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The Idan Raichel Project returns

By Gideon Klionsky

Section: Arts

December 7, 2007

120707dc4.jpgThe Paradise Rock Club starts to fall silent as the lights dim. They regain their full power and we realize for the third time that the technicians are merely running tests and the concert is not starting. A slow clap initiated by someone fills our ears, but still we wait.

Once more the lights dim. At long last the group appears onstage: a percussionist from Uruguay, a singer from Ethiopia, a saxophonist from Maine, and finally, dreadlocks and all, Idan Raichel.

Those near the piano reach out to graze his hands, but the pop star just leans over the piano and begins to play, kicking off the Idan Raichel Project November 17th performance, its second visit of the year to the Boston area, indicating the band’s overseas popularity.

Drip. Splash. Splurt. Hardly the sounds you expect at an Israeli pop music concert; nonetheless, the entire club falls silent and listens as Rony Iwryn manipulates the water in a wooden bowl to make beautiful and somewhat ethereal sounds. Shalom Mor’s tar (a type of Perisian lute) sensually introduces Mira Anwar Awad’s Arabic solo “Azini” (“Comfort Me”).

120707dc2.jpgThese foreign sounds coverge to revolve around the Israeli-born sensation Idan Raichel, who, at just 30 years old has already scored double- and triple-platinum albums in Israel. For some pieces, such as Ayal-Ayale, the group included three local brass players.

Having released only two albums, the Project mostly played songs well known by the audience. What makes the live version of each song unique is its intro. Once the lyrical section begins, the crowded club often begins to sing along, especially to popular songs like “Bo’i” and “Im Telech”. But the tension is palpable as the tar player strums out a solo intro. The audience waits to identify what song is about to begin.

The group’s exit from the stage is followed by raucous applause and coordinated shouts of “od echad” (one more). After several minutes of cheering and clapping the group returns with a three-song encore, including “Ulai Ha-pa’am” (“Maybe This Time”) with its appropriate lyrics, “People stop for a minute, glance, and then go on…so today, today, I am leaving.”

The final song comes to a close, and the musicians exit the stage one at a time until Iwryn is alone. He finishes the concert with the deep, haunting drumming on a wooden bowl until finally he too leaves. The lights dim for the final time, and the crowd once more screams, claps and cheers.

One major attraction of Raichel’s music is the combination of different languages and cultures present in each song. “When I was discharged [from the army] I started to work as a counselor at a boarding school where they had a lot of immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia,” Raichel commented in an email to The Hoot.

“This was the first time I started to get familiar with Ethiopian pop music…I started to go to the Ethiopian bars downtown…and to the ceremonies, weddings and the Ethiopian synagogues as well.”

Along with Amharic (Ethiopian), Raichel’s music includes lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic, Yemenite, Surinamese Creole, and Zulu and the lyrics are normally sung by a group member fluent in that particular language.

While it seems that Americans are always about 40 years behind Israelis when it comes to listening to Israeli artists, Raichel has come to America annually for three consecutive years, indicating the wide fanbase his music has found here. Raichel himself “had no expectations that the album would be as successful as it ended up being. It was a surprise how well people responded.”

He believes “people like it because they can see something of themselves in it” and that since the audience is “of different backgrounds and ages…they can all find something in it that they can relate to. Confirming this point, the Boston crowd, ranged in age from 18 to about 81 and included Israeli ex-patriate professors and South American students.

To those waiting for new music from the Project, Raichel whets their appetite by dropping a few ambiguous clues.

“I will be expanding the concept of the Project to include artists from outside of Israel,” Raichel said. “I have already done some recording sessions in New York and more coming up in London and Paris, but I can’t tell you who will be involved just yet.”

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