Israeli-born singer Ester Rada and her hot band brought their invigorating blend of Ethiopian jazz, R&B and funk to Toronto recently for the city’s 14th annual Small World Music Festival.
Rada, a soul singer who’s of Ethiopian heritage, forged her sound after completing her army service singing Israeli pop songs in an Israel Defence Forces band. With the release of her debut EP in 2013, she became an overnight sensation. Rada’s stop at Toronto’s Revival Bar, where she performed for a good-sized, enthusiastic crowd, was part of a three-month world tour.
Rada sang in English, Hebrew and Amharic, performing selections from her mostly self-penned 2014 full-length recording Life Happens, including the catchy song of the same name. Also from the album, the reggae-influenced Sorries stood out, as did Rada’s rendition of Nanu Ney, a traditional Ethiopian chant she sang in Amharic. Rada, whose voice has echoes of Nina Simone’s, performed a compelling version of Feeling Good, a song Simone covered.
What made Rada’s set less than perfect, though, was that her six-piece band, a group of superb musicians, often drowned out her vocals, a glitch that could be attributed to the club’s sound system. Rada spoke little during her set, but the powerful singer did tell the audience that she and the band were bringing Toronto love from Israel.
She was born there in 1985, in Kiryat Arba, a Jewish settlement outside Hebron. A year earlier, her parents, Falash Mura, descendants of Ethiopian Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity, had been flown to Israel from Africa through Operation Moses. Rada listened to Ethiopian music at home and sang in a synagogue choir. When she was 10, her family moved to Netanya.
“We lived in a very religious town, Kiryat Arba. During my childhood, I was in the synagogue a lot. I was very religious. Only at the age of 10, when we moved to Netanya, I discovered there was a whole world I didn’t know before,” she told the Vancouver Sun last April. Living in Netanya, she discovered the singers who are her main influences, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott and Alicia Keys, as well as jazz artists Ella Fitzgerald and Simone.
At 20, when she was discharged from the army, Rada started singing as a solo performer and embarked on an acting career, appearing on stage, on Israeli television and in movies. She was nominated for an MTV Europe Music Award for Best Israeli Act, she’s performed at England’s Glastonbury Festival and she opened for Keys in Israel.
Rada told the Vancouver Sun that her next career goal is to “keep performing and affecting people’s hearts all over the world … to keep growing and learning and loving, and making music.”
She lives in Jaffa with her husband, Gili Yalu, the singer of Zvuloon Dub System, an Israeli reggae band. The Small World Music Festival presented Rada’s Toronto show in association with the Koffler Centre for the Arts and the Batuki Music Society. The concert was sponsored by the Israel Consulate General, Toronto and Western Canada.
Learn more about Rada via her Facebook page here.