Israel’s first lady of soul

Having just released her debut album, Ester Rada’s fusion of urban styles and African-American soul is carving her a place on the world stage.

Ester Rada (photo credit: GABRIEL BAHARLIA)
Ester Rada
(photo credit: GABRIEL BAHARLIA)
Ester Rada’s self-titled debut album is finally here. After releasing the EP, Life Happens, to critical acclaim and fanfare in 2012, the Israeli- born Ethiopian singer officially released her first full album this month.
Rada’s music is sometimes described as Ethio-soul, other times as a jazz-R&B hybrid. However it’s quantified, one thing is certain: Ester Rada’s sound will move you. With a world tour later this year, the sky is quite literally the limit for Rada.
You just released your first full-length album. Can you talk about the recording process? First, I wrote some songs (laughs). I did it in stages. I worked with some producers, and the rest of the album, I produced with my band; seven beautiful and talented musicians. We’ve performed for a year and a half together.
We arranged the songs. Some were beautiful the first time we played them, and some we changed every show until we got the outcome that we wanted. Then we said, okay, let’s record it.
How long did it take you to record all the songs for this album? We recorded the first song in May 2012, and in 2013 we recorded the rest.
We did the mixing and the mastering just now and we finished it. So, it’s a year and a half, total.
Do you have a favorite track from the album? No, it’s like choosing from my own children. There are times I love this one, and the next day I hate it. It’s like children; one day you love them, and the next day, you don’t want to see them.
Who are the members of your band? Dan Mayo is the drummer, and he’s a genius. I don’t have another word to describe him. I have a bass player, Michael Guy. I met him through a band that I like. He was their bass player and I really liked how he played, so I thought, “I want him.”
Lior Romano is on the keyboard. He’s a good friend of mine and a genius.
Then there’s Ben Jose, the guitar player.
Actually, he’s the only one who I didn’t know before I started to play with. The keyboard player introduced me to him and it was love at first sight. I have the trumpet player, Inon Peretz, Ma’ayan Mylo on the trombone, and Gal Dahan, the saxophone player. That’s the group and we are all good friends. I think it’s very important for the people on stage to be connected, so that the music will be connected.
I’m very happy that I’m blessed with these people.
The cover art for the album is strikingly beautiful. What’s the meaning behind it? The artist who did it is Emek. I saw the art that he did for Erykah Badu and I thought, “wow, he’s amazing, I want him to do mine.” So we sent him the music, and that’s the idea that he got from the music. I didn’t want to influence his art. My interpretation of it is that he drew the holy land like Zion, but the idea of Zion; that Israel is a place that’s good where everybody is loving. Zion is the place of love.
You have such a unique sound; blending jazz, soul, and R&B.
What are your musical influences? I don’t like to put things in boxes. I believe in freedom, not borders. I think when you put music into a genre or a style, you put up borders, and I don’t believe in it. My influences are good music; they’re very wide. I love Michael Kiwanuka, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Prince, 2Pac and Michael Jackson.
Now that your album has just been released, you must have a lot of touring coming up. Where are you going? We will be going to Europe: to Holland, England and France. Actually, France is the one place I’ve never been in Europe, so I’m really excited to go there. I’ve never been to Paris and I heard it’s the place of love, and I like the sound of that. I really want to go there. After that, we go to Costa Rica, Panama and Columbia, which is another place that I’ve never been to, and I heard it’s beautiful. I’m very excited about that too. Afterwards, we go to North America. I’m actually very excited every time we perform, no matter where it is. It’s always a new crowd. I think it’s going to be a great year.
How would you describe the music scene here in Israel? I think there is a lot of good music.
There are a lot of genres and a lot of very talented people. It’s amazing for such a little place. It’s a small place with a lot of big music. It’s really amazing.
I like of course the people who produced my album, Kutiman and Sabbo. Also Balkan Beat Box, Karolina, and 3421; there’s a lot of good music here in Israel.
You have such an amazing stage presence, and it seems so effortless, like you’re in your element. Can you describe how you feel on stage performing? For the first 20 minutes, I’m really nervous, so I do some breathing to calm myself. The first song is always a battle between me and myself. I try to relax and remember that I’m just here to deliver something that is bigger than me. I say to myself that if even one person here gets something out of this, then it’s worth it. I clear out the negative thoughts and I remember that I need to just be the believer. There’s one moment that is very crucial, where I either deliver what I came to bring, or I go back to the self-doubt.
But those times when everything is going well and there’s a beautiful connection between me and the people on stage with me and the crowd, those are the moments that I live for.