Folk Radio UK There is no-one quite like Avital Raz in the world of music right now, and she should be applauded for the intelligence and singularity of her artistic vision. The Fallen Angel’s Unravelling Descent is a genuinely original musical statement, full of wise, exotic and gleefully mordant songs that manage to be simultaneously challenging and melodic. For full review- http://www.folkradio.co.uk/2017/05/avital-raz-fallen-angels-unravelling-descent/
RnR Magazine " Raz has both the scope and control (Which is evident in her singing and eclectic musicianship) of the best lyricists, capable of injecting both humour and irreverence in equal measures while discussing the most serious issues and wraps it all round with a sense of 'not-altogether-rightness' any fellow -traveller will recognise... She hits home again and again. Every home should have one." **** Nick Burbridge
Exposed Magazine "Avital Raz, Jerusalem-born, but now living in the Steel City, playing an acoustic set the like of which you could not easily describe, and which no-one in the entire place could ignore. Her songs about her life, focusing on how politics and sex have had a lasting impact on her, were as spell-binding as they were beautiful. The honesty and passion were comparable to anything I’ve seen on stage this year, and left the audience quite stunned as her short set finished." - Mark Perkins
Now Then Sheffield "Raz is as perceptive of the personal as she is the political."
R2 magazine **** There is no shame whatever in being relatively unknown (witness the repetitive line-ups at Festivals to see how insularly the heights are presented) if you have a talent that put those more recognizable in the shadows. I said of Avital Raz's Infidelity that it was both original and courageous . The Believer is equally so. Her varied and Authentic worldwide influences are more simply honed here with cellist Pete Harvey's collaboration; all songs are readily accessible so were one to point an impartial listener to her work , there would be no reservations. The whole record succeeds. But I must reserve a passage (sorry Avital, I couldn't resist!) for ' The Edinburgh Surprise' her video should be checked out by every female singer-songwriter as an example of how to explore uncomfortable parameters of gender, politics and spirituality with the voice of a real pioneer , not another formulaic mouthpiece. I was recently drawn to the work of Diane Cluck and there are clear parallels. Avital Raz may not fit a mould or scale any pyramids (who knows?) - and yet, like Cluck, she takes the breath away . In my book, its all that counts.- Nick Burbridge
Herald Scotland "THERE are probably few folk who have felt that what was missing from their musical firmament was a female equivalent of Aidan Moffat. But those imaginative souls have their prayers answered in the third track on the fifth album by Jerusalem-born Avital Raz, which is entitled The Edinburgh Surprise, in which she narrates a tale - one possibly more true than anything that Moffat has penned - of a drunken sexual encounter in the Scottish capital in the most explicit of terms, with a twist in the tail (sic). It is likely to be one of the most compelling things you hear all year. There is much more to The Believer than that, however. Raz, who has also imbibed the vocals of Ofra Haza in her homeland, learned Indian singing in the subcontinent and lived in Berlin before coming to rest currently in north-west England. She recorded this set in cellist Pete Harvey's Pumpkinfield studio in Perth, with contributions from percussionist Dave Pratt and, on one track, guitarist Amos Ungar. It is a wonderful musical journey that will appeal musically to fans of female experimentialists from Bjork to Ela Orleans and lyrically to those who admire Emmy the Great or the former Arab Strap chap. - Keith Bruce
R2 magazine (print version) "When a genuinely original album starts playing, all those others backed by grandiose claims pale into insignificance. Avital Raz is exactly what she purports to be: fearless, and unbridled and Infidelity , “delights, thrills, shocks and resonates” indeed. The extraordinary commingling of an orthodox Jewish upbringing, the effects of a sojourn in India studying classical music, and her mere recent transportation to the north-west of England, results in an album of complex, varied and well-crafted songs, making full use of an impressively ranged voice that once had the benefit of operatic training.
