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World Music Artist Ravid Kahalani’s Yemen Blues to Tour India

The Tel Aviv-based Yemeni musician incorporates a mix of blues, jazz, funk and African music

Rolling Stone India Oct 08, 2014
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Ravid Kahalani of Yemen Blues. Photo: Courtesy of Yemen Blues

Ravid Kahalani of Yemen Blues. Photo: Zohar Ron

In a region torn by war-mongering politics, the Middle East has a messenger of hope in Israel-based Yemen artist Ravid Kahalani. Over a Skype chat, it’s evident that he’s much more condemning of politicians than of religion’s role in conflict in the Middle East. Kahalani says there is beauty in every religion, because it inspires people to “see the good things.” Kahalani, who set up blues/world music act Yemen Blues in 2010, adds, “It’s really simple, but people forget. They’re really thirsty to know who killed who. It’s the nature of human beings ”“ sometimes good things are boring for them. But there are extraordinary good things happening every day, they just don’t hear about it.”

But Kahalani tells us up front that he has very little to say about politics or religions of the Middle East. The singer, who has previously worked with the likes of Israeli artist Idan Raichel, combines his Yemenite upbringing with his love for blues, jazz and North and West African music, singing in Arabic about peace and love. Says Kahalani, “When you come to a show, you have the same feeling as a Muslim or a Jew or wherever you come from. It’s the moment of the soul.”

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The band, which is in India this week, kick off the Tablu Music Festival in Jaipur, followed by the RIFF concert in Jodhpur on October 10th. Other stops for Yemen Blues include a performance at IIT Kanpur annual cultural festival Synchronicity. Kahalani says he isn’t worried about whether he can impress everyone from world music enthusiasts to college students in India. Adds Kahalani, “Yemen Blues has several influences, in terms of language and music. I think if people don’t connect to one song, it’s a pretty wide range of stuff.”

Kahalani grew up on traditional Yemeni songs and prayers, and he was later introduced to blues, jazz and North African and West African music by his friend and oud player Alon Campino. Says Kahalani, “I started going to this small CD shop to listen to stuff. I found myself buying a lot of CDs and sitting at home and just not moving for hours in front of the speakers.” He felt the connection with the blues, Yemen, Moroccan and African culture and decide to sing in Arabic as well. Kahalani explains how one of the first Yemen Blues songs came about, “I took the guitar and started playing a West African melody, because it was what I felt. Then I started singing Yemenite on it.” While Yemen Blues usually expands to include string and horn sections, Kahalani says the band coming to India will be “more like a funky rock ”˜n roll group” comprising oud player and bassist Shanir Blumenkranz, trumpet player Itamar Borochov, Latin percussions player Rony Iwryn, among others.

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Following the India tour, Yemen Blues head back for a few shows in Israel, followed by a North America tour to launch their second album, Insaniya in November. While Kahalani sang “your language is my language” on the song “Min Kalbi” off their self-titled 2011 debut album, he says Insaniya is more about “the beauty in differences and the power of togetherness.” It will include three collaborators including French rapper Oxmo Puccino, North African singer Mariem Hassan, whom Kahalani calls “one of the greatest voices in the Sahara,” and veteran Yemenite singer Zion Golan. Says Kahalani about Golan with a laugh, “He’s probably the only Israelite who became known in Yemen. Maybe I’ll be the second one.”

Yemen Blues India Tour:

9th October: Tablu Festival, Hotel Clarks Inn, Jaipur
10th October: RIFF Fest, Old Zenana, Courtyard, Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur
11th October: Synchronicity, IIT Kanpur
12th October: Rai Umanath Bali Auditorium, Lucknow
13th October: Kamani Auditorium, Delhi

Listen to “Min Kalbi” here

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