by: Jack Gabriel on December 3rd, 2013 | Comments Off
You can usually tell if a recording is inspired from the opening twenty seconds. There is a certain energy, a certain élan, that takes you from the ordinary to the special, from genesis to realization, quite quickly, perhaps in two dozen heartbeats.
There are many such songs on the new CD ,”The Human Project”, the first solo release by Gabriel Meyer Halevy. There are striking anthems, which celebrate the diversity and harmony of humanity. There are delicate ballads, and gracefully rhythmic pieces, that mesh South American, Arabic, Mizrachi and Far Eastern nuances. Their fusion sounds organic and natural. Paul Simon’s Afro-Gospel-Doo Wop and Idan Raichel’s Ethiopean-Spanish-Israeli pieces come to mind. The lyrics very much support the music. It is as if the words and melodies are passed from voice to voice, in Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic, effortlessly enriching songs with multiple translations. It draws you into a sweet and exciting space. That’s no easy feat, and that’s what makes this recording so successful and special.
Gabriel Meyer Halevy, Gaby to his many friends and supporters, is a long-time, creative, peace activist living in Israel. He co-founded and co-directed the Sulha Peace Project for eight years. The work is based on an indigenous, Middle Eastern process of mediation and reconciliation. It invites a council of elders to create a ceremony between feuding parties, and the process can sometimes take years. This work, says Gaby, was a springboard for people and communities, as well as different energies (e.g. activism and spirituality; left brain and right brain; aesthetics and ethics) to stop opposing each other. In other words, a time honored process birthed peacemaking in the present.
Gabriel Meyer Halevy is an example of different influences coming together to form an artist with a one world sensibility. He was raised in Argentina and New York, before moving to Israel. His father, Rabbi Marshall Meyer, bravely founded a Conservative seminary in Buenos Aires, in the time of the military juntas, and didn’t let them silence his human rights activities. Gaby has obviously absorbed his passion for right action, as a facilitator and singer.
Two of Rabbi Meyer’s seminary students, Rabbi Roly Matalon, and Rabbi Marcelo Bronstein, came to the United States and continue his legacy. They are the leaders of the much praised B’nai Jeshurun Synagogue in Manhattan, a place of community building, prayer innovation, and engaged, people protecting politics.
Rabbi Matalon sees “The Human Project” in mystical, symbolic terms:
Gabriel reminds us that, deeper than our particular identities, at our very foundation, we are from everywhere. The midrash says that when God created Adam, God intentionally took dust from the four corners of the earth so that humans would have roots everywhere and belong everywhere. This essential truth resonates within us as we open our hearts and listen to the Human Project.
Gaby says that his grounding in the Sulha Project, is evident in most of the songs on “The Human Project”. Seven of the songs emerged from friendships with Iranians whom he met in Turkey, and there are also songs with Pakistani Sufi and Palestinian Israeli contributions.
One favorite of mine is the opening song, “Human”. It has a great dynamic, opening with an Andean flute and charango, as Gaby sings in Spanish. Then it morphs into a more Anglo-American feel, like Mumford and Sons, with Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonies, as Gaby sings in Hebrew. The middle section is a spoken voice over about a dream of Mother Teresa, Bob Marley and the Sufi Master, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan being together in Jerusalem, and that kicks the song into an even higher gear.
Beginning in a softer mode, “Solo le pido a Dios” (I only ask from the Holy One), has a haunting vocal by Aida Shahghasemi for most of the tune; then Gaby become the lead singer and shifts it into a musical dialogue between Spanish and Middle Eastern players; very lively, very magical.
I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the production values and the arrangements. The rich, full sound, and the tight playing of the musicians, the attention to details, and the quick shifts in style and instrumentation make it obviously the work of a very good producer. That is Daniel Kestenboim, who also arranged, recorded and mixed it.
I know I’ve been raving a bit, but this effort warrants it. How often do you feel bowled over by an artist’s first release, an artist who steps forward with such assurance, optimism and full blown skills?
May there be many more recordings from Gabriel Meyer Halevy. Right now, gift yourself or a friend with “The Human Project”.
Jack Gabriel is a songwriter, producer, and Jewish Renewal Rabbi, and was the Music Editor of Tikkun for three years.