Listening to Within my Walls is like watching waves run up and down a beach.
The Idan Raichel Project is an Israeli-international music collective led by a man named -- no surprises here -- Idan Raichel. Raichel has a slender face, large eyes, and long dreadlocks. When I saw him last year he was playing the keyboard with the expression of a person who believes that such activities are worthwhile. He smiled, he kept an eye on the other performers, he seemed both pleased and intent, overseeing the show with the body language of an attentive manager looking after the welfare of his staff. The loose clothes of the other performers were so white they seemed luminous.
The seeds of the Project were planted six or seven years ago when Raichel began working with Africans who had migrated to Israel. Listening to their music, he began working on songs that would incorporate samples of the foreign singing and playing into something smoother, something familiar and popular, more Westernised. It's the Deep Forest idea, but Raichel's music didn't have the feeling of forced exotica that hung over many of Deep Forest's tracks. He let his samples keep their integrity. He didn't dissect them as much. He also sang. I don't remember the Deep Forest pair singing.
In Israel, this grafted music was an unanticipated success. It charted, it sold. After that he put together a group of musicians for performances, an experience that has bled into his work. Nowadays, the Project sounds live rather than sampled.
In 2007, the Idan Raichel Project made its debut in the English-speaking market when Cumbancha came out with a compilation of tracks from their Israeli albums. Now the same label is releasing the group's new album, not a compilation this time, but a fresh, whole piece of work, a more coherent release than the last one, which weakened near the finish when it began flitting from one sound to another, as if it couldn't make up its mind how it wanted to end.
On the new album, the group collaborates with a number of newcomers: female singers from Cape Verde and Colombia, a singing man from Israel-via-Morocco, someone named Mark Eliyahu on the kamancheh, woodwind from Eyal Sela. Languages change from one song to another, but the basic group-sound stays. That sound is a kind of cradle-rock that sways from side to side in long, shallow, frictionless parabolas. It'll spend a while working itself up into a steeper parabola than normal, becoming more excited for a moment, then sliding dreamily back into the cradle-rock again. Essentially that's it.
Listening to Within my Walls is like watching waves run up and down a beach. Each wave has something new -- a mat of red weeds, a bottle, a fish -- but underneath they're all waves. You can't say that the waves are entirely different, but the things caught in them are various enough to be interesting. The Israeli-Moroccan is possibly the most arresting sound on the album -- he stands out from the other singers with a hard, cutting, Arabic note, sharp as blue cheese in the middle of a very creamy brie. This is as close as the album comes to some of Raichel's earlier songs, in which he used samples of celebratory wailing, a note of ecstasy that seems to have dropped by the wayside, or been stretched out into these parabolas.
Listen to this album too many times on repeat and you might start to wish that he'd lose the earnest goodness for a moment, break down, scream, cry, smack somebody, be mean for a change, be selfish, but if you're keen on a genre that I'm going to make up on the spur of the moment now and call Multicultural Decency Pop, then Within My Walls is worth a look.