KFAR SABA — For his ninth album, musician Idan Raichel went home. Not to his own house, which he shares with his Austrian-born partner, Damaris Deubel, and their two little girls, but to his parents’ home in Kfar Saba, the leafy central Israeli town where Raichel was born and raised.
It was in this house that at the age of 9 Raichel first played the accordion, an instrument introduced to him by his mother, along with mandolin played by his grandfather.
“I don’t think any kid picks the accordion to play,” laughed Raichel, who said he thanks his parents for “almost forcing” him to play the accordion. “It’s maybe the most uncool instrument. But it was these strong Israeli roots that made me aware of [other kinds of music]. The accordion is a very global instrument, and in all the melodies of the Idan Raichel Project and this solo project, you feel its influence.”
On this day, however, Raichel sat behind the piano, a glass mug of water by his side, looking down at the keys or sometimes grinning sheepishly over at his family — his partner, their two children, his mother and siblings — sitting on the lawn.
The manicured yard, surrounded by flowering bushes of pink bougainvillea and toddler yard toys, was the right choice for the launch of “At the Edge of the Beginning,” Raichel’s most personal album to date.
There, on the wooden deck that surrounds the stucco two-story house, just steps from the tiny basement studio where Raichel worked on the collection of songs, the keyboardist and two band members — long-time drummer Gilad Shmueli and string player Yogev Glusman — played about half of the songs from this latest album, for an audience of reporters sitting on folding chairs set up on the Raichels’ astroturf lawn.
It wasn’t hard to imagine a young Raichel growing up in this home, trying out instruments and sounds over the course of his adolescence and into his army service, when he was a member of the IDF army band.
Yet this album — unlike the previous works of the Idan Raichel Project, with its focus on a swirl of ethnic sounds — is about the dramatic changes in Raichel’s personal life during his journey into partnerhood and parenthood with Damaris Deubel, his Austrian-born girlfriend.
The 38-year-old musician sees things differently now through the lens of parenthood. Many of the songs are about his perspective as a parent, from that first time he felt his elder daughter grab his finger as a newborn to his hopes for her as a person.
He spoke about a conversation he and Deubel had when she was seven months pregnant with their first daughter.
“Austrians,” he noted with a wry smile, are very different from Israelis.
“Will our daughter be a musician like me, or a chef like you?” he asked Deubel.
Deubel told him she wanted her to be good, healthy and to stand up when an older person walked into a room.
“I was shocked,” said Raichel. To which Deubel answered, “One day you’ll understand.”
The songs, all in Hebrew, are slow and soulful, pensive in tone and dreamy in sound. The album opens with an instrumental set that Raichel said he’s had “on the shelf for many years, and this was its time.”
Another single, “She’s Alone,” is about the birth of Raichel’s first daughter, when he, Deubel and the baby were staying in the “baby hotel” of Ichilov Hospital, Raichel holding his daughter to his chest and looking out the window. As he watched, an ambulance drew up to the emergency room, bringing, as he found out later, beloved musician Arik Einstein who ended up dying of a massive aortic aneurysm.
Einstein died on November 27, 2013, two years before Raichel’s album launch.
“I had the baby on me while he died,” said Raichel. “All I could think of was, “If you’re going to die, it should be next to the cry of a baby.”
Seated on the deck of his childhood home, Raichel and his two band members played some of the songs themselves and listened to others on headphones along with the audience.
While listening, Raichel would wander around the deck, hands in the pockets of his loose white linen drawstring pants (he’s a fan of Israeli designer Sasson Kedem), sometimes fingering the oversized silver hamsa pendant that always hangs around his neck.
Every so often, he would wander over to where Deubel and their children were playing with their cousins and grandmother at the back of the yard. He joked that the one error they made while setting up the morning event was forgetting an actual copy of the new album; they ended up burning a copy from a link at the last minute.
“Helicon [his record label] will want to die when they hear that,” he said.
The “very personal” nature of the album is a major departure for the musician, who first brought the sounds and grooves of Ethiopia to his music after working as a youth counselor in a school for Ethiopian teenagers after the army.
From there he created the Idan Raichel Project, a collaborative effort of Israeli, and later, international musicians working together to create new sounds and embarking on world tours, his then-dreadlocked hair wrapped up in dramatic head scarves.
Over the last few years, it’s been that world music outlook that has brought him concert tours and audiences, as well as a slew of musical partners such as fellow keyboardist Alicia Keys and American soul singer India Arie.
But even in this album, as in all his albums, said Raichel, he and the Project continued to bring new sounds and instruments to the music.
This time around, Raichel, fulfilling an old dream, learned to play drums and handled the percussion for “Five Seconds,” a song about what to do with only five seconds left to live.
“It’s not always easy to try out a new language,” he said, thanking record company Helicon for sticking with him for the last 12 years. “They gave me lots of freedom to do what I want.”
“At the Edge of the Beginning” will be available online and in stores as of Wednesday, December 3. Idan Raichel and the Idan Raichel Project are touring for three weeks in Japan, and will perform in Israel in February at Tel Aviv’s Hangar 11 in the port.