Monday, September 3, 2012

Yemen Blues - Toronto - September 2, 2012

Israeli musical group Yemen Blues performed at the Harbourfront Westjet concert stage in Toronto on Sunday September 2, 2012 to a standing room only crowd of more than 2,000.  The concert was presented as part of the Ashkenaz festival in Toronto, though there is very little that is "ashkenaz" about this group.

Yemen Blues is a unique musical experience that combines Yemenite/African and eastern musical styles with contemporary jazz, funk and blues.  The band is made up of musicians playing a variety of different instruments including a cello, violin, trombone, trumpet, flute, guitar, percussion/lute, and standard drum kit. Lead singer Ravid Khalani fronts the band and also plays an eastern version of a bass. 

Khalani sings most of the group's songs in Yemenite (a dialect of Arabic).  Influenced by the Yemenite chants that he learned as a child in his local Synagogue in Israel, Khalani has taken this Yemenite-traditional musical base and mixed it up with a range of other African and eastern influences.

For the uninitiated, Khalani's voice can be rough at times.  For part of the performance, he can alternate between trance-like Yemenite chants in a gravelly voice, mixed with shrieks, and various exuberant calls.  At other times, he veers to falsetto and other vocal styles.  With a little bit of Hebrew thrown in and perhaps some other languages, the singing is mainly Yemenite.  For Yemen Blues, this can mean wide ranging appeal in many places where traditional Israeli groups would be quite unwelcome.  Apparently, Yemen Blues, has a following among many Arab and Muslim listeners.

Of course, this would best suit the spirit and objective of Khalani's music.  Near the end of the concert, he explained to the audience that the music is intended to cross religious, ethnic and cultural boundaries.  "It doesn't matter whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or from some other religious or cultural background - our goal is to bring everyone together through music," he explained.

The audience responded, particularly towards the end of the 75 minute show, as Khalani took off his jacket and implored everyone to get up, clap and dance along.  Khalani himself is quite a spectacle on stage.  He works himself into a frenzied dance, moving along the stage with an obvious passion and infectious enthusiasm.

Overall, the band was fascinating.  The high calibre musicians were well rehearsed and moved into extended jazz interludes that could have fit into any world class blues/jazz festival.  Then they veered back into Yemenite/eastern music that were reminiscent of the sounds of an Israeli/Yemenite Hina (a pre-wedding celebration).

It is exciting and remarkable that such an eclectic sounding ethnic musical group from Israel would develop such a large following in so many places.  Yemen Blues have been peforming around the world and have attracted audiences in Scandanavia, Eastern Europe, the U.S. and of course their home country.  In Toronto, the audience size and welcoming reaction made a case for a larger venue for Yemen Blues' next Canadian peformance.   

No comments:

Post a Comment