In Israel, where music is a torrid affair, musician Ravid Kahalani (pictured) sings of insanya (humanity). With an Arabic guitar strapped to him, his long locks swinging with a voracity enough to make the ’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 synogogue 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. And that creates such powerful imagery, which makes 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 will perform in the Capital today, courtesy the Embassy of Israel.
The group’s performance at this year’s Jodhpur RIFF, with its gripping blend of sounds had the crowd asking for more. The band has already performed at some of the finest venues all over the world including Womex World Expo, Roskilde Festival Denmark, New York Central Park’s Summerstage and Millennium Park Chicago, among others.
“Yemen Blues is a rare meeting of some phenomenal musicians. Music is a tool stronger than any religion, any politics. With its power of uniting and understanding, it is sometimes more powerful than an army. It’s the moment of the soul,” says 36-year-old 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 the African culture and how it was African soul singing, gospel singing and how it became rock and roll. I began to sing blues and jazz, and all of it seemed to come naturally,” 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 could not be okay with. But it did something to her still, which was the idea. We made her and other Yemenite Jews like something that is also a part of their culture but makes them feel others. Acceptance is the pre-condition if you want to end wars,” says Kahalani, most of whose songs are about basic human feelings. “I don’t know what to expect in India. I hope I can bring something true to people. I hope I can bring good energy,” says Kahalani.
Yemen Blues will perform today at Kamani Auditorium, 7 pm onwards. Entry is free