Amidst all the musical invention, on songs such as “If You Ask Me” or “You Told Me”, it would be a mistake to overlook the lyrical prowess on show; whether exhibited in her own neat probing of mythologies, her take on different political and personal struggles, or addressing Blake’s “Sick Rose”, it's both sophisticated and direct. Where to place her? Neither necessary nor possible. She draws on a Bjork-like eccentricity, veers through all kinds of Eastern and Western passages, and emerges as a female singersongwriter who puts many of her contemporaries to shame. To call her magical is to miss the point. This is real and very potent self-expression."- Nick Burbridge
Terrascope Online "As with all good albums (normally, there are exceptions) it takes a few listens to really get to grips with a collection that has lyrical depth, musical excellence and a voice that ignites the tunes." Simon Lewis
Americana UK "Music from a (dysfunctional) Doll's House. Born and raised in Israel, schooled in India and with a sound that has been described as "experimental folk" one might expect Ms. Raz to be a wispy hippie type prone to channelling her inner spirit and warbling on about love. However a glance at her web page blog reveals a woman who while immersed in her Jewish heritage rails against the hypocrisy of orthodox Jewry and in particular the role demanded of women within it. She comes across as feisty and funny in equal measure and although her album isn't political or a rant against her bugbears reading the blog shed some light on the person behind the songs here. It's tempting to think of the album as a song suite with Raz herself saying "In a roundabout way, using the image of a grim fucked up doll's house the album deals with leaving Israel and culminates with the song: Back in the Promised Land with the chorus: Lord I’m Bored." She sings about broken lives for the most part, taking on the role of the underdog on the sexually explicit "Blues of The Ugly Sister" where one of Cinderella's sister's bitterly states “It’s me he really wants, because I’m a great fuck,” while "Oh, Isabel," a frail song that recalls Pearls Before Swine, portrays a girl who has her innocence stolen. Fittingly enough the one non original song here is a rendition of William Blake's "The Sick Rose" which portrays a wilting rose sickened by a worm that entered its bed. But perhaps the best song is the relatively unadorned "Till It's Time To," a seven minute diary of ennui from the mind of a teenage girl. As for the music much of the instrumentation is provided by producer Gai Shert while Raz writes some haunting melodies and sings with a high and clear voice. There is much use of harmonium, melodica and what appears to be harp although there is an element of blues on several of the songs with "Back In The Promised Land" inhabiting a similar junkyard style to that of Tom Waits." -Paul Kerr
Quenched Music "Avital Raz creates a concoction of music, some transcendental and uplifting, some rudely articulate folk story telling. She has a fairy tale style veering towards the arcane. Her voice can carry angelic, soaring highs; elsewhere affecting a croaky hubble bubble. There is a dark core to her sound; slow and methodical, each word wilts with enamoured power."
Sound Of Confusion "As 'Infidelity' finishes you realise you have a been on a journey that is at times stark, dark and harrowing, but lifts into a praise of love and redemption. It is a journey that you'd happily take again and again."
Song, By Toad "Like a lot of Avital’s stuff these songs are occasionally amusing and occasionally shockingly bitter, and the music itself can be as creepy as it can be pretty, and I think therein lies the charm of her stuff. She has a couple of albums in the tank just waiting to be released, and if this is a taster, then I am looking forward to them."
It Sounded Sweet "The musician to follow Felonious Monk was Jerusalem-born singer-songwriter, Avital Raz. Raz has had a life dedicated to music. She has trained in classical music as a vocalist and composer and moved to India to study Dhrupad – an ancient style of meditative Indian song – for six years. Having recently moved to the UK, she’s now bringing those skills to a new audience, an audience that is well known for its acceptance and attentiveness to new genres.
Although quite clearly a folk artist, Avital Raz has elements of her music which shift and change the preconceptions of her songs. With Indian instruments and collaborations with Mobius Loop, Raz showed just how experimental she was. Collaborated with the textures of Mobius Loop’s music, the instrumentals themselves were enchanting combined with the bewitching siren vocals of Raz herself. Avital Raz gave a performance that was audibly seductive.
As well as pushing the boundaries with tones and sounds, Raz has a great strength in terms of poetry and storytelling. Her track ‘Edinburgh Surprise’ was something of a shock to most members of the audience; telling the story of an Israeli who had anal sex with a Palestine. Although controversial and humourous simultaneously, the song was making strong political points. Avital Raz was an experience to watch and listen to, with her blues, Indian and country ballads, to name just a few, she can only be described as a multi-cultural musician who is putting the idea of art back into music. "
Rocksucker "Another good 'un from Southampton-based label Sotones, this "acid-folk" songstress from Jerusalem comes across like a more unhinged version of her labelmate Anja McCloskey. It's utterly bewitching, not to mention blessed with lines like "And she made lipstick marks on mirrors / And she hid chocolate in a drawer" - and all with a splendidly creepy, Bagpuss-like video. Bravo!"
