Sunday, October 23, 2011

open door--musical interconnectedness

Coming to this concert of mixed traditions, was a crowd for India Arie and a crowd for Idan Raichel, and then there were a smaller group who wanted to see and hear them both together. On one level, it was an unlikely pairing and melding of a multi-talented African-American rhythm and blues singer, India Arie, who has built up a decent treasure of songs and fanbase, with a jazzy Israeli pianist/composer, Idan Raichel, who fuses singers from around the world into the music of his Israeli trio. On another level it's a natural blend of voices, talents, and visions into a deep feeling of togetherness that sparks a menu of songs for interconnectedness.

At the beginning of the concert, India greeted the crowd by turning up the lights to see them and and greet each section of the vast hall, thanking them for trusting in the artists in a new experiment of song. And she asked the audience to experience the concert in three ways--to see the concert, to listen especially for the poetry of the words, and to keep their hearts (and souls) open. The concert hung together loosely and tightly as the night weaved its musical threads through the varied work of the two artists together and then separately and then together again--crafting a musical vision of relations and unity even when there are clearly distances between the songs.

She set up a striking stage presence, almost luminous in a flowing white dress that was made by her mother, that is accented by a high white turban and a personality that lights up the stage with its warmth and engagement. Arie introduced each of the songs and built a direct relationship with the audience that is so rare in modern music. From the moment she asked for the light to come on and she walked along the stage waving at the various sections in the theater, she had the audience with her.

Her music, though, is what really grabbed the crowd. She and Raichel and their backing musicians performed many songs from “Open Door,” their album that’s due out next spring, but as much as the show was billed as an international pairing of sounds (aside from an occasional interlude from the oud, a Middle Eastern instrument somewhere between a banjo and sitar), it is still rooted in Arie’s intense American-soul approach. Her voice ascends to unexpected heights and often dips into a husky deep when it needs to, carrying Raichel’s jazzy-pop melodies along for a sweet soulful ride.

As vivid visually as the concert was – her nimble dancing and presence with Raichel's swinging curly locks, gave the show a strong feast for the eyes – it definitely felt like Arie’s vehicle with Raichel's support more than a fusing of two equals. Raichel seemed comfortable with the role, for his group, The Idan Raichel Project, while featuring music written and played by him, always has a variety of guest singers. Idan seemed like the perfect party host for a celebration of music and ideas built around world unity.

While sometimes Arie’s lyrics, built around world unity and understanding of other people and other cultures, seemed too literal and bordering on preachy, she and Raichel are so sincere and devoted to their uplifting messages that the show never bogged down. For me , the most interesting moments came on a couple of tunes when Arie and Raichel sang in Hebrew. Another high, if not chai moment was when Arie and her two backing singers dove into the funky, soulful “Complicated Melody,” an already interesting song that flashed when Arie’s mother came out and joined them with a voice that was surprisingly skillful. It was clear that Indie Arie’s had a good source for her talent.

Indie and Idan blended well into a style that is becoming their own--Indie’s lyrics along with her Afro-American soulful sounds blend nicely with Idan’s authentic Middle Eastern musical expression--and together their multilingual lyrics sung in forged cultural divides to created a performance that was uniquely personal and uplifting. Together with their very different backgrounds, they tell a story of a world of healing and love, of brotherhood that can be shaped with little pain and no hatred. Through spoken word and music, they lead you through a lilting journey of their meeting, their friendship, and their appreciation of each other's talent and culture. Their music and lyrics were politically correct, but filled with energy and emotion and life affirming. It is more than what I usually receive from a concert.