May 27, 2014 - International Music Star Ester Rada Plays Jazz Depot Sunday
Rising international star Ester Rada, an Israeli-born Ethiopian vocalist and songwriter, is set to perform in concert Sunday, June 1, at the Jazz Depot. Her Tulsa visit, during which she will also conduct musical workshops, is co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Tulsa and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
“I always liked soul and jazz and all the vintage American music a lot,” says Rada, whose music has been described by Marion Bishop for MTV as “Janelle Monae-style retro-soul with the '70s-era Ethio-jazz sound.”
“From the moment I started listening to American music it drew me in – Nina Simone and Erykah Badu and Stevie Wonder and so many more,” Rada continues. “I was drawn to soul music and blues music, and I knew this was the kind of music I wanted to do. But I wanted it to be special and not like everything else. Then one day I was at a concert of [Ethio-jazz originator] Mulatu Astatke in Israel, and it was the first time I heard Ethopian jazz, really. And it just hit me that I wanted to combine those two things.”
Rada was born in a Jewish settlement called Kiryat Arba a year after her mother and father – both Ethopian Jews – were airlifted out of Africa during the 1984 famine. They became Israeli citizens; Rada was born the next year and stayed in Kiryat Arba until she was 10, when the family moved.
In a story for Public Radio International's program The World, broadcast journalist Mirissa Neff noted, “Even though Rada was born in Israel, and spoke like the Israeli kids around her, there was no escaping the fact that her East African looks set her apart. To cope with the struggles of feeling different, Rada turned to singing.”
She also, for a time, turned away from her native culture.
“My parents only came [to Israel] one year before I was born, so in their mentality they were very Ethiopian and the music I heard at home was Ethiopian music,” she explained to Bishop. “When I was growing up I was confused because I had one thing at home and a completely different thing outside. I didn't want to speak Amharic [the Semitic language of Ethiopia] and I didn't want to listen to Ethiopian music. I wanted to be Israeli like everybody around me. I think only after [serving in the Israeli] army, when I was 20, did I start to go back to my roots and really get into Ethiopian music and culture.”
Beginning her career in musical theatre and Israeli television, she became an international star in 2013, when she toured Europe, the United States, and Canada following the release of her first disc, a four-song collection of her own compositions called Life Happens. That was followed, earlier this year, by the full-length CD Ester Rada, which, according to music critic Ben Shalev, “expands and deepens Rada's portrait, which was only sketched in the four songs of the EP.”
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, he added, “Her rare grace, her relaxed stage presence, the singing that flows from her so naturally – this is only one side of the coin. As the album moves on and opens up, a harder side also comes across: vulnerable, wounded, angry, lost. It's not that Rada's songs are without optimism and joy, but those elements are ephemeral and are almost always accompanied, in the very next line, by thoughts about the tears that follow the smiles.”
Elsewhere, including on her website (esterrada.com) the music she creates is called a “graceful composition of Ethio-jazz, funk, soul and r&b, with mixed undertones of black grooves.”
Rada was recently nominated for an MTV European Music Award for Best Israeli Act.
“World-renowned musicians coming to Tulsa to play the Jazz Depot is what the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is all about,” says Jason McIntosh, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO. “Our audience recognizes and appreciates great talent, and we love introducing that talent to our wonderful local musicians. And in addition to kicking off our Summer Concert Series, Ester Rada will also be doing clinics for both young and seasoned performers.”
Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.
The show the first in the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Summer Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.