More About Yemen Blues
YEMEN BLUES is an original and fascinating meeting of traditional Yemenite melodies & the world of blues, jazz and funk. The flavors of West African roots and enhanced modern compositions are bringing together a breathtaking experience and a mixture of beautiful complex grooves. It is the powerful outcome of Ravid Kahalani’s musical journey from his yemenite roots to western influences - a joyful oasis in the middle of the desert.
YEMEN BLUES was founded by Ravid Kahalani, a rising star in Israel who grew up to a traditional Yemenite family, learned the language and the traditional chants of his origin, and extended his influences in the areas of blues and West African soul, from the Sahara desert thru classical Opera singing to Afro-American blues. Ravid joined forces with Omer Avital, a well known bass player and compositor, and together they gathered YEMEN BLUES, a supergroup of top musicians from New York, Israel and Uruguay.
YEMEN BLUES concerts are an ultimate celebration of African grooves, a pure happiness & deep emotion Yemenite singing, a new music experience and innovative sound – with a strong message.
YEMEN BLUES is “a language you will understand no matter where you come from”, singer Ravid Kahalani says. “It is my origin and my influences all together as well as meeting with this group of amazing musicians.”
The rising star Ravid Kahalani was born in 1978 in Israel to a Yemenite family which originated from Kohlan near Sanaa district in Yemen. Coming from a Yemenite-Jewish culture which is well known for their singing talents, his family has a great history of singers. One of them was Zacharia Yitzhak, a traditional singer and cantor. Ravid remembers himself singing at the age of 5, and as son to a conservative family, he used to sing liturgy in the Synagogue. The immense excitement and the enthusiastic reactions of his surroundings were the first signs predicting that singing will become a great love in his life. Today, he says: “music is my religion”.
In the stormy years of adolescence, Ravid took distance from his roots and religion, and was into Afro-American Soul and Blues. While singing in high pitches Ravid turned to theatre and studied for two years in Nissan Nativ Acting Studio. He acted in the play “Rust” by Avishai Hadari, which won first prize in Akko Theatre Festival 1998.
Feeling the passion for music he left his short acting career to learn percussions. He mainly studied drumming by himself and with some guidance of International percussion master Chen Zimbalista, who incorporated Ravid in his show “Zimba”.
Ravid's first appearance as a solo vocalist was in a dance show, named “Joy” by chorographer and dancer Yossi Yungman in Israel Festival 2003. A year later, while the show was performed in Beograd, a Serbian musician who was in the audience named Misko Plavi, invited Ravid to join his project as a lead singer. Ravid performed in Misko Plavi's “East Kissing West” concert, which was released later as a live album with the same title. Ravid stayed in Beograd and was fascinated of Serbian Orthodox church music. He started learning Serbian liturgy for a while with the singer Divna Petrovic. The Serbian church singing style introduced Ravid to European Classical music traditions and for the first time he was attracted to learn to sing Opera. Back in Tel-Aviv, Ravid studied for two years contertenor voice.
As time passed, Ravid felt a growing desire to sing more rooted music, especially in Arabic language. A meeting with Alon “Amano” Campino, a talented guitar and oud player, marked a turning point in his musical journey. Amano, an enthusiastic explorer of Worldmusic, was amazed by Ravid's versatile vocal talent and exposed him to music from the Sahara and North Africa. Ravid fell in love immediately with this music Styles which combined Oriental and African roots with black Soul using fascinating vocal techniques. After jamming together for a while, the two decided to create a band which they named “Desert Blues” and to perform cover versions to Nubian, Gnawa, Tuareg, Saidi, Bambara songs of artists from the Sahara. In addition they gradually integrated in the concerts traditional Yemenite songs and original songs written by Ravid in Yemenite-Arabic. The band performed for two years and received great feedbacks. Ravid felt like “coming home” and continued exploring the Sahara roots music and the fusion with his own Yemenite musical roots.