Drunken Werewolfmusic blog: "Avital Raz tops the good pile with her video for “Oh, Isabel”, a frightening vision of a dolls house gone about grimm."
Unplug The Jukebox "If anyone would care to explain the genre “acid folk” to me, that would be great. Thanks. This is how the covering e-mail from Sotones categorised the tuneage of Avital Raz. Well, I don’t care much for categories or genres but I do care what I think is great. And “Blues Of The Ugly Sister” is very nearly great.
It’s sparse arrangement means that Raz’s enigmatic vocals and intriguing story telling skills are brought the fore. She’s clearly a unique talent and probably a bit bonkers too, which makes it all the more interesting. There’s a Western and Indian influence here which adds to the mystique. My only criticism? It slightly outstays its welcome.
But any song containing such a shock value line as “It’s me he really wants, because I’m a great fuck,” demands to sit up, be heard and be respected. UNPLUG’S VERDICT? – ACE!"
"A shimmering, dream-like collection containing six beautiful, enchanting and utterly compelling songs that demand attention." Terrascope Online, Simon Lewis (UK)
Dream magazine, George Parsons (USA): "This young female singer/songwriter from Israel has a superbly utilized crystal clear contralto voice, and writes bewitchingly beautiful, seductively dark melodic songs as well on this inaugural six-song EP. Her lyrics are eccentric and intriguingly original in their somewhat obliquely dramatic approach. The eclectic instrumentation blends acoustic and electric instrumentation to frame her considerable vocal skills. Featuring highly effective use of conventional instruments like banjo, guitars, bass, and drums with tanpura and bansuri."
"Shows spiritual and emotional strength, A recommended delicate document, sweet in character." Gerald Van Waes, Psychedelic Folk Magazine (Belgium)
"Hailing from Israel, being an acid folk enthusiast and a student of Indian music, this six track short EP actually displays many, many influences, and a sound more well-worked and strong than what seldom comes out of an entire orchestra." The Shadows Commence Webzine (Sweden)
"somewhat like Dory Previn (but much better)." Mark S. Tucker, Folk & Acoustic music exchange
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Blank Media Collective Interview - Issue 36 Interview by Baz Wilkinson (Music Editor for Blank Media Collective)
Your musical style is very eclectic taking on board Eastern scalings and using unusual instruments but, at the same time, it really chimes with the kind of experimental folk artists from the England...can you tell us a bit about your influences and how you see them combine during the writing process?
Well, I started out singing classical music. I loved early music and specifically English early music such as Dowland and Purcell. I even nearly married a lute player. Later on I travelled to India to learn how to meditate and ended up staying for six years learning Indian classical music. It's been a long and winding road to get to the point of writing my own material and calling it experimental folk. Folk music was always listened to in the house where I grew up house. My American parents were Simon & Garfunkel and Peter, Paul and Mary fans and my big sister listened to Joni Mitchel and Suzane Vega quite a lot. But I was always into classical music until my big depression when I was seventeen and Leonard Cohen was the only thing I listened to. For many years I saw myself as a singer, first and foremost, and had a much easier time making a living singing other people's music. I wrote poetry but it wasn't anything I thought of showing anyone. In India I learned to improvise whilst before that I could only sing from a written score. Suddenly music was pouring out of me and, as much as I love the traditional Hindi texts I was more familiar with, at some point it just had to be my own lyrics.
As everyone is aware, the situation in Israel is perhaps one of the most consistently reported political situations on the globe. It raises passionate demonstrations and discussions that reach far further than Israel. Do you find that your music, through its lyrical expression and musical composition, can act as a vehicle for addressing and articulating your concerns about what is happening?
I've been waiting for and fearing this question. First, let me say that I don't like art that is preachy. And art that tries to address politics in too direct a way becomes obvious, prescriptive and, for the ‘audience’ in particular, very one dimensional. However, politics can shape the way we see and interpret the world to some extent whether favorable or not.
