by Elana Spivack
On Thursday, April 23, Israeli musician Idan Raichel came to campus to share his music and philosophy with students at the Horn Gallery during a Common Hour Talk. Raichel has played music since age nine when he learned to play accordion, and created an informal band with friends when he served in the Israeli Defense Force as a musician. Now an internationally renowned musician, Raichel collaborates with a slew of different musicians of all different religions, races, beliefs and backgrounds to build bridges, creating harmony within music and between people.
The Idan Raichel project is you and a bunch of other collaborators of all different backgrounds and cultures. How do you reconcile your own beliefs with those of other people?
The whole idea was to bring all these people come together and to make music but emphasize that we’re making music. I’m collaborating with these musicians because they’re amazing musicians. It’s not that I’m saying to myself, “Wow, let’s make a collaboration with a Palestinian singer,” and then [we look] for the Palestinian singer. No, I know Ali Amr is … an amazing artist. I collaborated with him, and then I know that also he’s a Palestinian. I don’t see my singer as my Ethiopian singer. I see her as an amazing singer. … And after collaborating with everyone we show that actually it’s a great musical project that you can find at the end of the day people that are for example super religious singing side by side with non-religious secular people. I think this is the whole idea, just to put… we’re not putting aside our beliefs. We’re bringing all these beliefs, but we’re making music.
What sort of message do you want your listeners to get out of hearing your music?
First of all, to enjoy the music. After that, when we’re playing in Israel, people define it as Israeli music. When we travel outside of Israel people tend to define it as world music. World music artists are actually artists who are bringing the soundtrack of places they are coming from. … People who cross over big time, like Bob Marley, you can find him under reggae, but also as world music because he became the voice of Jamaica. Also … Edith Piaf, who became the voice of Paris and France. You listen to her … and without understanding French you imagine that you’re walking in the streets of Paris. … It will be an honor for us if people remember this music as Israeli music.
So you would want it to be remembered as Israeli music even if you collaborate with people from all over?
Yes … You can see it … almost as someone who has immigrated to Israel. It’s a composition through his eyes, being a new immigrant. … So it’s almost like a visitor from outside, a tourist that comes to the microphone. At the end of the day, it’s all taking place in Israel.
Do you actually perform in any of the songs?
So I started playing accordion, which is the uncoolest instrument ever. I played it when all my friends were surfing, beach, playing rock n roll guitar. It’s an instrument that sounds different from the waltzes of France to the tango of Argentina, it sounds different in different parts of the world. I think that I’m lucky that … I grew up playing accordion because it gave me the roots to keep my ears and eyes open to different sounds from around the world. I play the accordion but I’m not an accordionist. … Also I play piano but I’m not a pianist. A pianist is someone by definition that is the essence of his living.
So then what’s the essence of your living?
A bit from everything. I’m not a poet; I write some. I’m not a composer; I compose a few songs. I’m not a pianist; I play piano. I’m not a singer; I sing. I think the overall picture is what I do.
How did you transition from having a music group with some friends to being this world-renowned artist?
I don’t know where the transition starts. It’s almost like asking when I started. … You start working on your second album when you finish your first album. You start working on your first album pretty much from the day that you were born. … I was lucky to serve as a musician [in the army] and I played for Israeli soldiers, and definitely the soldiers are the most honest audience after kids. … I think the most important thing is to wake up in the morning and just to do. You can really learn from everything.
Do you attribute your success to collaborating with people of all different beliefs and backgrounds?
If you listen to one song of the project, it will never be enough because maybe you will listen to a guitar player playing with an opera singer, and you think “Wow, it’s an opera project.” But it’s not. Or maybe you’ll hear an electric beat and you’ll hear an Arabic Palestinian language and say, “Oh, I’m not into electronic beats.” You have to listen to many … songs and I think at the end of the day you’ll hear something you feel connected to … You’ll always find yourself connected to one or another.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photo courtesy of Yeara Livny.