Interview: The Idan Raichel Project

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Only a few years ago, Idan Raichel was just some dreadlocked guy in a Tel Aviv basement, composing music on his synthesizers. First schooled on the accordion at the age of nine, Raichel branched out to Latin American and gypsy music. His time in the Israeli Army band solidified his musical skills. While there, he also came into contact with many Ethiopian Jews, which tuned him into the greater frequency of world music.

Soon, it wasn’t just Raichel and his synthesizer anymore. He was utilizing upwards of 70 musicians, changing a cast on every episode. In 2006, after releasing two proper albums in his native Israel, Raichel’s self-titled “greatest hits” album became a channel to international success. Now, in preparation for the release of his new record, Within My Walls — in Hebrew, “Bein Kirot Beiti” — Raichel prepares for an even greater reception, an ever-expanding Project (now numbering nearly 100 musicians) and an international tour which brings him to New York’s Town Hall next week, as well as Los Angeles, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and other locations on his United States leg.

Unfortunately, Raichel’s voice gave out days before. While recuperating, we had to exchange our telephone interview for an email one, and so we got to catch the master of the Project in the middle of his globe-trotting schedule.

What’s your songwriting process? Do you always work with the same musicians?

The idea of the Project is to have a new “cast” for each song. It gives us the ability to be very precise by the sound and vibe that we want to create, the right leader and right musicians that will support him.

The Israeli perception of pop, and of music in general, is very different than in the United States — it feels, as a listener at least, like there’s a lot more freedom in Israeli music, like when you drop a jungle beat on a slow song like “Bein Kirot Beiti.”

I always start a song with the vocals and I let the melody and the rendition of the song guide how the rest of the song develops. Then I just add what the singer needs to support him or her. If he needs only an acoustic guitar, then we give him that. If he needs something more electronic to contrast with what he is doing, we add that.

Posted on March 19, 2009
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