As a child, I grew up in an orthodox Jewish Family in Jerusalem. It took me a long time to understand the inherit racism in Judaism: “We're the chosen ones and we have a spark of the divine while all other nations have beastly souls…” for example. And even in secular Israeli society these attitudes are prevalent, even if less conscious. In India I lived with a guy from Dorset. And when things got ugly, part of me started asking if it was perhaps because he's not Jewish. I know that makes me sound like a complete asshole but I'm willing to look stupid to demonstrate just how deeply fear, suspicion and patronizing go in Israeli society
Well, no, it’s a good example showing that if we aren’t mindful of doctrines in general, be those found in the media, religion or oneself even, nor able to be objective about them from time to time, they can permeate our perception of the world to the degree that you describe. And all societies are subject to these.
Yeah…so in terms of these influencing my writing etc…I guess I use it for escapism to some extent but also in a kind of confrontational manner. I like to fuck with religion in my songs. With Judaism and with any of the other religions I’ve both studied and practiced to some extent, I feel a kind of love-hate relationship to the point that I feel I’m close enough to fuck with them in a way. My up and coming album is called "Infidelity" and it certainly has that aspect. These days I don't practice anything but in my past there were rabbis and gurus and cults and months worth of vipasana retreats. Being raised Jewish I feel I have quite a high degree of grounding in them...I always thought if I wasn't a musician, I'd study comparative religion. I moved this year [to Berlin] and I believe that being removed from the craziness of Israel will help me see things more clearly and have the confidence to speak out more. It's always been my default to go into dreamy, melancholic, highly personal states in songwriting but I think this is also due to just needing to escape the political realm that is constantly in your face in Israel. Your music takes on quite a few different cultures in crossing what could be considered traditional English folk elements to more esoteric Indian elements…the result is a darkly beautiful mixture and this is certainly complimented by your intuitive attitude to music. For example, a few years ago you collaborated with a group of Indian musicians to record an album based on James Joyce's Chamber Music...I'm intrigued...can you tell us a bit about it?
The James Joyce Project is a perfect example for that dreamy, melancholic, highly personal state I mentioned earlier. The poems describe a love affair between two musicians that ends badly. My story is simple: I was jilted; I was in India; and I was obsessed with Chamber Music. It didn't occur to me that this was at all peculiar until The Joyce Estate rejected me permission to use the poems. ("While your music is very pleasant, I can but wonder weather this is appropriate for James Joyce's poems" was the way they put it!). So, though the project was finished in 2004, it's been kept secret until now. This year Joyce's work finally becomes public domain and I can do with it whatever I please....appropriate or not. The Indian musicians I worked with (Hemad Kamal-Sarangi and Ali Abas-Shenai) could not understand Joyce's words but that didn't disturb them from understanding the mood.
My next question relates to following your intuition and the development of your individuality and independence. At a young age you’d joined a choir rehearsing six times a week and roaming Europe performing with them. With a promising career ahead of you and against the wishes and advice of your tutors, you rejected the classical underpinning of Western music and chose to study Dhrupad in India under Master Ritwik Sanyal...what is it that propelled you to follow your intuition and heart to move to India for 6 years and effectively reject what must have seemed like a very promising future...was it purely musical? The sense of adventure?
Well the first time I went to India was in the summer when I was twenty years old. Though I was training to be an opera singer and performing quite a bit with various orchestras, my heart was with Eastern philosophy. I used to go looking for these strange books in the basement of the ‘new‘ - and very seedy - Tel-Aviv central bus station/shopping mall. In the Russian shops, you could find lots of rare books all piled together: Lots of Porn and how to learn Urdu in thirty days. So, through reading The Bhagavadgita and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and all, I became obsessed with learning to meditate and achieving ‘higher consciousness’. At the same time, I was attending a prestigious International Opera course in Tel-Aviv run by people from the Met in New York. Each singer was assigned a vocal coach to mold his/her voice, a language/style coach making it all precise and musical, a director telling the singer how to act and a conductor waving his/her hands in the air. The music and lyrics were already written by someone else, probably long dead. Basically, I felt like a trained seal: as long as I had a loud, pleasant voice I could be a complete moron because someone else will be doing the artistic work. Like some girls, not me, complain about people only looking at their breasts. I felt that people were only interested in my voice and not what I had to say. Then came the question that lingers: Do I have anything to say? And to who? As I said, in India I learned to Improvise which was a great way to figure out what I'm made of musically and on another level, I had to leave my family and Israel far behind to work out what I'm made of mentally and spiritually. I didn't perform at all in those six years and tried to unlearn allot of what I was taught, I figured the good stuff would stay with me.
