By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Producer, keyboardist, lyricist, composer and performer Idan Raichel is a global music icon who has brought his inspiring example and soul-stirring music to some of the world’s biggest stages.
As the leader of The Idan Raichel Project for 15 years, this Israeli artist acts as a musical ambassador representing a hopeful world in which artistic collaboration breaks down barriers between people of different backgrounds and beliefs.
In that time, Raichel has collaborated with American pop stars India Arie, Dave Matthews and Alicia Keys, not to mention a wide range of artists who are household names in their native countries.
Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music is bringing Raichel to Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 18 as a stop on his first solo piano concert tour. With his latest album, a solo release, Raichel began focusing on the basic essence of his songs. Since 2016, he has presented his melodies, lyrics and the stories behind them in their pure, stripped down form as they were originally written in the studio.
Raichel’s latest album Ha’Yad H’Chama, At the Edge of the Beginning, was released worldwide in January 2016. Raichel’s first ever solo album represents a turn inward for the global music star, an opportunity to take stock of the past, ponder love, life and family and imagine what will truly be important to him in years to come.
“I thought performing as a soloist is the ultimate way of being a story teller, just to go on stage and play the moment without needing to be dependent on arrangements and production,” Raichel said by phone from Israel where he is tending to his two young daughters, ages 4 and 21/2—something he hasn’t had time to do until his solo tour.
Becoming a parent represents a huge transition in his life, he said. “I used to tour consecutively for 14 years. I felt I was missing a lot of their childhood growing up. Nowadays when I go on the road I know there are two daughters that really miss me.”
Performing on stage solo has its own rewards, he said. “I share my feelings, my stories and my songs to the people who want to listen,” he said.
When he started touring, he didn’t know the response he would receive as a soloist. So he started out in small venues of 20, 50 and 80 people. “Little by little it grew to big, prestigious performing arts centers and I feel very lucky to be able to do it.”
His favorite venues often surprise him. “I played in an orphanage in India for 150 kids. They didn’t know who I am. They didn’t understand the language, but there were sparks in their eyes, they were getting so excited. I could not stop thinking that this might be the one and only concert they see in their lives. And then you can go and play at the Nobel Peace Prize (Award Ceremony) in Oslo and feel like you are part of one big sound track of people who are speaking for peace and a better world. Every concert has its own magic or importance.”
Raichel may be a goodwill ambassador for Israel, but he doesn’t feel he has to be. “I don’t have to do it, but I feel that all musicians that are connected to their roots cannot be taken out of that context. I’m very connected to the place I’m coming from.”
When he travels to enemy countries just outside of Israel’s borders, “to Lebanon, Syria or Iran, I hope the people are listening to the music, that they attend the concerts, listen to the voices, listen to the songs, listen to the stories. I would love to meet them after the concerts and talk to them about what’s going on.”
How does he respond to pressures from the BDS movement? “I think that people protesting outside of our concerts, I wish to create a dialogue with them. That’s why I always go outside and try to talk to them and invite them to the concert. I feel this is a great opportunity for us to talk. Dialogue is the solution for any conflict.”
He hopes to embrace cultural differences with future collaborations with “anyone that wants to open their hearts and accept my invitation. Everyone has their own lives, their own world, so many little stories and big stories are hidden there.”
To purchase tickets, go online http://athenaeumtheatre.org/