To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of his eponymous music project, Idan Raichel decided to go on a trip — which really isn’t so unusual for him. As one of the most in-demand Israeli musicians, Raichel tours the world year-round.
This tour, which includes a stop in Philadelphia at the Merriam Theater on Oct. 24, is to promote his new album, Quarter to Six, which debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes World Music chart when it was released in June.
It is a deeply melodic, evocative disc that further cements the 36-year-old’s reputation as one of the foremost practitioners of world music today. The music spans the globe, from Ana Moura’s Portuguese turn on “Sabe Deus (“God Knows”),” Mira Awad’s Arabic verses on “Ana Ana wa Enta Enta (“I Am What I Am”),” Andreas Scholl’s German counter-tenor rendition of “In Stiller Nacht (“In a Quiet Night”)” and Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré’s duet on “Mon Amour (“My Love”).”
The preponderance of so much international talent is a hallmark of Raichel’s recording style — he has worked with more than 95 musicians from around the world on his six albums — and is why he refers to his group as The Idan Raichel Project. Otherwise, he says, “people would have thought that I was the main voice on all of the songs. I wrote, arranged and produced them, but they were performed with other vocalists and musicians.”
Quarter to Six is more than just an album title — it is also a reflection of where Raichel is at this stage of his career. Taken from one of the late Israeli dramatist Yossi Banai’s works, he says the phrase delineates “a very special hour in Israel. It is the transition of the day, where you can think about what has happened up until now — and what could happen — the hour of the day that is a reflection of the crossroads in life.”
He adds that after a decade in the business, he felt it was time to change musically, a decision that is reflected both in the evolving song structures of his latest work — shorter pieces that seem to tell a longer narrative when listened to straight through — and in his commitment to other projects. In the past year, he has worked on musical collaborations with Vieux Farka Touré and the American musician India.Arie, and on a personal collaboration that will take shape very soon.
He and his girlfriend are expecting a baby, which is due in the next month. “We are living like we are married,” he explains. “But my baby is Christian, and you cannot get married in Israel if you aren’t sharing the same religion.”
Although this will be his first child, it won’t be Raichel’s first time dealing with children. His first job after finishing his service with the Israeli Defense Forces was as a music teacher and counselor at Hadassim Children and Youth Village, located east of Netanya and north of Tel Aviv. “I taught piano and keyboard to immigrants from the USSR, immigrants from Addis Ababa and disadvantaged Israeli kids,” he recalls. “Although they were sharing the same place for a few years, they did not share the same community.”
By trying to bring the disparate groups together through the common language of music, Raichel got his first exposure to Ethiopian music. He was immediately hooked, and began setting up jam sessions with as many international musicians as he could.
Ultimately, the impromptu get-togethers resulted in his project’s first recording, done in his basement. Since its release in 2002, The Idan Raichel Project has sold more than 200,000 copies in Israel — an astounding number for such a small population. The album’s first single, “Bo’ee (“Come to Me”),” was the first song with Amharic lyrics ever played on Israeli radio. Since then, he has garnered numerous honors and awards, including being named Israel’s Musician of the Decade for the 2000s in a poll conducted by the country’s news organizations. He also played a private concert for President Barack Obama during his Israeli visit earlier this year, and his Quarter to Six’s “Ba’Layla (“At Night”)” was named his country’s Song of the Year.
As he takes the stage at the Merriam, he is being accompanied by a 10-piece band — much bigger than most other groups, but a far cry from the dozens used to record his albums. He says that there is no other way to make the tour economically feasible. He says paring down the group also gives him the opportunity to work with the best of the best in world music.
“When I’m going on the road, it is important for me to be with amazing solo artists,” he emphasizes. “They have to be able to sing in different languages, and playing different instruments is a big plus.” He adds that the social aspect is just as crucial as the musical one. “The most important thing is the chemistry on the road. There are only two hours onstage, but 22 hours on the tour bus. Someone can be an amazing musician, but if it’s someone you can’t stand being with on the road, it won’t work.”
Despite having toured constantly for the past decade, there are still places that Raichel desperately wants to play and musicians he wants to play with, even though he knows the likelihood is very small. “I want to play our music all over the world — to play for the first time in Damascus, to find musicians in Iran and bring them here to collaborate. I even had a meeting with the Egyptian Army officers. If they would arrange it, I would bring my band to Egypt and play for free.”
How serious is he in his quest to perform with Arab musicians and in an Arab country? So much so that he framed the last comment of a recent phone interview as a request for help to make it happen. “If you hear about any project, I will be the first one to take a flight to take part!”
As part of his tour, Idan Raichel is providing free downloads of five songs from his album, Quarter to Six. To get the songs, email email@example.com . You will receive an auto-reply link to the download site.
IF YOU GO
The Idan Raichel Project
Oct. 24 at 8 p.m.
The Merriam Theater
250 S. Broad St., Philadelphia