I've read somewhere that artists are generally more content with who they are and are more in touch with their individuality...this has always made me think of the relationship between creativity, artistic expression and a sense of purpose...recently Tracey Emin is quoted as saying, "If I'm not doing art, I feel like I'm dying!" What do you feel the connection is between artistic expression and individuality? Do you feel more content being creative than at any other time? What’s the process like for you?
How to answer this question without being disgusting? I can't. Art is like shit. Some people just need to take the things they see and understand from life and digest them and expel them as art Once you realize this is how your brain works, not creating feels like being constipated. So... definitely more content being creative. Then when we get into being a professional artist, this metaphor gets a bit dodgy even though I heard there's an exhibition in London now called Dirt which features a sculpture made from human waste. As I see it, to be worthy of audiences time and money, the artist must constantly challenge their own ideas and perceptions and be very open and hopefully stumble along some totally unique way of showing something. People are obsessed with being creative - especially here in Berlin - but often don't take time to see what life is before getting up on stage and ranting about it, while imitating somebody else's style.
I don't think artists are generally more content with who they are. I suppose if you create something you like, as dark and painful as the process may have been, you're super happy for a while and it all seems worth it till the next time you're down.
And having moved to Berlin recently from Israel…how is it suiting you? What do you like to do? What is it you like and dislike about it? Well, against everyone's advice I moved to Berlin in December after spending most of my winters either in Israel or in India. I had no idea how much the cold would get to me. So I wrote a lot of new songs but didn't explore the city as much as I'd hoped. I did get to know a few great venues. Schokoladen and Madame Claude are my favorites.
Coming from Israel and living in Germany has some connotations. My parents visited recently and it was the first time for either of them in Germany. Most of my father's family were wiped out during the holocaust and he never planned to visit so when they were here, we did the Jewish tour. That was very interesting and thought provoking.
What I love about Berlin is a sense of freedom. You can smoke a joint under a policeman's nose and it won't seem too peculiar. And in my neighborhood most building walls are graffitied and stay that way; individual expression is leaking out of the walls.
You've travelled extensively and experienced a lot of cultures that are widely different from each other...how do you think this enriches your music?
Experiencing different cultures has helped me understand who I am without the context. Sometimes I wish I had a tradition that I loved and that was mine. In India there were times I wished I was Indian so I could sing these texts and that there would be a similar prayer in my own language that I had a very strong connection to. It's different for instrumentalists, but Western singers, I don't believe Indians take them seriously in the classical music arena. I'm sidetracking. In Orthodox Judaism, women aren't aloud to sing. A woman's voice is like her nakedness and should not be heard in public. This forced me to take a nontraditional approach from the start or just shut up – actually, I could have just performed for women if I wanted to but that's a whole new issue… Travelling also made me appreciate my own culture. In India, I was surprised to find Jewish mystical texts that blew my mind and were no less sparkling than the Hindu-Buddhist doctrines that led me there. As far as artistic expression goes, in general, I think the more ones experienced, the more one has interesting material. But, then again, I love Emily Dickinson and she hardly left her bedroom.
Strange Love Songs
In this half-hour EP, Avital Raz shows why several classical orchestras chose her as singer, though not a shred of Strange Love Songs reflects the Western classicalist tradition overtly, skewing much more satisfyingly to a fusion of folk, Indian (something of a cross between ghazal and slow raga), and Jewish religious music (piyutim). That blend of modes perfectly accommodates her melismatic approach, but fundamental classical training also figures in, as Raz's compositional choices are superb. Despite being spare throughout, not a note is less than perfect and the development of her melody lines deceptive, reflecting an immersion in subtleties that escape most musics.
