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Yemen Blues Brings Its Explosive Musical Fusion to Connecticut

Ravid Kahalani
Ravid Kahalani.

The music industry loves to label bands in categories like folk, funk, or jazz, but Ravid Kahalani, founder of Yemen Blues, proudly calls his ensemble "just good music."

The ensemble blends together Yemeni, African, funk, and blues influences, with songs sung in Arabic, Hebrew, French and Creole. Yemen Blues performs this weekend in Woodbridge.

WNPR’s Diane Orson reached Ravid Kahalani at his apartment in Tel Aviv, Israel.

He said mixing genres and cultures moves music forward.

Ravid Kahalani: Its very important to keep the evolution of music, to bring the best of us to a new place.

Diane Orson: Can you talk a little bit about your journey as a musician? When did you begin playing? Was your family musical?

In Yemeni Jewish culture, and in Yemeni in general, there are lots of singing in the everyday life. I grew up to a Yemeni Jewish family, and when we go to pray, everything that we say, we actually sing it. When I left home, I started to listen to Bob Marley, and to Pink Floyd and a lot of Prince, blues, funk.

Credit Ravid Kahalani
Ravid Kahalani
Ravid Kahalani.

Could you explain a little bit about the instruments in the group and how you work with the musicians who play them?

I play the guembri, which is a three-stringed instrument that comes from a tribe called Guenawa, which they are mainly in Morocco and many years ago they came from West Africa. A very primitive kind of a bass instrument. The other instruments -- it's very mixed -- the Arabic guitar, and you can see the percussionists coming from Uruguay; Shanir Blumenkranz playing the oud. We create the music with no borders.

I wonder, do the complex political conditions in both Yemen and Israel affect your music and your art?

Everything affects everything. But I think that what I’m trying to achieve through music, and to learn through music, and to remind people through music, is to disconnect from the system that is actually taking us sometimes to a place of confusion.

I think music reminds us what we are in front of the other. I think it’s the greatest tool and the greatest mirror for us to see ourselves and to always remember how we should live.

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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