Tickling the keys: an interview with Israeli piano man Idan Raichal

By Elianna Bar-El
Spanning a 15-year career, Israeli musical icon Idan Raichel has toured across the world, bringing a cross-cultural blend of international sounds to the forefront. His latest release, a live double album called “Piano-Songs” kicks off a five-show set in Binyamina throughout Sukkot. We asked the singer-songwriter what is inspiring him at the moment.
Idan Raichel’s music undoubtedly falls under the ‘global music’ genre, but don’t expect the ubiquitous compilation from the Starbucks check out line. The Idan Raichel Project has performed eclectic live shows everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to New York’s Radio City Music Hall and Los Angeles’ Kodak Theater with over 95 different singers aged 16 to 91 years old – all hailing from a melting pot of countries and cultures. At the helm of the Project, Raichel has facilitated the collaborative effort through and through, sharing the mic with a slew of featured guests and creating a platform for singers and performers on the rise.
Who/what inspired your love for music at such a young age?
My inspiration for loving music came from my family growing up, my grandfather who played the mandolin by ear, and my father who used to bring a new vinyl record home every weekend–from Brazilian music to American folk or Israeli hits. My mom also played the accordion when she was young. They pushed me to play the accordion at age nine and that was the beginning of my journey. 
Which song are you the most proud of writing?
The songs of the Project and in my solo career each have their own story and journey. Songs like “Bo’ee” and ”Mi’Ma’amakim”, in writing and recording, they each had their magic and their innocence. They are songs that made a big change in the movement of the Israeli mainstream music - that has lasted until today. I’m very happy that 15 years later, the fact that we introduced other languages and cultures like Arabic with Palestinian singer Mira Awad, Moroccan music with Shimon Buskila and legendary veteran Israeli singers like Shoshana Damari and of course, the Aramaic language; these are the things I am very honored to have taken part in. 
Which language do you write songs in? Dream in?
I speak and breathe in Hebrew. I write and compose in Hebrew and all the songs in the band that are in other languages are co-written or translated. 
Idan Raichal

© Eldad Visman

It has been over 15 years since your debut breakout. After all this time, which lyrics still resonate true?
I am very happy to say that all the songs are still relevant to me personally, to the band and to the audience. This makes me the happiest. There is nothing that I am embarrassed to sing and I still connect to the lyrics I wrote in the beginning.
If you made a spontaneous mix tape, what would be the top songs on it?
1) “I’m Just a Lucky So and So” by Louis Armstrong
2) “Papa” by Salif Keita 
3) “Diaraby” by Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder
4) “So What?” by Miles Davis
Favorite place to perform in Israel? Abroad?
The Opera House in Tel Aviv. You always feel like you can look into the eyes of each of the 2,000 people who are there, no matter where they are sitting. For an outdoor concert, Masada - with all the historic elements and the beautiful setting. Abroad, I love to perform everywhere. Every concert outside of our beloved country is a miracle to me - that people are actually coming and listening to music from different parts of the world.
How has becoming a father changed your perspective on music, life, and your career?
I became a father four years ago and I have two daughters, Phillipa and Salome. With my first solo album At the Edge of the Beginning, it was the first time I dedicated songs to them, and wrote and composed songs inspired by being their father. Big questions that were raised in this time frame were in regards to touring: Is it worth it? Do they need to pay the price for this? So I stopped for a while. The end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 will be dedicated to me being a good papa.
Do you sing lullabies to your children? 
I do sing with my daughters - fun songs that we invent on the spot, things that make them laugh with ridiculous lyrics that make no sense. They love to listen to my music as well (lucky me). And they love to listen to German music also, which is their mother tongue.
Why did you cut off your signature dreads?
After so many years of having them, I just thought it was about time - the transition from being a wild and single Tel Avivian. 

What is the weirdest thing someone has thrown on stage? Where was it?
No one has thrown anything on stage, but one lady physically came on to the stage while I was performing and started screaming, saying I wrote all these songs about her and that she needs to stay on stage. It was pretty awkward. 
What is the last concert you went to?
A key board player named Eldad Zitrin. He plays beautiful songs he composes with several keyboards in his solo performances.
Who do you most look forward to collaborating with in the future (in Israel and internationally)?
I look forward to collaborating with the young generation in their twenties in Israel. I love what they do - the beats, the lyrics. They are bringing a new, refreshing sound and approach to songwriting. Internationally, I would love to collaborate with people who are expressing their own truth; Paul Simon, Stromae from Belgium - just people who are bringing original sound and their own heritage to the forefront.
Idan Raichel performs "Piano Songs" on October 2-3,5-7, Shuni Amphitheatre, Binyamina (03-7626666) 

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