Tel Aviv to Toronto: Israel’s first lady of soul

Ester Rada's fusion with urban styles of African-American soul is carving her a place on the world stage.

Ester Rada (photo credit: Dean Avisar)
Ester Rada
(photo credit: Dean Avisar)
Ester Rada is a striking figure on stage. With her lithe East African looks she wears the show as comfortably as her flawless fashions. Having blazed a trail with live shows all across Israel in 2012, Rada released her first EP Life Happens, and 2013 has already had her strutting and singing across the stages of a spate of sell-out shows.
Even through she has only recently emerged, her blend of Ethio-jazz, funk, soul and R&B are drawing positive attention from the critics. Her fusion with the urban styles of African-American soul is carving her a place on the world stage.
Ethiopia’s musical heritage in Israel has not gone unnoticed in recent years, and shining through the shrouds of adversity, are greats like saxophonist Abatte Barihun, singer Hagit Yaso and Idan Raichel Project’s very own Kabra Kasai.
With a pre-Passover club show at The Block in Tel Aviv on March 23 already in the diary, she’s drilled the band, packed her bags and is setting off for an eight date North American tour that will take in the United States and Canada.
Before embarking from Ben-Gurion International Airport, Ester Rada caught up with The Jerusalem Post for an interview on the road traveled toward this tour.
“I started singing when I was six years old, singing mostly religious songs and some Ethiopian folklore music in Amharic,” she said. “Religious music is characterized with spiritual singing toward God.
“When I’m singing these songs, even now, I feel like I’m in a different place, a higher place, both mentally and emotionally.
Like Gospel music, this is what what soul music is all about.”
With this in mind, she seems perfectly placed to be embarking on a tour of the US. There, the African-American urban soul that we recognize for its high fashion and glamor also originated from religious traditions.
Yet if you thought Rada’s Afro-centricity was a fashion statement, you’d be wrong. Despite the urban soul of her music, her roots and heritage are still strong.
“It’s very important for me to include some Ethiopian traditional sounds and elements in my music. During my live shows I also perform some well-known Ethiopian songs which I adapt and update,” she says.
It’s these live shows that are the driving engine behind her fast-growing reputation.
With a seven-piece band providing support, Rada’s stage presence as singer and front-woman is reinforced by the well-textured rhythm band and punchy, punctuating horn section.
Comparisons to the legends of soul are not cosmetic.
Citing artists such as “Keziah Jones, Nneka, India Arie, Jill Scott, John Legend, Corrine Bailey-Ray” as just a handful of her major contemporary influences, the music critics’ labeling of Ester as a new soul artist is incidental; she knows what she’s doing and why.
“I’ve been wanting to work with Sabbo and Kuti [Kutiman] since I was about 18 when I was first exposed to their music.
When I met my personal manager and partner Guy Dreyfus, I told him ‘these are the people I want to work with.’ He made the initial connection which led to us working together on the four songs that became an EP titled Life Happens.”
“Right now I’m working on additional material for the full-length debut album, so hopefully this spring we can release the album in Israel and worldwide,” she says.
Before those plans manifest, however, Rada has her US tour to deliver with dates in New York, Texas and five dates in Canada. All this before she returns to play The Block and release the album.
“I’m very excited about playing my music overseas for the first time,” she says. And if that weren’t enough, Rada then reveals the next stage: “The plan is to have a European tour as well this summer.”
Now she looks set to confirm her reputation as a major contender for the title of Israel’s first lady of soul. It’s evident that Rada has the soul, the presence and the buzz.
Rada will perform on March 23 at The Block Club, Salame Street 157, Tel Aviv.