Jewish, Muslim virtuosos let good vibes flow on CD, stage

It started out as a late-night jam session in Tel Aviv, with the tape recorders rolling. It ended up as a hit CD and a world concert tour.

Idan Raichel and Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré will recreate their “magical night” (as Raichel calls it) when the Touré-Raichel Collective comes to the Bay Area for a string of concerts, including a headlining April 26 performance at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre.

Earlier that day, Raichel will perform at 5 p.m. during a Yom HaAtzmaut celebration at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

Singer-pianist Raichel, 34, has emerged as one of Israel’s best-known musicians. Likewise, Farka Touré, 31, has gained as much acclaim as his father, the late guitarist Ali Farka Touré.

One is Jewish, the other Muslim, but the two found they were musically simpatico from the moment they met.
Says Raichel of his colleague: “He has a beautiful combination of being a young artist still in his early career, and on the other [hand] you feel in his playing deep roots of Malian music, of many generations.”

This is not the first time Raichel has collaborated with African musicians. His band, the Idan Raichel Project, has long incorporated Ethiopian players.

Farka Touré plays guitar in the Malian style: deftly plucked arpeggios mimicking the call-and-response patterns of the West African nation’s traditional vocal music. It’s not quite blues, but you can tell the blues grew out of it.

Raichel has long been a fan of the Farka Touré dynasty. So much so that while on tour in 2010, he dropped what he was doing to fly to Spain when he had the chance to join Farka Touré onstage.

Playing keyboards in the background that night proved no problem for the superstar, accustomed to the spotlight.

“It refreshed my energy to just be a sideman for someone,” Raichel says. “After that great concert in Spain, I invited him to play at the opera house in Tel Aviv. Then he said, ‘Let’s meet for a jam session.’ ”

That night they met up in the home studio of a Raichel acquaintance. A couple of musician friends also sat in, and for three hours they improvised on the spot, spooling a long, languid conversation for guitar and piano.

“It’s not very well recorded,” Raichel says, referring to the casual nature of the acoustics, “but the atmosphere was cool. It felt like a dialogue. There was no song to follow, no chorus. Just playing together.”

Those raw tapes were later augmented with a few overdubs, including vocals and a blazing harmonica solo by French virtuoso Frederic Yonnet on one track.

And that became “The Tel Aviv Session,” the new album from the freshly minted Touré-Raichel Collective, a quartet that includes a bass player and percussionist.

Turning improvisations into well-rehearsed staples proved a bit of a challenge for the musicians.

“The album started as a jam session,” Raichel says. “We realized we needed to rehearse on the communication between the four musicians on stage, because when we met for the first time [on] the magical night, we actually didn’t know how [songs] would begin and end.”

To the players of the Touré-Raichel Collective — two Jews, two Muslims — politics took a back seat to music. In fact, politics had no seat at all.

“I don’t think there is any problem,” Raichel says. “Around 100 years ago Jewish people lived in Libya, Syria, Yemen. In Jerusalem, Jews and Muslims live together. The problem is politics between states, but when I’m working with Muslim musicians, I don’t need to build a bridge. It’s all very natural.”

Touré-Raichel Collective plays 7 p.m. Monday, April 23 at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320 Cedar St., No. 2, Santa Cruz. Tickets: $25-$28. Information: https://kuumbwajazz.org. Also 8 p.m. Thursday, April 26, at Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F. Tickets: $25-$85. Information: (415) 392-4400 or https://www.ciis.edu/publicprograms.

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