So much goes on between these walls

Idan Raichel keeps busy hosting a multilingual crew on his newest album.

Ida Raichel album 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ida Raichel album 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There are few Israeli pop artists as globally popular as Idan Raichel. Since he first burst onto the international scene with his eponymous Project album in 2002, the 31-year-old bandleader-pianist-vocalist has been in demand across the world, performing at the biggest festivals and in the most prestigious concert halls, and picking up some pretty noteworthy awards and award nominations en route. The Idan Raichel Project infused the local pop-ethnic music scene with a breath of fresh air. Raichel was the first Israeli-born artist to cull the cultural vibes and talents of Ethiopian Israelis and fuse them with Western rhythms and melodies. It was a heady and captivating mix which charmed not only audiences here, but also commercial music consumers literally all over the world. On Mi'ma'amakim, released three years later, Raichel cast his ethnic net even farther, incorporating Yemenite and Arabic material, as well as lyrics in the Tiginya language of Eritrea spoken by some Ethiopian olim. Three years and an interim Greatest Hits release later, Raichel has just put out his third studio album, Bein Kirot Beiti (Within My Walls). Considering his constant globetrotting, that seems like something of a misnomer. "I think that if I hadn't become a musician, and received help and support from so many people, I may have done just that - stayed within my own four walls," Raichel states uncomplicatedly. "I appreciate all the help I have received, and all the wonderful musicians I have played - and play - with." The guest artists include the likes of dynamic Ethiopian singer Kabra Kasai, kamanche (Azerbaijani spike violin) player Mark Elyahu, percussionist Itamar Duari and clarinetist-bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) player Eyal Sela, and even late Yemenite diva Shoshana Damari contributed her trademark evocative singing to the Raichel musical brew along the way. BESIDES HIS instrumental, singing and arranging skills, Raichel also appears to be particularly adept at harnessing the talents of all manner of artists from across the musical spectrum. On Bein Kirot Beiti, Raichel keeps faith with his tried-and-tested chord progressions and harmonics, liberally seasoned with Ethiopian vocals; but he enhances the cultural musical melting pot with efforts from Cape Verde singer Mayra Andrade, a Moroccan number by Shimon Buskila, a couple of Spanish tracks courtesy of Colombian-born songstress Marta Gomez - and one in Swahili by a Ugandan singer simply called Somi. Raichel sings four himself, with Ilan Damti, Amir Dadon, Maya Avraham and Shai Tzabari performing the other Hebrew language numbers. The geographical and cultural spread notwithstanding, there is a clear suite-like quality that runs through the whole of Bein Kirot Beiti which, surprisingly, Raichel says was not intentional. "It's like a 500-page book which gets shortened by the editor, and you end up with something different from the original. This CD gradually shrank until, I suppose, it took on something like a suite format. But I hadn't planned that from the start." Raichel is also at a loss to explain his work's enduring international popularity. "I've no idea why, for example, my music appeals to the British, especially when they don't even understand the languages we sing in. But, you know, people like Edith Piaff or Mercedes Sosa always sang or sing in their own language and people all over appreciate them. It's like you're singing and playing your own cultural soundtrack. I think that appeals to people across the board." It is also a little surprising that Raichel doesn't attempt to appeal more directly to audiences in, say, the States and Britain by including English-language material in his albums and live shows. "I feel I have to work from my home base, in a cultural sense too. English isn't my language, or the language of any of the artists who perform with me. But we do have a singer called Sonya who has sometimes sung in English at concerts in the States and Australia. So what we do is not completely foreign to people there." Language barriers or not, Bein Kirot Beiti will presumably keep Raichel flying our flag high across the globe.