Blink of an eye

Is­raeli-Ethiopian singer Ester Rada sees through mul­ti­ple lenses


Ester Rada has seen the world through many dif­fer­ent eyes. Born in Kiryat Arba only one year after her par­ents em­i­grated from Ethiopia, she grew up in con­stant bat­tle be­tween her in­su­lar home life – re­volv­ing around Ethiopian lan­guage, mu­sic and cus­toms – and the out­side world.

“I re­ally wanted to be like ev­ery­one else, I wanted to be Is­raeli,” Rada re­counts. “I re­mem­ber beg­ging my mom not to speak to me in Amharic.”

While Rada was able to un­der­stand that Is­raeli so­ci­ety was built around many dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple, she strug­gled with the harsh re­al­ity that peo­ple are afraid of dif­fer­ences.

From the very young age of four, Rada found her way to cope with this com­pli­cated world: mu­sic.

“Mu­sic was al­ways on my side. It was the place for me to un­pack things, to hear, and that’s why it was im­por­tant for me to bring the Ethiopian vibes to my first album. It was my clo­sure; to sing whole, to em­brace my­self, and to prove that I could be Ethiopian and Is­raeli .... I didn’t have to choose. I could wear many hats.”

Em­brac­ing and ac­cept­ing her many unique selves form the ba­sis of Rada’s brand-new album, Dif­fer­ent Eyes, re­leased just weeks ago.

Nearly five years since she ap­peared out of thin air on the stages of InD­negev, Rada con­tin­ues to draw on per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence for her ma­te­rial, ex­plain­ing, “I feel that per­sonal and so­cial mat­ters even­tu­ally be­come one; when we all dig into our­selves, and feel and love our­selves, we can even­tu­ally feel and love oth­ers, too.”

Stylis­ti­cally, how­ever, the new album veers wildly from her first, bor­row­ing elec­tronic el­e­ments rather than go­ing back to her tra­di­tional Ethio­jazz roots.

In her first album, Rada wanted the crowd to get to know her.

“I wanted them to know ev­ery as­pect of me, so it was im­por­tant to bring Ethiopian mu­sic to the ta­ble.”

This Afro-style in­cludes a strong brass sec­tion, as Ethiopian mu­sic re­lies heav­ily on tenor sax, as well as Ethiopian melodies and scales, plus a strong in­flu­ence from African-Amer­i­can icons, such as Nina Si­mone, who she felt were “singing me.”

“I never re­ally took to elec­tronic mu­sic,” Rada con­tin­ues, “but in this new se­ries, I dis­cov­ered that I do love it.”

The record­ing process was en­tirely new to the singer-song­writer, who rose to in­ter­na­tional fame in a very short time, re­cently open­ing for Bri­tish le­gend Sting and steal­ing the show at the TLV in LDN fes­ti­val. For this new album, Rada put her faith in a pro­ducer named SHUZ.

“We worked in front of a com­puter, which was hard at first, but it be­came more in­ti­mate and pre­cise. The process was not just a mu­si­cal one, ei­ther. It in­volved many philo­soph­i­cal talks be­tween us, and re­ally dig­ging into the lyrics, the mu­sic and the in­stru­ments to find that en­ergy we wanted to bring to each song. I fell in love with the process,” Rada says with a sigh of re­lief.

The­mat­i­cally, it takes only one cho­rus of the first track, “My Mind”– “Can you open the door / Like you used to be­fore” – to un­der­stand that while iden­tity is a strong com­po­nent of the album’s over­all nar­ra­tive, above all, Dif­fer­ent

Eyes is a breakup album. Un­like some al­bums, in which a nar­ra­tive arc re­quires dig­ging, Rada ap­proaches a touchy yet ex­tremely re­lat­able sub­ject with in­cred­i­bly raw hon­esty. She takes the lis­tener through the many stages of mourn­ing a shat­tered re­la­tion­ship, tap­ping into ev­ery emo­tion along the way, from those very first feel­ings of un­ease one has be­fore the breakup to that un­cer­tainty dur­ing the in­ter­nal bat­tle – de­picted in the lyrics of “Have To Go”: “Na­ture has yet to de­cide / How can I be sure of my rea­sons”– to the in­evitable guilt, and fi­nally the ac­cep­tance of new love “for my­self and for oth­ers.”

