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Got Those Yemen Blues?

February 24, 2011 By:
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Ravid Kahalani Photo by Zohar Ron

End of winter, is it any wonder that Ravid Kahalani is feeling those Yemen blues?

So why's he smiling? Because, he'll be the first to tell you, this has been no winter of discontent, but a winner of musical content wowing newfound friends and followers.

And he's all set to sound off about it locally, as Kahalani brings his band of Yemen Blues to Broad street, where they're about to bounce around this sultry sound of blues, jazz, funk, West African and Yemenite music, making their Philadelphia debut on March 1 in a benefit for Friends of Ofanimfriendsofofanim.ticketleap.com at Congregation Rodeph Sholom.

At 33, the Israel-born, Yemenite-raised singer brings along a desert song of history. Singing in synagogue as a tot, he now offers a total immersion in Yemen imagery and African influences, with cantorial tradition just a bimah away from his family heritage.

And for a singer/composer/percussionist whose longtime association with the Idan Raichel Project projected him into the forefront of Israel's sparks-flying music scene, Kahalani connects now on an electrifying current with his own cohorts, blaring blues and bonhomie alongside a group that includes Israel Festival 2008 music mate Omer Avital.

With the band's distinctive blues dynamics, Kahalani has also been known to serve up a soupcon of sound of ... Serbian church music?

Altar-ed states? "They are great people there in Serbia, very welcoming," he says of those who put out the cyrillic welcome mat during his nascent career days as a soloist on tour in 2004.

It is also where he met Misko Plavi, formerly of the Belgrade band D'Boys, with whom he hooked up for a CD. It was then that Kahalani discovered the unorthodox appeal of Serbian Orthodox church liturgy.

"Serbian church music is amazing music, and maybe one day I will sing there in a church," says the former synagogue choir boy.

Meanwhile, the bimah of Rodeph Sholom awaits this performer so attuned to the timbre of timing: "Now when we have openness all over the world for all kinds of music, that's the time to show people what music can do," how it "can change things in this world," provide bonding through his own version of band aid.

Out of Africa -- so much of his beat bops with the brightness of the continent. It's all a matter of musical persuasion -- and percussion.

"Some of the places in Africa" represent roots for "many people in Israel," he notes of the popularity of African sounds amid many Israeli musicians.

Close Encounters 
It hits home, too, for him -- or almost. "Yemen is on the border, but they have the same beats," which brought him into the fold of Africa's siren sound.

But for a while, Kahalani was on the outs with his own heritage; only now can he see how out of sync he was as a young rebel without much of a cause.

"I'm back to it now big time; I appreciate so much what I learned when I was a child," when his dad "was very clear with us," he says of his siblings, "that we have to learn the Yemenite chants."

The Yemen version of Jim Anderson? Father did know best, but Kahalani had some other great teachers, too -- in the soul sounds of American rock. Motown was a wonderland of Stevie Wonder, and Kahalani also loved the purple reign of Prince, along with the slyly seditious sensation of Sly and the Family Stone, all forming his "American family" of soul mates.

But if there's one sole man he owes allegiance to, it's Donny Hathaway -- "one of the most great soul singers," notes Kahalani.

As Passover approaches, working its way through the performer's North American tour, will it all be a matter of matzah, lamb shank -- and shake a Yemen Blues tune to the rafters?

Replies Kahalani: "Music is my religion."

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