Call it Idan Raichel’s ‘Side’ Project. And a project The Tel Aviv
Sessions by The Touré- Raichel Collective certainly is – encompassing a new
album and a tour with gifted African guitarist Vieux Farka Touré that has taken
more than three years to germinate, from an airport terminal in Germany to a
stage in Spain to a studio in Tel Aviv.
Everyone know about Israel’s
great world music hope and his his primary focus – the ongoing eclectic musical
collective known as The Idan Raichel Project, which has spent the last decade
traversing the globe bringing their multicultural blend of Middle Eastern,
African and pop sounds to a receptive audience and, in the process, becoming
Israel’s most ubiquitous export since drip irrigation.
But something else
has been tugging at the dreadlocked Raichel’s frontal lobe – and anyone who’s
attended one of his shows will get the hint. Listen to the evocative warm-up
music that’s played before the lights go down at every Raichel show for the last
eight years. It’s the strains of one of his greatest influences – the late
Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré – and his classic 1994 album with Ry Cooder,
Talking Timbuktu, which for many represented a point of intersection of
traditional Malian music and the blues.
“I’ve been listening to Touré’s
music since my army days, when I started exploring world music. Talking Timbuktu
is one of the most important albums ever made because Ry Cooder knew exactly how
to take Ali’s music from the village to the Western world but still keep it
traditional Malian music,” said Raichel in a recent phone interview with The
. “It’s just really magical.”
Although Touré died in 2006,
Raichel has not let the connection to the African master’s music fade
On the contrary, he’s become equally enthralled with the music of
Touré’s son, Vieux, who in recent years has been dubbed the “Hendrix of the
Sahara” for his electrifying guitar playing, which reached a worldwide audience
during a performance at the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg, South
But it took a chance meeting at a German airport in 2008 to bring
Raichel and the young Touré together where, while waiting for their respective
connecting flights, they talked about – what else? – music and discovered there
was much in common between the Tel Aviv Jew and the Malian Muslim.
talked about being on the road.
No matter where you’re from, being on the
road is the same and creates a bond between people,” says Raichel, adding that
Touré had been familiar with his music after shows by Raichel’s Project in Mali
the previous year.
“Vieux is one of the most important artists out there,
and I told him then, at the airport, that I would be more than honored to leave
my band for a while and join his, as the keyboard player. I guess it would be
comparable to someone who has his own restaurant going for a while to wait
tables at one of the top gourmet restaurants in the world, just to be able to
explore different styles from a different view,” says Raichel.
He did see
that dream through by flying to Spain the next year to sit in on piano with
Touré, cementing their friendship even further.
When Raichel agreed to
serve as artistic director for a world music series that the Tel Aviv Opera
House was presenting in 2010, the first artist he thought of bringing to Israel
was Touré. The guitarist opened the series, with Raichel as special guest, and
the results, according to Raichel, were unforgettable.
“It was really
moving to see every person in the Opera House standing and clapping for a Muslim
artist who was coming to Israel to play his music, not afraid of any boycotts.
It wasn’t a political statement, it was a musical one,” says Raichel.
performance that night didn’t satiate Touré’s appetite, and he suggested to
Raichel that they find a nearby studio and have a jam session. Raichel secured
the studio and, joined by bassist Yossi Fine, who had recorded with Touré
before, and Malian calabash player Souleymane Kane, the four of them spent more
than three hours improvising acoustic material that didn’t fit into any musical
box except for the one titled “beautiful.”
“It was very spontaneous. We
had a few melodies, but it was very sketchy – no verses, choruses or song forms.
Just playing the vibe as it was happening,” Raichel recounts. “It was
The tapes of the session went into the archival drawers at both
Raichel’s and Touré’s record companies, and the artists continued on their
respective paths. However, the tapes made their way to Jacob Edgar, the head of
world music label Cumbancha, who called Raichel and told him that within those
three hours of studio jams was hidden a great album.
“I was skeptical –
we’re talking about flowing 15-minute tracks. But Jacob suggested that I wait a
while and go back and listen again. So after six months, I did that and I could
also hear the album hidden away there. It’s like an archeological find covered
with lots of mud, but you take some layers away and you see the treasure,” says
Over the next year, Raichel worked on the tapes, shortening some
tracks, adding an overdub here and there, but according to him, “always with a
lot of respect for the original music created in the jam session. It’s a
completely different album than we’re used to in these days of shuffle modes and
YouTube, jumping around after two minutes and changing genres. I liken it to
when you go to Sinai. At first, you’re not going to get the pace and the silence
that surrounds you – it’s going to take a few days to adjust. This album is like
the Sinai on the seventh day.”
With The Tel Aviv Sessions freshly
released, Raichel and Touré are eager to go out on the first tour of the Touré-
Raichel Collective, three weeks of shows in the US and Canada during April.
Despite the improvisational nature of the music, Raichel says he isn’t worried
that the group won’t be able recapture the magic they created in the Tel Aviv
“We’re going to have some safety nets, some kind of landmarks
that we set in rehearsals,” he says. “We’ll go on stage and try to capture the
But if we feel we’re getting lost, we’ll be able to beam in on
We don’t know where the road will lead, but that’s the
magic of this kind of show. We’re going to be flexible – maybe he’ll want to
sing one of his songs, or I will. I think it’s going to be captivating. Both of
us represent two totally different worlds – he’s a Muslim guitarist from the
extreme edge of the Sahara, and we’re coming from Tel Aviv. I’m sure it will be
interesting to see us, but for us it will be fascinating to see the mix of the
Raichel says that both he and Touré will be Twittering about
their tour and posting free tracks from various shows on their Facebook pages.
And a second Touré-Raichel tour is planned for Europe in the fall. After that,
Raichel says he hopes to bring the Collective to Israel.
In the meantime,
a listen to The Tel Aviv Sessions will provide a one-way ticket to Sinai on the