Ev­ery­one can agree that it takes two to end a re­la­tion­ship. And so, while the ma­jor­ity of the album is purely Rada, one might ex­pect the low­pitched har­monies in “Home” to be­long to Rada’s part­ner.

Per­haps to the lis­tener’s sur­prise, Rada re­veals, “It’s ac­tu­ally my voice as well, just al­tered through a com­puter process. I view this sec­ond voice as a kind of other per­son, but not the man; that other per­son is me.”

This is not the only in­stance in the album where Rada grap­ples with her in­ner voices. In “Choice,” we hear the naive stream-of-con­scious­ness of a child, ask­ing, “How do you know if you made the right de­ci­sion? / And if it hurts some­one / does it mean the de­ci­sion wasn’t right?”

“This voice is com­ing from me as a child... or more so, the child that’s still in me,” Rada says. “When I break up with some­one, I think about my fa­ther and the choices that he made when I was a child.”

Com­ing to terms with her fa­ther run­ning out on her mother when Rada was only a girl is some­thing that she has dealt with for years. She ad­mits to feel­ing guilty for it, as if she had done some­thing wrong. This album is very much about un­der­stand­ing and ac­cept­ing the per­son that he is.

“I can un­der­stand where he comes from now.”

Guilt is a re­peat­ing theme in Rada’s life and mu­sic, as heard in “Mr. Guilt,” a prime ex­am­ple of Rada’s abil­ity to not only set in­stru­men­ta­tion to lyrics but to marry the two as one.

This sev­enth track opens with a groove, which sets the pac­ing and mood for the weighty sub­ject mat­ter to come. Rada shares, “When I had the lyrics in mind for ‘Mr. Guilt,’ I al­ready had the mu­sic thought out. I knew I wanted an African drum-cen­tric open­ing. Guilt al­ways has a heavy feel­ing to it. So I wanted to du­pli­cate that earthy, nat­u­ral feel­ing in the song.”

De­spite over­com­ing “sec­ond album syn­drome,” Rada throws ev­ery­thing out there in Dif­fer­ent Eyes, and the re­ward is al­ready pay­ing off.

“Peo­ple are lov­ing the new album. Since the first did re­ally well, I was afraid and ner­vous about this new album... un­til the minute I started to work on the mu­sic. Those feel­ings went away and I just fo­cused on mak­ing my mu­sic, my way.”

Nerves are to be ex­pected of any mu­si­cian, but Rada is an op­ti­mist, and she gears that pos­i­tive en­ergy to­ward ev­ery lyric and per­for­mance she is a part of, in­clud­ing her up­com­ing per­for­mance at this Oc­to­ber’s InD­negev fes­ti­val.

“I feel blessed that the uni­verse is on my side. My first per­for­mance ever was at InD­negev four years ago. I had just re­leased 100 EPs and they were all gone after the show. I was so happy. For me, I’m com­ing full cir­cle in this sec­ond InD­negev ap­pear­ance with my new album.”

As al­ways, Rada is trav­el­ing down to the desert with a smile on her face and an in­fec­tious pos­i­tive at­ti­tude: “I al­ways come to bring love. I hope to touch each and ev­ery fes­ti­val-goer and to con­tinue to see the world through my dif­fer­ent eyes, as a woman, as an Ethiopian, as an Is­raeli, as me.”

Ester Rada per­forms on Friday night, Oc­to­ber 20, at the InD­negev mu­sic fes­ti­val. For more info: https://2017.ind­negev.web­site

Check out her new album:­camp. com/album/dif­fer­ent-eyes

(Sherban Lupu)

‘I FEEL blessed that the uni­verse is on my side... I al­ways come to bring love. I hope to con­tinue to see the world through my dif­fer­ent eyes, as a woman, as an Ethiopian, as an Is­raeli, as me,’ says mu­si­cian Ester Rada.

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