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The Idan Raichel Project has become the first Israeli group to perform at the world famous Apollo Theater in New York City, the venerable Harlem venue known for hosting American soul, R&B and hip hop greats. The event was organized by Joey Low, founder of Israel at Heart, together with the Office of Black ministry at the Archdiocese of New York.
Young, dreadlocked Raichel said he wanted to use his music to bridge the cultural gap between the US and Israel via their mutual black communities.
His appearance at the Apollo was part of his effort to serve as a cultural emissary for Israel in North America, helping to spread the message about the country's musical and cultural diversity.
Raichel's group was joined at the Apollo Theater on April 8 by Roger Holland and The Tribe of Levi, an Ethiopian group that performs gospel songs in their native language and on April 9 by Danny Coakley, a well known Harlem gospel singer. This was a unique opportunity to blend communities, working towards Raichel's greater goal of breaking stereotypes.
Raichel put together his group after being inspired by the Ethiopian tunes he heard while doing his army service in the entertainment troupe and becoming acquainted with the Hadassim boarding school, whose students include a large population of Ethiopian immigrants. Now, his eclectic group features Ethiopian vocalists, who do the majority of the singing.
Playing music that combines Ethiopian folk music, Arabic-language songs, Indian chants, and Hebrew verses, Raichel spreads diversity through his unique blend of music, as well as through the ethnic diversity of the members of his own band.
Raichel has won repeated honors for album of the year, song of the year, and artist of the year. After his debut album The Idan Raichel Project went straight to number one on the Israeli charts and sold over 120,000 copies in locally, the band released a second album, From the Depth, in January of 2005. Raichel met with similar admiration abroad when he debuted his first album on his overseas tour in 2005.
When people come to Israel to visit, said Raichel, they don't come "to see the politics here. They come to taste our culture, not only Ethiopian but also Yemenite and Moroccan and Ashkenazi. From abroad they only get a window into our politics, so we're going to give them a taste of something else." (ISRAEL21c/ www.israel21c.org)