Raz plays guitar and tanpura but also tracks herself for backing vocals when others aren't sessioned in. Her vocals and compositions make the CD truly intrigue, Weep perhaps being the best exemplar of that. A short track, the song centers a duet of gracefully swooping and intertwining voices (both hers) matrixed in sketched tones minimally but beautifully opening the heavens up to the pain and sadness of the human sphere. In key places throughout the CD, Ofra Avni's bansuri becomes equally crucial, as evanescent, but also as sirenic, as Raz's presence.
This is music as much for existential reflection as for aesthetic contemplation, a disc melding several worlds and many concerns into one. There's a haunting beauty imbuing every measure, drawing the mind along with the senses. The lyrics to Migraine in Katmandu reflect the schism of the apparent and the real, the perceived and the actual, and all the infinite problems arising from dualism. In fact, though the CD only very peripherally touches upon it in a brief reference to old Chinese paintings, there's a strong affinity to ukiyo-e, the Japanese floating world devoted to escaping the pain of phenomena for the grandeur of beauty and art. Such is the human condition, and such is what Strange Love Songs is intimately wrapped around.
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange by Mark S. Tucker
Strange Love Songs
Born in Israel, Of American Parents, Avital Raz has studied at The Rubin Academy Of Music and also lived in India learning classical Indian song (Druphad) with Master Ritwik Sanyal. All these influences can be heard in her debut EP, a shimmering, dream-like collection containing six beautiful, enchanting and utterly compelling songs that demand attention.
There are shades of many of the current crop of female folk artists to be found In opening track “Migraine In Katmandu”, but these are fleeting thoughts, the music defiantly her own, a drifting meditation that is beautifully crafted and arranged, with the floating Bansuri lines, the final flourish. Even gentler is “Weep”, ghostly notes, supporting fragile vocals, the lyrics based on 16th C poetry, the whole piece a breath of wind on a still day. Third track “Migraine In Jerusalem”, seems to relate directly to that experience, a sad lament that is filled with love, trying to banish the pain through song.
Seemingly about the fact that you can’t choose who you fall in love with, the title track is undoubtedly the finest track on the disc. Here, the different cultural strands are bought together into a droning and emotional whole, the song weaving its magic deep inside you, the lyrics perfectly matched by the music, the tension slowly building as the song progresses.
After this intense piece, “In You” is a gentle spiritual love song that barely exists, whilst final track “All Pains” seems to seek nirvana through oblivion, the cessation of all things leaving only the truth.
Avital Raz is following up her subtly excellent Strange Love Songs with this new EP-CD, a disc opening with an unorthodox approach to heterodoxy in Sweeter than Candy, a cut recalling a mellower than usual Annette Peacock or Julie Tippetts, both for presentation and outré lyrics. The sung stanzas, in fact, reveal more of why the evident but evanescent poetry exists so signally in her music. I won't repeat the lines here, they'd consume most of the review, but trust that they combine zen elements with the mortal here-and-now…which is the entire point of zen anyway.
The emphasis of Skin & Feathers is in fact that poetry, and Raz is as sacred as she is profane, achieving the loopy gritty worldliness of Ikkyu by way of Leonard Cohen. Ironically, given the singer's centrality, the backing band is extremely important, with Ofra Avni's flute once more sketching sky and birds into the songs as Itzik Yona's guitars pave the ground with soil, fauna, and pathway undulations cemented by Avi Agababa's percussion. With that fundament, Raz is free to float where whim and wind take her, terrain and taxonomy springing up at each moment. That being the case, Skin & Feathers bookends Love Songs, and I suspect she will prove to be one of those composers whose work is an ongoing continuo, somewhat like Dory Previn (but much better).
Definitely place Avital Raz in with the aforementioned Tippetts, Peacock, and Previn but include Larkin Grimm ( here) as well. At some point, I suspect Ms. Raz is also going to dip at least cursorily into Meredith Monk and Joan LaBarbara territories, Beautiful seems to indicate it. Not to put too strong a gender point on it, but the cerebrally oriented women in the audience, I'm quite sure, will take to this CD in the same way Melanie and Janis Ian much earlier enjoyed younger audiences overjoyed to hear their side of the slate presented in such a powerful combination of thought and emotion.
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