Some acts are so unique, so hard to describe, they even go so far as to invent their own language. Sigur Rós came from the egg singing alien epics in a fantasy tongue, Hopelandic. Ravid Kahalani, the singer and cofounder of Yemen Blues (which is from Israel, actually), sang in made-up languages as a kid, and continues the tradition on “Wamid,” a heavy, shape-shifting, percussive stomp that could come from just about any continent. Beat boxing and Zulu-esque choirs grind along before racing across a desert on rollicking hand drums. It jumps from being deeply modern to gorgeously nostalgic.
Like that track, Yemen Blues’s polyglot sound is all over the place, a seamless hybrid of funk, highlife, blues, Bedouin folk, Carnatic tradition, soul, gypsy punk, Arabian classical, psych and jazz. Phew. Kahalani slips into Yemenite Arabic, Hebrew and Haitian Creole—whatever befits the mood. The way he and the group’s music director Omer Avital giddily pull from around the Middle East has to ruffle the feathers of traditionalists. It may sound like world music genre-hopping, but there’s politics to bridging Arab and Israeli sounds—as well as those of Philly, West Africa and Paris.
The party atmosphere carries over on stage, where horn players, drummers and strummers whip up a storm. And Yemen Blues just as easily zigs into the romantic or mournful. Quite simply, it’s one of the most exciting bands in world music right now. The Tel Aviv troupe even gives drum circles a good name. Who ever thought that possible?