Last week, Idan Raichel, the Israeli singer well known around the world thanks to his international music, was in DC. As a staff member of GTJ, I followed his stay in the nation’s capital and obtained an exclusive interview for the GTJ website.
Idan’s experience in Washington started at the AIPAC Policy Conference, where he performed at the Monday night Gala event. Preceded by Rick Recht and the Maccabeats, The Idan Raichel Project played several songs before a diverse audience ranging from young students to veteran AIPAC donors. However, their most heartfelt performance was later in the night when IRP member Maya Avraham sang Hatikva—accompanied only by the poignant notes of Idan’s keyboard and the over 13,000 people in attendance.
After the concert, Raichel had an entire pavilion in the AIPAC village to himself where he spoke with fans and signed the group’s newest CD Traveling Home. Of course, I was there ready with my brand new CD and an extra copy for dad 😉
In spite of his hectic schedule, which included a backstage meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a small concert and Q&A with students at American University, Idan agreed to be interviewed by GTJ.
And here is what he had to say!
DE: Your new CD, Traveling Home, is a great success and is also the group’s first album to be recorded live. Were the concerts on the new CD recorded in Israel or around the world? How did you choose the title? It seems like Israel is the point of beginning and the point of return.
IR: It’s called Traveling Home because while we are traveling around the world we are actually [always] traveling back home—because the last destination is always Tel Aviv. So even if we go around the world, at the end of the day we are always traveling home.
DE: One of your most recent international collaborations is with the African musician Ali Farka Touré, with whom you founded The Touré Raichel Collective. Is this a totally new project or can it be considered to be an extension of the Idan Raichel philosophy?
IR: I always continue to work with the Idan Raichel Project on the road, but it’s important for me to do things that will move me, and interesting things career-wise and music-wise. So I started this album with the Collective, with Ali Farka Touré. It is a totally new collaboration.
[It is important to me] especially because I share the stage and the studio with a great musician that I believe in [Ali Farka Touré]. Also, in the past year I was touring with the Grammy award winning India Arie. [All of these] are just extensions of what I do with the Idan Raichel Project.
DE: I was just going to ask you about India Arie! What did it mean to perform with her at the Nobel Prize concert? How was it to collaborate with this extraordinary African American soul singer and to tour with her for the Open Door Project?
IR: It was a great honor to perform with such a great, very spiritual poet and composer. It was called the Open Door Project. People that came to see us live saw a beautiful collaboration which was based on the spirituality of two worlds: the Jewish/Hebrew world and the Afro/American world of India [Arie].
DE: India Arie and Ali Farka Touré are just two of the hundreds of international musicians you have played with. Among all of these, who is the artist you enjoyed collaborating with the most? Who is the artist you would like to collaborate with and haven’t yet?
IR: I have no specific dream to collaborate with a particular artist or another. I just like to be surprised by the doors that the world opens. I didn’t plan to work with Ali Farka Touré or the Colombian singer Marta Gomez or India Arie. It is just when you don’t expect it that the world sends you surprises.
Idan confessed that sometimes the ideas for new collaborations come from advice that his fans write on his Facebook and Twitter pages [idanraichel1]. Visiting those pages can serve as a daily resource for information about the Israeli social and musical scene.
DE: Your songs are written in a wide range of languages — Hebrew, Spanish, English, Amharic, and Hindi just to name a few. How do you choose the language of any particular song? How do you understand which language is right for a particular song?
IR: It is just some instinct. Sometimes there are jokes that can be understood only in Spanish and love songs that sound better in Arabic. Sometimes it’s just the color of the song.
In spite of his reluctance to answer political questions, when it came to talk about Israel Idan showed the same openness and forthcoming spirit as when we spoke about his music and collaborations. I asked him about the changes that are happening in Israel, its current President, as well as its two main cities—both of which I discovered have a place in the singer’s heart.
DE: Israel is changing. Which of these changes do you like and which don’t you like? What should continue to change?
IR: Our country always changes. There is a social movement these days, the youth of Israel is rising up demanding more of what they think should be obvious in our country. I think time will tell what will happen—but it’s all a positive movement.
Speaking about Israeli president Shimon Peres, who just few days before gave an emotional speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference, Idan said: “I think we have an amazing president in Israel. Shimon Peres is the greatest president ever. I hope that all the other presidents of Israel will be as loyal and representative as him.”
DE: While living in Israel there was a question that I used to ask all Israelis—each time receiving a different answer. Do you prefer Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?
IR: I can’t say what I prefer. Tel Aviv is my home and Jerusalem is one of the most spiritual places in the world. If you live in Israel you don’t really need to choose—it’s just 45 minutes of distance. Lucky for us, you don’t need to choose.
Talking with Idan in the morning was as amazing an experience as going to listen to his concert that evening at Sixth & I. The Synagogue was transformed into a temple of music. After the first song, during which some of the band members wore Purim masks, all the audience stood up, singing and dancing to the engaging rhythm of the music. People were happy to hear both old hits and new songs in the mix of languages that always accompanies the band’s concerts. I met Idan again after the concert and presented him with an official gift from his GTJ fans: our super-cool GTJ t-shirt! He was happy and thanked the GTJ team and all of you for the great interest demonstrated and, of course, for the t-shirt!
There was nothing left to say but, “Idan…Lehitra’ot be qarov!”.