The Idan Raichel Project
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2007, Volume 14, #8
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Fri August 3, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Conceptually, The Idan Raichel Project is one of the most interesting and ambitious world music releases in recent memory. Early in 2002, Idan Raichel, a young musician from Kfar Saba, constructed a recording studio in his parentsí basement and began looking for collaborators to fulfill his dream of creating an album that captured all of the diverse, ethnic sounds of modern Israel. While cross-cultural collaborations are nothing new, western musicians ó Paul Simon, Ry Cooder, and David Byrne are some of the more famous examples ó primarily have been the ones who have appropriated musical styles from the third world. The motivations and considerations of the artists involved in these undertakings largely have been aesthetic, and as a result, the fruits from these stylistic fusions can be judged solely in artistic terms. This isnít the case with Raichelís undertaking. In a country that is as fractured and marginalized as Israel, itís rare for cross-cultural efforts to be received openly by the nationís mainstream.
Yet, times are changing. The effects of globalism and new technologies can be felt everywhere. In the context of such upheaval, Raichel has demonstrated that he believes it is up to the young people of Israel to create and reflect a new cultural reality that is capable of offsetting the negative image that the country has developed around the world in recent years. Less burdened by twentieth century history, Raichelís generation is in the perfect position to redefine the Israel of the future, and he believes that music is the best avenue to express this new paradigm. As a first step toward achieving this, Raichel sought out musicians and singers from all of Israelís ethnic communities ó Jewish, Islamic, and Christian ó to collaborate with him on an album that sends out a message of peace, tolerance, and acceptance.
When Raichelís first album was released in late 2002, it caused a furor. Integrating Arabic, Ethiopian, African, and Yemenite traditions and poetry with Eastern European folklore and Biblical psalms, Raichel had created an effort that was completely unlike anything that ever had been released domestically in Israel before. It went to the top of the charts, and in a move that is similar to the Bush Administrationís cautious embrace of Bono, the more conservative and reactionary elements of Israeli society have aligned themselves with Raichelís music and his mission. In fact, by the time that Raichel released MiíMaíamakim (Out of the Depths), his sophomore effort, in 2005, he had achieved a kind of fame that allowed him to tour throughout the Jewish diaspora ó even performing a gig at the Zionist Federation in London. Acknowledging the influence of Raichelís work, the cutting-edge world music label Cumbancha has now released The Idan Raichel Project, which culls the best cuts from each of his first two Israeli releases, thus making his music available to listeners around the globe.
So far, no mention has been made of the music itself. For each cross-cultural collaboration that is successful, there have been dozens of poorly developed, conceptual disasters littering the landscape of world music. Throwing diverse musical traditions into a blender and seeing what shakes out has yielded some truly awful albums, but thankfully Raichel is a musician first and a cultural activist second. His passion for finding the perfect synthesis of ideas is, at times, awe-inspiring. Clearly, once the performers had assembled in Raichelís studio, it was all about serving the music and not about culture or political correctness. Raichelís belief that it is up to the young people of Israel to create a society that is less burdened by the pain, prejudice, and fears of the older generations comes through subliminally in the joyful sounds of his compositions. At its best, the songs collected on The Idan Raichel Project are ethereal, complex, and challenging. By blending multilingual vocals into compositions that are flavored with aspects of trance, techno, reggae, Middle Eastern dance, and hip hop, Raichel has created a sonic stew that often is quite intoxicating.
Because Raichelís reach and vision are so huge, it is only natural that he occasionally struggles to achieve his goals. A keyboardist by training, Raichel sometimes uses piano textures to bridge the diverse musical styles contained in his compositions. Often this works beautifully. Sometimes, however, the interludes sound a little New Age-y, and a few of the arrangements on The Idan Raichel Project veer into Celine Dion territory. Although one can sense that Raichel has put everything that he could into these recordings, it also feels as if too many ideas have been placed into some of the tracks. Some of them might have fared better if only he had allowed the simplicity of his beautiful melodies to stand on their own.
There is a feeling of musical urgency in every song on The Idan Raichel Project, but at the same time, it seems as if Raichel wanted to say too much in too little time. This, however, is the nature of youthful enthusiasm and experimentation, and, these small quibbles aside, Raichel has created a disc that is brimming with sincerity and creativity. While every track might not be to each listenerís taste, there are enough challenging musical ideas, killer hooks, and ingratiating rhythms on the album to make it a very worthwhile experience. This is music that directly reflects the reality of the world in which we live. It is bold, bright, and essential.
Much like Bob Marley, Idan Raichel is a brave, young man who uses music as a weapon to cut through the walls of fear, prejudice, and illusion. As such, he deserves our continued support and respect. Give The Idan Raichel Project a try. It is an impressive debut from a visionary artist, who ó standing at the crossroads between the old world and the new ó will be creating great music for many years to come. Ĺ
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box