By Marlon Bishop : WNYC Culture Producer
Sana'a- Mar 9, 2011- Long before recent revolutions gripped the country, Yemen was home to one the oldest Jewish communities in the world. Almost the entire community immigrated to Israel between 1949 and 1950, when Israel airlifted 50,000 Yemenite Jews to the young nation in a mission named “Operation Magic Carpet.” Musician Ravid Kahalani is a descendant of that immigrant group, and he draws on Yemen’s rich musical traditions as well as his own fascination with gritty blues and deep soul to make some of the most compelling sounds coming out of the Holy Land. Thanks to centuries of cultural interchange with East Africa, Yemeni music sounds like nothing else in the Arabian peninsula, and it resonates with the African-American pop sounds that Kahalani employs. On “Eli,” Kahalani sings in a Yemenite Hebrew dialect over a rich curtain of sound that includes jazzy horns, soaring strings, and relentless percussion beats.