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Israeli metal rockers Orphaned Land celebrates 30th anniversary

CM 15/05/2021

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 “It’s been a long ride over the last 15 months without my wings,” says Kobi Farhi describing how it felt to not perform during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 46-year-old founder of hard rockers Orphaned Land added that in addition to a curb on live performances, he developed an artistic block.
“I couldn’t write anything. I’ve always done best in the eye of the storm, where it’s peaceful. But with the uncertainty of the last year, I couldn’t find the peace of mind to write anything.”
But that should imminently change as Orphaned Land returns to the stage, marking its 30th anniversary as one of Israel’s most well-known musical exports with a gala concert at Tel Aviv’s Bronfman Auditorium on June 10 featuring the Israel Chamber Orchestra and a 15-person choir.
With a roster of six ambitiously planned and executed concept albums and years of uplifting live shows, they’ve magnetized metal fans worldwide appearing in some 50 countries, including – surprisingly – Arab countries for fans who prefer guitar solos to imams’ sermons. In doing so, they’ve evolved into one of the more effective conduits for coexistence and peace through music, with a strong base in Turkey and fans from afar as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
What sets them apart is their blend of Arabic motifs and instrumentation, lyrics of religious universalism, some monster riffs and grooves, and Farhi’s frontman magnetism and charisma.
For the lanky, long-haired singer, the return to the stage could not have come soon enough.

“Although I knew that not performing had been difficult, I didn’t truly understand how much until we did our first post-pandemic show last week in Tel Aviv. Then I realized how much I missed being onstage and how much the crowd had missed us,” he said.
When the members of Orphaned Land first got together as high school students in 1991, it wasn’t to promote world peace but to play heavy metal. But according to Farhi, they quickly tired of the standard fare, and realizing that being Jewish and Israeli set them apart from almost every other metal band in the world, Orphaned Land began to reflect on the region they lived in and on the impact that religion had on its residents.
By the time they released their second album in 1996, El Norra Alila, the band was incorporating Eastern and Oriental influences and included lyrics based on Yom Kippur liturgy in its exploration of the commonality between Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The band’s 2004 album, Mabool, depicted three sons (one for each Abrahamic religion) trying to warn of an impending flood, and incorporates Yemenite chants and quotes from biblical verses. And 2010’s acclaimed The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR, continued the epic themes, featuring the Arabic Orchestra of Nazareth, and traditional Middle Eastern instruments such as saz, santur, Arabian flutes, cumbus and bouzouki.
THE JUMP to performing with a classical orchestra seemed like a natural progression, said Farhi, adding that bringing metal music to the hallowed halls of the Bronfman Auditorium was a fitting 30th anniversary present for the band and for its fans.
“I think it’s the proper thing to do to mark 30 years together – a metal band performing at the ‘Hechal Hatarbut’ in Tel Aviv – a hall of fame in many ways – is a great achievement and every metalhead should feel proud,” said Farhi.
“Metal in Israel started in the small clubs, like the Penguin in Tel Aviv, and to see it now in an established concert hall is something special. It’s like a reward for our 30 years of effort and traveling the world. It’s something we deserve.”
The logistics of putting a six-member heavy rock band together with a 45-piece orchestra and a15-person choir and working out the scores and arrangements have been in the works for weeks, with band confidant, bassist and composer Alon Stern, in charge of integrating the varied musical disciplines.
“Right before the show, we’ll meet two times with all the musicians and then do a dress rehearsal the day of the show. It’s very challenging and scary, but I trust us and I trust Alon,” said Farhi.
Performing in a concert hall with an orchestra and marking 30 years making music is not something Farhi could have imagined as a 16-year-old heavy metal fan forming his own band with high school friends.
“We started off paying for rehearsals with allowance money from our parents, and we recorded our first homemade cassette with money they gave us,” he said.
“I never imagined we would end up touring the world so many times and having such a big fan base in the Arab world. You don’t know the word ‘strategy’ in your teen years. You want to play music, and you want recognition and you want to express yourself. I never thought about it being my career, but it’s the only thing I’ve done since I was 16. It’s all I know how to do.”
Following the anniversary show, Farhi hopes that Orphaned Land will be able to begin touring again in the coming year, but as band members head toward their 50s and 60s, he realizes the lifestyle they’ve led for three decades may be unsustainable.
“When we started rehearsing for our first show, we were really rusty and the first couple of rehearsals were a disaster. We were shouting at each other and making mistakes, and I was thinking ‘maybe we’re getting too old to do this.’ Then you go onstage and you realize ‘ah, that’s what you do, that’s your profession,’” he said.
“The hard thing in the future will be how we’re going to keep touring. Living on a tour bus and doing one-nighters in your 50s and 60s is not so easy. But I’m a musician, and I know I’ll keep performing. Maybe the platform will change, we’ll do fewer shows, shorter tours or more exclusive concerts.”
One benefit that Farhi enjoyed while being off the road over the last year has been to spend time with his two-year-old daughter.
“I got the gift of being a parent,” he said. “Financially, it was a catastrophe, but just to be home with her, seeing her first steps and hearing her first words instead of being on the road was amazing. It was a ray of light in this crazy situation.”
For Orphaned Land, that sunlight appears to be spreading.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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