Ravid Kahalani - Yemen Blues
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Ravid Kahalani
Yemen Blues
LGM/Global Lev

In an interview for PRIís The World, Yemen Blues spearhead Ravid Kahalani, an Israeli whose parents migrated from Yemen, explains the influence of Skip James, Blind Lemon Jefferson and others on his music, though you certainly wouldnít necessarily know it from this disc. And thatís really a good thing, as the once avant-garde, highly individual, acoustic, early twentieth century song form has been rendered horribly clichťd by overuse. Instead, the term ďbluesĒ on this disc, which contains 10 tracks of seemingly baffling origin, refers to another folk form, Yemeni Jewish traditional music, which Kahalani draws from directly. Oh, but then there is that rising and falling element to the 7/8 ďUm Min Al Yaman,Ē slightly suggesting the 12 bar blues format, but only if youíre really looking for such a thing. One could also certainly be forgiven for thinking it all sounds simply ďArabic,Ē whatever that means.

Kahalani grew up singing Yemeni chants in synagogues, and then was in fact drawn to western genres such as funk, the blues, and soul before figuring out a way to fuse all of this, as well as a deepening appreciation for West African rhythms, and even a few Central Asian subtleties. For example, the albumís title track starts out with voice, oud and violin, playing what certainly sounds bluesy, but then it also sounds Egyptian, or perhaps even Ethiopian. Of course, Ethiopia isnít so far geographically from Yemen or Egypt. Tracing the possibilities this way gives one a sense of the blurring of boundary lines music so naturally causes, penetrating into spaces geo-politics, foreign occupation, war and revolution have all failed to take us. As the tune gets rolling, horns appear, including muted trumpet, for a roiling, portending ride until the players shift tempo, obliterating the initial blues pattern. Elsewhere on the disc, Kahalaniís own Moroccan gembri sets the pace for a track littered with hand percussion, cello and brass; latin rhythms appear, proceedings sound vaguely Bulgarian. Itís all so hard to pin down, and thatís precisely the point.

Of course this conscious global fusion is nothing new; the 3 Mustaphas 3 confounded audiences not only with keen stylistic mash-ups but the mysterious, ultimately fictitious identities of the players themselves made the whole gumbo baffling, as well as a bit goofy. Thatís not the case here. Kahalaniís voice, a sinuous, gorgeous instrument, weaves in and out of the rhythmic surroundings so perfectly itís hard to know whether heís directing the music or itís directing him. One suspects itís a bit of both. I get truly skeptical of virtuoso players digging into what they consider good music to be and often only coming up with some sort of contrived ethnic fuzak. However, Yemen Blues isnít guilty of such a travesty. Kahalani and cohorts are clearly a force of good who draw upon a musical foundation from a region that, thanks in no small part to the meddlings of the United States, has good reason to sing the blues. -- Bruce Miller

Listen to "Eli"
Our thanks to Michal Shapiro, who recorded this live performance at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC.

More about the artists: www.yemenblues.com

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