Ravid Kahalani, the creator and mastermind of Yemen Blues, is a musician on a mission - a mission to unite the world with music across cultural and theological boundaries.
Israeli born with Yemenite parents, Kahalani grew up in a religious home that exposed him to Hasidic and Yemenite music from an early age. Ritual trips to the synagogue with his father left a lasting impression on him. “It was a Yemenite synagogue, a very simple building, and I remember the powerful feelings I had as a child when singing the verses of the prayers. It was always about singing and accurately pronouncing verses in a perfect Arabic accent.” (Times of Israel)
An inherent free spirit, Kahalani broke away from his religion and his childhood home as a teenager to discover his own path and find his own way. He described it as a time of "deep exploration" that eventually led him to hard drugs. It wasn't until the age of 20 that he resolved to turn his life around. “I woke up one day with the understanding that I was going to end up a druggie at the central bus station or dead if I don’t stop now,” (Times of Israel)
From that point on he explored healthier outlets of expression from cooking (he spent seven years as a professional chef), to training in dance, performing in the theater, and singing opera. Throughout it all music was the constant and omnipresent driving force in his life. By the age of 25 he knew music was not only his calling, but his destiny.
Yemen Blues is the result of his life's journey thus far and has a sound and style as unique as he is. Rooted in the traditions of Yemenite singing, Yemen Blues threads West African funk, blues, jazz, and other musical traditions together creating a high-energy, danceable experience for young and old.
Yemen Blues will be performing a free concert here in Jacksonville on December 20th at the Jacksonville Jewish Center at 7pm. We were fortunate enough to get a chance to ask Ravid a few questions for our blog this week and got to know the visionary artist behind the music better.
We're so pleased to introduce you to our readers! Tell them a little about yourself...
My name is Ravid Kahalani (Kohlani) and I am an Israeli born Musician and Performer. I'm the first generation of my family born in Israel to Yemenite parents. I split my time living between Tel Aviv & New York.
What is Yemen Blues' origin story, where does the name come from, and what does the name of the band intended to reflect to the audience in terms of who you are, what you sound like, and what you're trying to do with your music?
Yemen Blues started when I composed the first song called Yemen Blues by my self with my guitar, I was very influenced at the time, after leaving home, by lots of traditional Yemeni music and prayers from Blues / Funk / Jazz and and some classic music. Then my friend Alon Amano Campino introduced me to African music from the West, North - all around Africa and this changed my musical life and taught me that it's all connected. After a period of singing African covers, I was composing the first song of Yemen Blues and I met Omer Avital on another project we were doing in Israel in 2008. We developed a really strong connection and we started to work on a few songs that I composed and mixed with all my influences and culture in it.
Over time we called few friends Rony Iwryn, Itamar Doari & Itamar Borochov and kept on creating the arrangements under Omer’s musical direction. Each of the us put ourselves completely into serving and creating the vibe and composition. Then we called a few more friends - Hilla Epstien, Galia Hai, Hadar Noiberg and Avi Leibovitch - and there was a celebration of creation, all serving this incredible world called Music. After many rehearsals, we recorded a few songs and you could hear in the music lots of different colors in the sounds but it all felt like a one complete sound and not a mashup of knowledge.
The name was decided upon because there was no other Yemen Blues online! [laughs] but clearly it came from my father’s origin country Yemen, and the Blues that connected me to everything, the soul of Blues always felt so close to my own melodies and singing as a Yemenite kid in the Synagogue.
What we want to do with our music is to remind people that culture needs to evolve always, we need to learn from the past and create the future by remembering (and this is really important!) just remembering that we create each other and our cultures created by the beauty of other souls on this earth - and if we forget this and think that our version of the part of the right one and there is no other way to do it, then we will be stuck with our past and will not evolve anywhere at all. We need to see the beauty of the differences between us and the power of our similarity.
Yemen Blues has been a highly collaborative and extremely diverse undertaking from the beginning. What's going through your mind when putting together so many different types of musicians, sounds, and ideas? Do you have a process or is it more free form and experimental?
I never studied music, but the people I work with come mostly from a very educated musical background. Although they believe beyond everything in love and creating music to create love and to remind love. I think its just thinking that this fantasy of playing with those giant musicians can be my reality and that when you do something from your heart and have enough passion and lots of courage to show who you are and follow that dream as far as you can, make mistakes and learn fast you can make anything happen.
For me its all experimental, always creating new worlds always diving in the past to look for how to take it to the next step.
You've been described as a musical missionary. What is your message and your mission? Do you feel that your message connects with and is received by your non-Arabic speaking audiences?
I feel people are so busy with being part of the system, which for me is not human in many ways. People try to achieve all their lives the last thing they actually need. In many cases people love to have big opinions about big things when they forget the basic human way of how to live life with others.
We should try first of all to understand how we can enjoy [where we are] more and enjoy other people instead of fighting for another piece of land or taking our religion and using it to our own benefit.
All we have is what we really are and that's a gift we got from god, and if we ignore this we will never find peace. This can be so much easier with the basic understanding of how to help one another.
I guess what I am trying to say is war, power, and money are the most childish things a man could want. I think music is one of the most underestimated things in this world. Music can fix so many things between us if we just understand life like we create music.
You've spent 10 years touring and performing your music around the world and while you've received many invitations to perform from the Arab world, the closest you've come is performing in Turkey. With an expressed desire to include more Muslim countries in your circuit, what has been the obstacle so far in doing so?
The day will come when I will show the world that we are all one culture and will perform all over the word - including all Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist countries. Yemen Blues already has fans from all over the world including those countries and no one can stop the love, cause this is our true reality.
Before finding music, you explored many forms of artistic expression ranging from singing opera, training as a dancer, performing in the theatre, and spending seven years as a professional chef. How do you feel these diverse avenues and experiences feed into and inform the artist that you have become today?
I think through all my life I did what I felt was right. Even when I was looking for extreme moments in the wrong places, and knew how to get out of it, and everything little thing I did, I really tried to learn from it. It all lead me to this beautiful way of singing and performing my feelings and getting to bring some of this joy to others which is the greatest gift I could ever ask.
In an article from The Times of Israel, you stated that you moved away from your homeland of Israel because "Israel was unable to fully recognize what I have to offer. A very small number of people understand what I’m presenting." How have you been received in your homeland and has that reception changed as you've garnered more worldwide attention and acclaim? Do you feel there will come a time when you will feel recognized and accepted by your motherland?
My home land and my people are great and we receive a very warm welcome when we play in Israel, but the world is bigger and I want to bring what I feel and make a bigger change by going outside of Israel. So as we've performed all over the world for the last 10 years I wanted to see what would happen if I created a new project in the one of the biggest musical epicenters - New York - and kept reconnecting those Soulful Points and evolve music into learning to love.
I already feel recognized. I just want people to understand the real power of music and not see music just as an entertainment, because those are two different worlds.
You have a remarkably distinct sense of style and fashion - what are your fashion inspirations and who are your style icons?
Original. Exact. Free. Dedicated. Visionary.
While we're talking inspirations and icons, it has been expressed that you experienced a "musical awakening" by age 25. What was the catalyst for that awakening? What music most moves you? How do you marry the traditional roots of your childhood to the modern, contemporary influences of today?
I think I answered this one on the first question? :)
How do you define success in what you do?
To do what feels right, to stay soulful, to appreciate what's around you, to learn from the past and groove the future as hard as you can.
We'd like to thank Ravid for his participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
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