Yemen Blues at Le Poisson Rouge (video)

There’s been quite a frisson running through the world music community about this band from Israel. And I have to call it a BIG band, since it comprises viola, cello, flute, trumpet and trombone along with two percussionists, voice and bass.

Although the center of it all is singer and composer Ravid Kahalani, he is emphatic in saying that it is a group effort, with arrangements by Omer Avital and every band member contributing something valuable. To my ears, it is remarkably cohesive, considering the number of influences that one can hear running through the arrangements. (Have some fun and list them as you watch … Arabic, western classical, funk…) These kinds of endeavors can really go astray, but this one does not. The musicianship is high all around. Kahalani’s voice is a remarkably dynamic instrument that he works for all it’s worth, and the band plays it mighty tight.

“Um Min Al Yaman” was written by Kahalani, who is of Yemenite extraction. It tells of a dreamed journey up a mountain, in which the singer sees a Yemenite mother waving at him in greeting. At the same time he hears a voice telling him he is alone. (Rites of passage, yes?) Kahalani states that although the lyric is somewhat sad, it is mostly about connection to his roots, and the song has a joyous, triumphant feel to it. The time signature is derived from a traditional beat called Da’Sa. The syncopated horn and string lines against this groove are particularly cool, I think.

Kahalani’s personal odyssey to this point is interesting, and can be found here.

Hats off to the folks at Le Poisson Rouge, who let me videotape from the sound booth, above the fray. It’s a terrific venue, one of the most adventurous in town, IMHO, so hopefully you’re going to see more shoots from that room in the future.

And if this music whets your appetite for catching the band live, they will be back in the USA playing at New York’s Summerstage. Plus they will be making the rounds of major international festivals this summer, and the schedule can be found on their MySpace page.
The lineup for the gig at Le Poisson Rouge was:

Ravid Kahalani — Music & Lyrics, Vocals, Percussion, Gimbri
Omer Avital — Musical Director, Oud, Bass, Vocals
Reut Regev — Trombone
Itamar Borochov — Trumpet
Hadar Noiberg — Flute
Rony Iwryn — Latin Percussion
Yohai Cohen — Middle East Percussion
Hilla Epstein — Cello
Galia Hai — Viola

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