After coincidentally meeting the famous Israeli musician Idan Raichel in the streets of Tel Aviv, Ravid invited him to see a show of “Desert Blues”. As an result, Idan Raichel appointed Ravid to be a lead-singer in his successful Worldmusic project. Since then, Ravid toured the world performing with the “The Idan Raichel Project”.
Furthermore, several other fruitful collaborations emerged from Desert Blues concerts. Laroz, an electronic and Dub music producer and DJ was enchanted by the music and invited Ravid and Amano to create together a program which combined modern electronic sounds and grooves with African-Arabic music. The result had innovative and exciting sound and the trio performed under the name “Desert Groove” and made audiences in Tel-Aviv clubs dance with ecstasy.
Another well-known musician who discovered Ravid was Yisrael Borochov, leader of “East-West ensemble”. Borochov invited Ravid to join as solo vocalist in “Debka Fantasia”, a special production for Israel Festival 2008. This show presented old Hebrew songs which were composed with the inspiration of Palestinian folk music. The extraordinary arrangements of the singing and the orchestra were divided between Borochov and Omer Avital, a gifted musician, Contrabass virtuoso and Oud player, who is known as founder of the successful “Third world love” Jazz group.
Following to their work in this project, Ravid and Omer were dedicated and eager to continue their collaboration, and gave birth to Ravid's current and foremost musical program: YEMEN BLUES. Finally, Ravid's original Yemenite songs, his love for Jazz, Blues and African music came together in one musical project. Together with seven top musicians who joined Ravid and Omer, they present traditional Oriental sounds with western instruments, and contributing their rich musical talents to create the unique and fascinating sound of YEMEN BLUES.
Omer Avital, hailed by the LA Times as “a pioneer in combining jazz with myriad world music elements”, is a composer, a virtuosic bassist, an oud player and an active force on the music scene for well over a decade. The New York Times wrote: “Mr. Avital and his group are producing some of the most original music being heard in New York.”
Born and raised in Israel to parents of Yemenite and Moroccan descent, Avital was surrounded from early age by the diverse musical and cultural landscape of his homeland: Israeli folk songs (a mix of Arabic melodies with European harmonies), Yemenite-Jewish liturgical music (an ancient and beautiful tradition of poetry, melody, rhythm) and Dance-, Arabic and Mediterranean popular music from Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, North Africa etc… the various Jewish traditions of songs and prayers (Ashkenazi and Sephardic), European Art music, Western popular music and American Jazz and Blues.
In 1992, Omer Avital moved to New York and became an internationally recognized bassplayer and bandleader. Signed by Impulse (Universal Music) at age 26 to produce his first album, Omer recorded and toured with Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Garret, Brian Blade, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Roy Haynes and many others. During this time, Avital became increasingly interested in his own Arabic heritage and that of Sephardic Jews, especially ancient Andalusian music. In 2002, he moved back to Israel to study classical composition, Arabic musical theory, Oud and traditional Israeli music.
Since returning to New York in 2005, Omer has been creating works for and working with the core group of musicians of his ensemble. Recent projects include the Debka Fantasia Cycle; arrangements of traditional Israeli songs re-imagined (and in many cases, returned to the original) Arab roots, Songs of Devotion (Piyutim), which incorporate traditional Jewish prayer melodies into chamber compositions, a Concerto for Bass and Orchestra. In 2008 he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award, the most prestigious distinction for artists in Israel. His work seeks to create highly individual yet instantly recognizable sound, the essence of Israel with all its contradictions and beauty.
other band members:
Avi Lebovich (Israel) - Trombone
Itamar Borochov (USA) - Trumpet
Rony Iwryn (Israel/ Uruguay)- Latin Pecussion
Yohai Cohen (Israel)- Mid East Percussion
Hilla Epstain (Israel) - Cello
Galia Hai (Israel) - Viola
Hadar Noiberg (USA)- Flute
Omer Avital (USA) – Oud, Bass, Vocals
Ravid Kahalani – (Israel/Finland) – Vocals, Gimbri, Percussion