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: https://ester-rada.bandcamp. com/album/different-eyes
‘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.