Some 1,500 cheering, raucous fans of Israeli world music can’t be wrong.
That was the audience count at the Idan Raichel Project’s performance at Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto on March 18.
Raichel and his troupe were in town to play a charity concert in support of the Motek Cultural Initiative, a newly created non-profit aimed at bringing Israeli artists to North Americans to expose western audiences to all Israel has to offer.
Proceeds from the ticket sales went toward launching the venture, and Raichel said it was his privilege to kick off the project as a favour to his friend and the non-profit’s founder, Ravid Dahan.
Speaking to Heebonics just before taking the stage, dressed in black with his trademark black headscarf concealing some of his long dreads, Raichel said he hoped his music could teach cultures how to live more peacefully with each other.
A wildly popular artist in the world music genre both in Israel and internationally, Raichel humbly noted that his band, while representative of Israel and proudly so, was not officially employed by the government to be a cultural ambassador for his country.
However, he said, it has been an honour for him to read international reviews of his albums and be defined as “the sound track of Israel for the past decade.”
Raichel, who grew up in Kfar Saba near Tel Aviv, first burst onto the Israeli music scene in 2002.
“If people listen to the Idan Raichel Project, and what comes to their minds is the sound track of the streets of Tel Aviv, then we should… be goodwill and cultural ambassadors for our country,” he said.
Raichel said he aspires to be to Israel what other iconic international artists have become to their countries.
“Edith Piaf for the French people, or Mercedes Sosa for Argentina, or the Buena Vista Social Club for Cubans. We would have the honour to be this for Israel,” he said.
Asked how he felt about Israel’s portrayal in the news as a conflict zone and whether that ever influences his compositions, Raichel said it was unfortunate that many people outside of Israel only know it as an actor in a volatile region.
“It’s important that people learn more about [Israeli] culture and other aspects of our reality. What Ravid is doing here is a blessing.
“At the end of the day, all the Israeli artists coming [to Canada] are great artists,” he said.
Raichel also pointed out that he has always felt welcomed in Canada wherever he’s played.
Musically speaking, Raichel said he’s at a point now in his writing where he feels much more comfortable and confident.
Growing up playing with musician-neighbours and with other Israeli artists helped form his style, but he said he is not a prolific writer because his music comes from an “intuitive” place, which takes time to form.
“I write when I have something to say. If I don’t have anything to say, I don’t write it. It’s just a great privilege to be a recording artist who is just recording his life. It’s a complementary process,” Raichel said.
With that, he politely left to prepare for the March 18 show. And what a show it was.
From the mood-setting introduction of the band by a flautist playing Middle Eastern scales on digital delay under a canopy of violet lighting through to climactic numbers showcasing the Idan Raichel Project’s breadth and width of musicianship and verve, it was a concert that imparted the spirit of multiculturalism, done the Israeli way.
The Israeli artist also managed to squeeze in a second performance the following day.
On March 19, Raichel played a set at York University.
He performed for students at the university to promote his message of peace and tolerance through music.
The York event was co-sponsored by the university and the Israeli consulate in Toronto.
Raichel’s appearance at York was cause for numerous student campus groups to rally around and provide support to the Jewish and pro-Israel community at the university.
Campus groups supporting Raichel’s performance at York last week included the Ahmadiyya Students Club, Ethiopian Students Association, Filipino Student Association, Greek Students Association, Hasbara Fellowships, Hillel at York, Latin American Students Association, Osgoode Campus Conservatives, Power to Change, Schulich Finance Association, Schulich Management Association and the York United Black Students Association.
Consulate spokesperson Natalie Weed said her office wished to highlight Raichel’s desire “for people of all cultures to work together. We asked the students to support the concert as a symbol of multiculturalism and as a symbol of unity. York receives so much negative press, and the students want to see positive interaction between students from all different backgrounds and between the student groups.”