounds, bridging cultures

Idan Raichel will perform April 22 at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington. Provided
Idan Raichel will perform April 22 at the Lincoln Theatre in Washington.

Israeli singer-songwriter Idan Raichel got the pre-tour jitters in anticipation of his American tour — changing the set list, figuring out how to incorporate his band into the performance and even tinkering with his own instrument.

“I’ve been waiting for this tour for a long time,” he said. He decided to perform on a grand piano as opposed to electric keyboards and kick off the concert by himself.

When he takes the stage April 22 at Washington’s Lincoln Theatre, he may even start with some intimate improvisation.

“I want to go onstage for the first time and to share my heart, to sing, not even things that I plan in advance,” he said, “to sing and to play to the audience just by myself in a very intimate way.”

One by one, he’ll bring out the members of his band until the stage is full. And given the diversity of musicians performing with him, the audience may need that gradual addition to digest the wealth of diverse talent they’re seeing. There’s Gilad Shmueli, Raichel’s co-producer, who, he said, is an “incredible drummer and percussion player.” There’s Yogev Glusman, a violinist and bass player from Argentina; Marc Kakon, an oud and guitar player who came to Israel from Casablanca, Morocco; and woodwind master Eyal Sela.

“I was a fan of his when I was in high school,” Raichel said of Sela. “I used to go to all of his concerts, and I’m very honored and lucky that he agreed to play with me and my band.”

Raichel and his band will also be joined by three singers: Ethiopian-Israeli Avi Wassa; Cabra Casay, Raichel’s Ethiopian-born backup leader who came to Israel from the refugee camps of Sudan; and Maya Avraham, a singer with Egyptian roots and Indian and Arabic influences.

For Raichel, who sings in Hebrew, Arabic and Amharic — the sounds on the streets of Tel Aviv — collaborating with musicians from various backgrounds is something he has done from the beginning.

“I think that every collaboration holds in itself a story and a tribute to life,” he said.

He’s performed with neo-soul singer India Arie, Palestinian musician Ali Amr and classical Baroque singer Andreas Scholl. He and Amr performed alongside Alicia Keys in Central Park in New York City at the Global Citizen Festival, singing We Are Here, a song Keys wrote calling out for peace.

Raichel grew up in Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv, and started playing keyboards in high school, concentrating in jazz. In the army, Raichel served as a musician, performing Israeli and European pop hits at various military bases with the military band.

“I think it affected me a lot because soldiers are the most honest audience after kids,” he said. “If they are bored, you will see it. If they are happy, you will see it. If they are excited, you will see it. If they are tired, you will see it. So I think it prepared me for the toughest audiences all over the world.”

After spending time backing other Israeli musicians, Raichel started his own project. In 2003, his first single, Bo’ee propelled him to fame in Israel. The Idan Raichel Project’s 2006 album, Cumbancha established a global audience.

Raichel, who draws on folk music as a major influence, found that once he toured outside of Israel — where his music was considered Israeli music — people defined his genre as world music.

“What defines world music is it’s artists who are bringing the soundtrack of the place where they are coming from,” he said. “If people remember us as ‘Israeli music’ it will mean a lot for us … if people take it as the soundtrack of Israel for the last decade or two.”

Although relations between Raichel’s home country and the United States have been rocky of late, he said he feels welcome when he comes to America, even though sometimes there are protesters calling for boycotts of Israeli music.

“Very often, I go out to the people who protest and I even offer them a tea. I think that the one thing you can tell about these people are they care; otherwise they would not stand outside on the sidewalks and protest,” he said. “I think that dialogue between people is the most important thing.”

And coming from a volatile region, he sees the exchange of cultures as a crucial part of creating dialogue.

“I think sharing culture — even if there is a conflict, there is a lack of dialogue — you should know your neighbor, know your enemy, just to create a dialogue and then people can build bridges,” he said. “You get to know the daily life, the heart of the people, the heart of the culture, and music is definitely one of the most accessible tools.”

The Idan Raichel Project performs at the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St., NW, Washington, on April 22. Tickets are $45 to $55, and doors open at 6:30 p.m. Visit for tickets and information.

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Marc Shapiro is Senior Staff Reporter at Baltimore Jewish Times, a sister publication of Washington Jewish Week.

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