Idan Raichel aims to reach across cultural borders

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      Idan Raichel wants you to get on-stage with him when he kicks off the 2010 Chutzpah! festival—if, that is, you’re an exceptional singer or instrumentalist working in one of the world’s great traditional forms.

      His band, the Idan Raichel Project, already includes Yemeni blues vocalist Ravid Kahalani, Israeli oud master Yankele Segal, and singer Cabra Casey, who’s of Ethiopian heritage but was born in a Sudanese refugee camp. During the course of a telephone interview with the Georgia Straight, the singer, pianist, and arranger said that one of the reasons he likes to tour is that he gets to meet musicians from other cultures.

      “Sometimes people want to come and play with us on-stage, so they just call me and I’ll get them to come to the sound check and play something with us,” he explains, on the line from his Tel Aviv home. “And if they’re having their own strong roots on some instrument, or as a vocalist, then sometimes they’ll play the concert with us.

      “I’m looking forward to being in Canada,” he continues. “It’s a great multicultural place and a great melting pot for a lot of artists, so maybe people from Vancouver will check our Web site and come out and join us. Tell them to send some MP3s to, and I’ll be happy to guest them on-stage.”

      Raichel notes that, as an Israeli, he’s particularly eager to meet musicians of Arab or Persian extraction—which is rare, if not impossible, at home.

      “I will be more than happy if one day I can feature in this project our neighbours across the borders here,” he says. “Palestinian artists, great Lebanese singers, musicians from Syria, maybe artists from Iran. I think it will be a great honour for us, and I think it can show, also, other faces of this crazy region that we’re living in, and also the beauty of the nations that are here in the Middle East.”

      And he’s quick to say that even if its Vancouver appearance is part of a festival of Jewish culture, the Idan Raichel Project won’t necessarily be playing Jewish music.

      “For me, the music that I’m doing I consider to be Israeli music,” he stresses. “But nowadays I feel that the project is becoming more and more international, and many artists from all over are joining this movement.”

      His claim is borne out by the Project’s third release, Within My Walls. Simultaneously slick and rootsy, it’s essentially Mediterranean pop with world-beat spices, and it reflects the varied experiences—musical and otherwise—that Raichel has had since becoming something of an international star.

      “I’ve realized, in this long journey, that sometimes I travel to different countries and I imagine them totally different,” he says. “Sometimes I just want to go back to my own town, and sometimes I realize different things about the beauty of these different cultures. So Within My Walls symbolizes, for me, the irony that walls can protect you from the outside but can also block your view of the outside.”

      Historically, of course, only trumpets have had the power to knock down Middle Eastern walls—but Raichel’s piano seems to be doing a fine job too.

      The Idan Raichel Project plays the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts next Thursday (March 4).