With album and song titles like Jerusalem, Elohim, “Yitzhak Rabin” and Masada,
it’s clear that African reggae artist Alpha Blondy has got Israel on his mind.
Known as the “Bob Marley of Africa,” the Ivory Coast native has been enamored
with Israel since visiting the country for the first time in 1985.
welcomed like an old friend – I got to visit Jerusalem and Masada, and it
touched my heart,” said the 58-year-old African rasta from his home in Abidjan
A staunch supporter of world unity, Blondy became one of
reggae’s most prolific artists in the 1980s and 1990s with Jah-centered anthems
promoting morality, love, peace and social consciousness. Appearing with his
world class band Solar System, Blondy sings mostly in his native language of
Dioula, but also in French, English and sometimes even in Arabic and
An album he released the same year as that visit to Israel was
emphatically titled Apartheid is Nazism, but Blondy insisted that the subject
was referring strictly to South Africa.
“I’ve never felt any apartheid in
Israel,” he said. “I’m not a politician and I don’t let politics take over my
impression of things I see. Politicians have their way of seeing things
and me, as an artist and a citizen of the world, have my own
Blondy truly does feel like a citizen of the world. Born a
member of the Jula tribe in Dimbokoro and named Seydou Kone, after his
grandfather, he was raised by his grandmother but spent much of his later
childhood in Liberia and in New York.
“I was lucky to be raised by my
grandmother, she gave me lots of love and spiritual direction that has helped me
all the way through my life,” he said.
Music also provided a direction
for Blondy, first the African folklore music he was exposed to, then Western
rock and soul, and finally reggae, especially the roots music of reggae pioneer
“The first live concert I ever saw was Burning Spear in
Central Park – I was captivated by his voice, which was similar to African
singers from the villages I grew up near,” he said. “I was also moved by the
emotion that carried in his voice. I identified with his Patois [Jamaican
dialect] phrasing – even though it was in English it sounded to me like African
For Blondy, African reggae is a natural blend, since according
to him, the music originated there before being transported to
“Reggae originally came from Africa. Before they were Jamaicans,
they were Africans,” he said. “We have a proverb – ‘A piece of wood in the water
will never turn out to be a crocodile’ – which means that even though Africans
left to go to the islands like Jamaica or the Caribbean, those guys remain
So for me, I chose reggae music because it was a part of my
Blondy studied English at New York’s Hunter College,
and began performing with bands outside in Central Park and in Harlem clubs.
However, various scrapes with the law forced him to return to the Ivory Coast,
where in 1982, he recorded his first album, Jah Glory, which featured a song
about police harassment called “Brigadier Sabari” which became a symbol of civil
disobedience in the Ivory Coast.
By 1984, his name was spreading across
Europe, and his second album Cocody Rock was recorded in Jamaica with Bob
Marley’s backup band. By the time his 1987 album Revolution was released, Blondy
was considered one of reggae’s top attractions, and the spate of albums that
followed in the subsequent years only added to his reputation.
with depression and a stay in a psychiatric hospital curtailed Blondy’s career
in 1993 and 1994, but he rebounded with the spiritual album Dieu and tracks like
“Heal Me” which dealt with his illness and recovery. Celebrating 20 years as a
recording artist in 2002, he released Merci, which was nominated for a Best
Reggae Album Grammy. But despite the accolades, Blondy said his main focus was
to bring people of different religions together via his music.
difficult task, but one that needs to be attempted,” he said. “My vision is
simple – religion divides people but God brings us together. So I have decided I
don’t want to put any label on my faith. If people ask me which religion I am, I
always answer ‘God.’”
Blondy, who will be headlining the Zion Reggae Fest which
is taking place on August 28 in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park along with Jamaican
artist Barrington Levy, and local hip hop-reggae band Hatikva 6 and Shabak
Samech, said that Israel is among the places he receives the most
He still fondly recalls during his last visit meeting Dalia
Rabin-Pelossof, the daughter of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and receiving
a personal tour of the Rabin Museum in Ramat Aviv. The visit ended up as the
inspiration for the song which bears Rabin’s name.
“Singing is my way of
encouraging peace, and of giving tribute to all the people who gave their lives
in the name of peace – because peace is prime for me,” he said. “That’s the
reason I wrote the song for Rabin, because he deserved it. At least he tried to
Blondy, who will be accompanied on his visit here not only
by his band but by his wife and four of his children (including a 13- month-old
boy), said that he’s looking forward to reintroducing himself to Israeli culture
and hearing the Israeli version of reggae.
And of course, to get the
outdoor audience in Sacher Park on their feet.
“My band and I are ready
to give the very best of ourselves to Israel. We’re honored to have been invited
to the festival, and we won’t disappoint. Shalom and l’hitraot.”