The Israeli band Yemen Blues recently performed live in Amherst, Massachusetts, and took part in an intimate community event, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Israel to New England and the Jewish Community of Amherst.
Presenting their latest collaboration, “We Believe,” Yemen Blues played in June at The Drake, a new concert venue in downtown Amherst. It was the band’s third appearance this year in Western Massachusetts, where it has gained popularity within the community at large, including Jews and non-Jews.
The band’s frontman, Ravid Kahalani, is one of Israel’s most dynamic and exuberant performers on stage — he’s sometimes compared to Prince or James Brown — but the different threads of his music emerge as much from the synagogue as from the concert hall. Kahalani was born in Israel to Yemenite-Jewish parents who stayed close to their roots. As a child, he was taught traditional Yemenite chants and took religious courses with a Yemenite rabbi. The influence in the music is evident — some of his songs are directly out of that repertoire.
The songs of “We Believe” layer African-American traditions into an already sophisticated patchwork of Gnawa, Afrobeat, ecstatic jazz, and global Soul. It brings together a group of individual artists who respect, honor and celebrate their cultural differences, discovering a sound that none of them could have created on their own. It is a testament to the power of true diversity and collaboration. They draw from both Middle Eastern and African American traditions that hit home with a new musical sound that is rock solid in its funky, thunderous grooves.
Prior to the show, the Jewish community of Amherst hosted Kahalani for a musical conversation about prayer, spirituality, and tradition juxtaposed with experimentation. The dialogue, moderated by Rabbi Benjamin Weiner, delved into Yemenite-Jewish identity in Israel and Kahalani’s new musical projects – “We Believe” and “Shabazi 1619,” based on the life and works of the 17th-century poet and Kabbalist Rabbi Shalom Shabazi.
Ambassador Meron Reuben, Consul General of Israel to New England: “We were delighted to welcome Ravid and Yemen Blues back to New England. Their music is a magnificent bridge between cultures, identities, and traditions.”