Since 2010, Yemen Blues has been winning over international crowds with the band’s blending of Arabic and African-infused music. Founded in Israel by frontman Ravid Kahalani, the band drew deep from an eclectic pool of music, including jazz, blues, Latino, and African music, injected with traditional Yemenite sounds, all kicked into gear with some booty-shakin’ funk. With a singular sound born from the mixed Yemenite culture of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, Yemen Blues serve up an inclusionary sonic approach to global music.
As a result, they’ve received rave reviews from the likes of NPR, Time Out Chicago and (no less) National Geographic on the strengths of their original tunes and mega-high-energy performances.
Tonight at 7 p.m., the Jacksonville Jewish Center (JJC) and Avant present a free concert by Yemen Blues. It’s a fitting promotion marriage, as the JJC are known for presenting engaging concerts by Jewish artists from the world, while Avant (under the auspices of Keith Marks) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has featured local concerts of contemporary and cutting-edge Jewish musics.
While the concert is free, e-tickets need to be registered and can be found at avantcurious.org.
Void Magazine fired off a few questions to the always-touring Kahalani, who was kind enough to zip us back the following answers.
How did hearing both traditional Hasidic and Yemenite music as a child influence your own decision to become a musician?
I was singing since I remember myself as a kid, walking outside and inventing melodies; I guess it’s something I was born with.
All the things that happened after, and made my musical life bigger, were just the color of the gift I got. I’m just trying from then until now to be as true to my self and say what I want to say through music in the best way I can.
You’ve described the global-fusion sound of Yemen Blues as “New Culture Music,” which includes blending Yemenite, West African, Latin, and Jazz influences. Has it been a challenge creatively to use those separate streams of music to create something totally new, while also honoring each respective musical form’s inherent and unique qualities?
Music might be the biggest mirror for us human beings; I don’t try to control the out come of what I create. I try to understand how to see things in the most friendly, humanitarian way so it will be easier for all of us to enjoy more of each other. I call it “New Culture Music” cause there is only one culture. The many versions of how to express this human culture, is just the beauty of being different worlds but also the power of learning from each other’s similarity, cause we all inventing ourselves from influences. We shouldn’t be stuck with the past; we should learn the past and evolve to the future, everything is everything in music, it’s all connected. Soulful creation is in all of us and so important to keep it together, and not try to say that one version is the right one and try to keep it as it is for so many generations; cause then we will be stuck and bored with our own version. It’s all about learning and creating from the right place only!
Traditional musics all seem to share innate similarities, with elements like drones, strong percussion rhythms and call-and-response vocals appearing in nearly all indigenous and traditional musics. Do you feel like those types of universal qualities make humans almost “hard wired” to agree on at least one thing—a shared appreciation of traditional music?
I see music as the most important tool to change things for the right in this world and I think music is being very underestimated and people do not really understand music in the right way, and confusing entertainment with music. Traditional means our every day life. As said, people need to understand that they are being created from others.
The sound of Yemen Blues seems pretty fluid and free. Is improvisation a big part of what the band does collectively?
Improvising is a big part of creation; other wise how would you create something new?
Do you feel like Yemen Blues has a spiritual message? If so, what would it be?
Yes: Remember that being human being before shouting your opinions to the world. The system is confusing us to be something that is not human and for my opinion pretty stupid and childish.