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Blues the Warmest Sound

Yemen Blues, an Israeli band that has won over the purists by blending jazz, funk and rock with synagogue chants, is on their first India tour.

Written by Suanshu Khurana |
Updated: October 15, 2014 12:04:50 am
Ravid Kahalani’s music sneaks into places where geopolitics and diplomacy have failed to go. Ravid Kahalani’s music sneaks into places where geopolitics and diplomacy have failed to go.

In Israel, where music is a torrid affair, musician Ravid Kahalani sings of insanya (humanity). With an Arabic guitar strapped to him, his long locks swinging with enough vigour to make a ‘90s metal bands feel honoured, 36-year-old Kahalani croons, Look at the blood of your own children on your hands/ You are looking for more revenge?. The turn of phrase is unvarnished, but the effect is high-octane, like the intricate melody lines played on that guitar. There is his trademark 12-bar blues format in place, the one Kahalani is so inspired by “because the heart of it falls in line with the ritual chanting in synagogue services”. And in Israel, Kahalani has become something of a legend, at least among the more radical people, who are ready to listen to him while he captures a variety of global influences.

A Yemenite Jew who now lives in Israel (Yeminite Jews aren’t accepted in Yemen), his music — that blends ancient synagogue chants from the Torah with jazz, funk, rock and blues — is sneaking into spaces where geo-politics and diplomacy have failed to go. “It seems good things are sometimes boring to people. Wars exist all over the world, one is worse than the other. Yes, geographically, I am in a region of war but the idea is to spread the good, make people feel good,” says Kahalani, but through Insanya, he had this moment, that could be expressed through melody. “The song talks about my moment of anger with human beings. I see governments, the never-ending wars, people fighting about such stupid and simple things.

So I ask questions and express what I see. Seeing things creates such powerful imagery, that people can find it easier to spread the message. I have hope. As long as we can take that hope and bring it to the next level, we’ll be fine,” says Kahalani, who has brought together an eclectic group of international musicians, which includes Israeli percussionist Itamar Doari, Uruguayan percussionist Rony Iwryn, New York-based bassist and oud player Shanir Blumenkranz and New York-based trumpeter Itamar Borochov, who performed at RIFF in Jodhpur which concluded last week.

“Yemen Blues is a rare meeting of some phenomenal musicians. Music is a tool stronger than any religion and politics. With its power of uniting and understanding, it is sometimes more powerful than an army. It’s the moment of the soul,” says Kahalani, who is on his first India tour.

Kahalani grew up in a conservative Yemenite Jewish family in Israel where he learnt cantillation (ritual chanting during synagogue services). “This culture made me feel that I belonged to something true,” says Kahalani. It was later when he left home that he “opened to other forms of music”. “I began to research blues and where it came from, about African culture, soul and gospel singing and how it gave rise to rock and roll. I began to sing blues and jazz, and all of it seemed to come naturally to me,” he says. What he never factored in, was the idea of mixing the two forms. “Yeminite Jews are extremely strict, including my mother. Hearing jazz and Latin with the chants was something she would not be okay with. But it did something to her, which was the idea. We made her and other Yemenite Jews like something that is a part of their culture but makes them feel one with others.

Acceptance is the pre-condition if you want to end wars,” says Kahalani, most of whose songs are about basic human feelings.

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