Israeli megastar Idan Raichel launched his music career as a keyboardist for various other Israeli artists, with the hope of one day producing his own albums. In his first attempt to do so, Raichel created a studio in his parents’ basement in Kfar Saba and began recording anonymous singers from very different cultural backgrounds, including Ethiopians, Arabs, South Africans and Yemenites. His multilingual music was unique, emotional, inspirational and, most important, relatable.
In November 2002, The Idan Raichel Project released its first single, “Bo’ee” (Come With Me), which quickly became a huge radio hit. A month later, the collaborative’s first album was released, captivating Israeli listeners and changing the face of the Israeli music industry.
Raichel, who writes, sings, plays the keyboard and produces on his albums, began performing in the United States and reaching out to American fans in 2005, with his first tour outside of Israel. After recording three top-selling albums, and performing throughout the United States, Mexico, Ethiopia, Europe and at the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony in Oslo, Norway, Raichel sat down with The Jewish Journal to talk about life as a musician, his relationship to his songs, his new project and — in his opinion — the two most significant minutes of the year.
Jewish Journal: How much of the year do you spend performing outside of Israel?
Idan Raichel: We don’t have fixed tour dates. Sometimes we rest at home, travel, and record all in two weeks. We travel a lot, though, which only makes me appreciate the place I came from even more. Whenever we’re on tour, we know that our last destination will be home, which is actually the reason we decided to name our new album “Traveling Home.”
JJ: How does all this traveling affect establishing a life in Israel?
IR: It’s hard. All my relationships have to be long-distance ones, close to impossible.
JJ: What do you enjoy about singing abroad and, specifically, in the United States?
IR: When we perform in Israel, we usually play radio hits. In Israel, many look at our music as pop culture. It’s exciting to come here and meet a new crowd, a crowd of people not necessarily familiar with our music or with Israeli culture. Sometimes they are just random people who follow us through Facebook or who found our Web site. The fact that I can bring a taste of Israel to other countries is a great honor.
JJ: What is the most personal song you have ever written?
IR: All my songs are personal songs about a loss or absence. I tend not to explain the meaning of my songs because I fear that they will lose their meaning to the listeners. A woman once talked to me on the street and told me that the song “Im Telech” [If You’ll Leave] was played at her wedding as she walked down the aisle. During the same week, another woman told me that the same song was played at her father’s funeral. The same song could have different meanings to different people. Once I write a song on paper, it’s no longer mine. I believe in each person taking a song to his own place.
JJ: At a recent Q-and-A session at the West Hills Israeli Cultural Center, you spoke of a soldier’s family who put the lyrics of one of your songs on their son’s grave. How did that gesture make you feel?
IR: The song “Mikol Ha’ahavot” [Of All the Loves] speaks of someone who is gone but is still everywhere. There is a line in the song that says, “Will you remember them, will you know, you’re in all of them,” which is the line that the soldier’s family put on his grave. It was touching and only proved to me that once I put the song out there, it’s no longer mine. I’m just the tool that passes the message on for people to absorb and utilize.
JJ: You have said in interviews that, of all the holidays, you find the Israeli Memorial Day the most important. What is it about the IDF and its soldiers that you find so moving?
IR: I think that the 365 days in a year accumulate a certain meaning. At the end of the day, it’s the basic things in life that make it possible. It’s like a chef who cooks at a restaurant and has all the fancy ingredients in the world, but if he doesn’t have sugar, salt or pepper, he can’t cook anything at all. I feel that our army is a basic ingredient. On our memorial day, the 365 days of the Israeli existence in a year are reduced to only two minutes of a siren’s sound. I think that those two minutes truly reflect the Israeli way of life, the Israeli pride, our longing and sadness, our concern for and about the future, our patriotism and our mutual destiny. Those two minutes truly show what all Israelis have in common, if it’s our lives in the present, or the respect we have for our past. To me, those two minutes sharpen our minds and are the epitome of Israeli society.
JJ: Do you run your songs by anyone after you write them?
IR: One person who I sometimes ask for advice is my partner, Gilad Shmueli, who I produce all my albums with, but even though he sometimes gives me great pointers, we often disagree, and I end up doing what I believe in. Either way, he’s my best professional mirror. I sometimes also like to play the new songs to my sister. She shows sensitivity to my work.
JJ: You have collaborated with dozens of artists throughout your career. With whom haven’t you worked and would like to in the future?
IR: I would be very happy to work with the Israel Philharmonic. They are one big and talented artist.
JJ: Do you have any aspirations to produce other artists in the future?
IR: I am actually currently working with a soul singer named India.Arie on a new album called “Open Doors.” I wrote the songs, and she’ll be singing them. It’s exciting stuff.
Idan Raichel is currently touring the United States with Grammy Award-winning American soul artist India.Arie and will perform at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex in Los Angeles on Oct. 13. For tickets, visit idanraichelproject.com/en/on-tour.13.