It takes a moment to recognize Idan Raichel without his long dreadlocks wrapped in a turban. And yet, with or without his signature set of locks, Raichel continues to showcase his talents by creating music that is even more distinct than his appearance. In 2003, heads began to turn, but not because of his sense in fashion. With its combination of Hebrew and Amharic lyrics (a language of Ethiopia), the song “Bo’ee” became a hit as it aired on Israel’s radio stations. This song would help Idan forever change Israeli pop music.
Don’t let the name The Idan Raichel Project fool you. Raichel is not the central talent or “front man” behind his group. The Idan Raichel Project is more than just a group. It’s a collective of musicians from different backgrounds bringing a variety of cultures and talents to the Project. With this project, Raichel seeks to express a different side of the state of Israel, a side full of diversity. The lyrics of his songs are mainly in Hebrew, but sprinkled throughout are Arabic, Swahili, Spanish, Hindi and Creole Portuguese. At least a hundred singers from different countries and cultures have collaborated with The Idan Raichel Project. According to his biography on idanraichelproject.com, Raichel wants to highlight the diversity of Israel and break “down barriers between people of different backgrounds and beliefs.” It does not matter if people within the group have opposing cultural, political or religious views. All that matters for the Project is that they produce great music reflecting the egalitarian structure of the collective.
Even though Raichel wants the music he produces to show that his homeland is more than just a Jewish State, it is an Israeli State, inspiration for the songs of the Project comes from Hebraic texts. In an interview with Raphael Minder for the New York Times, Raichel explains his reason for doing so: “I use the Bible because all the most important and beautiful things have already been said…There is simply no greater love song than what you find in the Book of Psalms.” Many of the Project’s songs incorporate the book of Psalms, such as a track from the Project’s second album, “Mi’Ma’amakim,” which references Psalm 130. Despite criticism from Orthodox Jews, Raichel feels that prayers, similar to customs, should be contemporized.
While he is spreading the message of peace through The Idan Raichel Project, Raichel is also working on other collaborations. Most notable is a joint album with GRAMMY winner India Arie. One of their songs, “Gift of Acceptance,” is a beautifully performed song about tolerance and accepting each other’s differences.
After releasing its fourth album, “Quarter to Six” in 2013, The Idan Raichel Project is still on tour. The Project will be in Los Angeles for Israel’s Independence Day. This day is celebrated by Jews everywhere, and Southern California is no different. The Project will take the main stage at the Celebrate Israel Festival at Rancho Park on May 18. Whereas Idan Raichel calls Israel home, one of the members of his opening act is a native of Southern California. Nachum Peterseil and Yasha Gruzman, a duo from Los Angeles and Toronto, comprise the band Automatic Toys. Their style of music can best be described as electronic soul. While the majority of their songs are in English, a few of their lyrics are written in Hebrew. Last month, the band performed at The Mint, a famous music venue also located in Los Angeles. Their next performance will be opening for The Idan Raichel Project. Bo’ee (come with me) to support our local band as well as an internationally acclaimed group as we celebrate Israel’s Independence Day!
Deborah Lewis recently graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Jewish Studies. Starting this fall, she will be pursuing a Masters degree in Library and Information Science with an emphasis in Archival Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.