Israeli world-music superstar Idan Raichel has undergone a transformation.
Gone are his signature dreadlocks and black turban. At least for a while, The Raichel Project he founded – incorporating performers and sounds from many different backgrounds – has taken a backseat.
Instead Raichel has gone on tour, performing a “stripped-down” show of songs and personal stories, jumping from acoustic to electric piano and percussion instruments.
One stop on the tour is The Music Center at Strathmore, where he appears Thursday, Feb. 22.
A descendant of Eastern European Jews, Raichel attributes his interest in multiethnic music to the fact that his parents, while music lovers, didn’t emphasize their particular musical heritage.
At age nine, Raichel began to play the accordion and later, keyboard. He used to invite different singers and musicians to play in his garage, in a sense anticipating The Raichel Project.
At different times featuring many as 95 singers and musicians, The Project served as a “musical ambassador representing a hopeful world in which artistic collaboration breaks down between people of different backgrounds and beliefs,” said Raichel, who has collaborated with such American pop stars as Dave Matthews and Alicia Keys.
“The Project was pioneering both in Israel and universally,” Raichel said. “It gave more opportunities for musicians and people to get to know each other. Everyone brought his or her own background and heritage to the mike to create a blend.”
“I’m very intrigued when artists step away from their larger bands and heavily produced concerts to focus on the purity of songwriting and the intimacy of a solo performance,” said Joi Brown, Strathmore’s vice president of programming. “In this tour, featuring work from his most recent recording, ‘Piano Songs,’ Idan shifts from the complexity of collaboration and inclusivity to such themes as family, fatherhood, loyalty and love. The music is compelling, personal and at the same time, beautifully universal.”
Raichel was a virtual unknown when he burst on the music scene with his breakthrough song “Bo’ee” (“Come”), blending Ethiopian voices and global pop.
Having performed all over to diverse audiences, he considers his “most-meaningful concert” to have been one he gave at an orphanage in India.
“It was a kind of special morning,” he said. “The orphanage manager emailed me that he knew we were doing a concert nearby and asked if we could make it to the school. It might have been the first concert these children could afford and might be the last. We took them on a journey around the world. We sang different languages.”
Much as he enjoys touring, there’s no place like home.
“In Israel we’re mainstream, and when we leave we’re world-music,” he laughed. “Plus, Israelis know all the lyrics.”
In explaining his at least-temporary transition to solo, Raichel called it “fascinating to be on the road and be a storyteller. I’d love to listen to Beyoncé, for example or Paul Simon – do that without the big production.”
Going solo is also a “great opportunity” to share new material, although his one-man performances will include old songs as well, Raichel said.
The singer-musician also offers a personal reason for the transition. Now married with two daughters, 4 and 2 1/2, he declares himself “ready” to compose an album dedicated to his family. “Before, I wrote all the songs, and sometimes other people performed them,” he said. “But I couldn’t see asking other singers to sing these songs.”
Fans of The Raichel Project needn’t worry, though. He promises “it will always continue.”
Raichel’s concert begins at 8 p.m., at the Music Center of Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. At 6:45 p.m., a pre-concert panel discussion will explore “Music’s Cultural Diplomacy in the Middle East.”
For information and tickets, call 301-581-5100 or visit: www.strathmore.org.