Miri Ben Ari, the Hip Hop violinist, plays the strings with soul
Miri Ben-Ari was dubbed the the hip hop violinist, after headlining as one of Jay-Z’s featured artist at Hot 97 Summer Jam and playing with Alicia Keys on her popular track “Fallin.” The Israeli born musician was trained by classical master Isaac Stern, eventually moving to New York to learn jazz. Her talent for classical improvisation blended with African- American soul led to collaborations with Wynton Marsalis, Nas, and John Legend. In, 2011 Ari was honored by First Lady Michelle Obama as a “Remarkable Woman and in 2012, she performed at The White House for President Barack Obama.
Ari went on to receive the “Martin Luther King Award” from Israeli President Shimon Peres. Her piece “Symphony of Brotherhood” featuring excerpts from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,’ demonstrates her ability to capture the essence of a movement whether it be the fight for Civil Rights or honoring the six million murdered in The Shoah with her non-profit Gendenk.
Miri Ben- Ari answered a few questions about her music and how she uses her unique sound to raise awareness about discrimination.
How did you come up with the fusion of Jazz, Hip Hop and R&B?
I grew up in Israel playing a classical violin. I fell in love with Jazz music and after I completed my mandatory military service in Israel I moved to NY to pursue my musical dream and study Jazz.
While Classical music gave me the classical music knowledge and technic, Jazz music gave me the ability to improvise and write my own original music. I recorded three Jazz albums, one of them features the great trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Having the “Jazz mentality”, I used to go every night to jam sessions and open mics in NYC and sit in with the band, that’s how I got to practice Jazz and play Hip Hop and R&B music in front of a live audience. Eventually I came up with my own original style, that was not Jazz music but more off a fusion of Hip Hop, Soul and R&B.
Most people view classical music and training as independent from other genres, did people doubt the success of such a new sound?
Of course, people tend to doubt the unknown and the unfamiliar. It took me time to introduce this new style.
In what way is your sound evolving?
I think that over the years I became more soulful with emphasis on the melody. My production in the studio also has gone a long way.
How did it feel to be honored as a Remarkable Woman by Michelle Obama?
A huge honor. I grew up in a small town in Israel and being invited to the White House to perform and receive an award has exceeded my dreams, a life changing experience.
What classical musicians inspire you?
Many of them; Bach, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Prokofiev and many more.
In what way is your music a reflection of Israeli culture?
I was born and raised in Israel and because of that alone I represent the Israeli culture. my music has the Israeli flavor; Middle Eastern melodies and Jewish melodies. I would also say that my classical violin technique is very Jewish.
When working with artists like Wynton Marsalis and Maroon 5 how much input do you have in the final product? Do you compose your parts?
I always do, I compose and produce myself in the studio.
Who was your favorite artist to work with?
All of o them, each one of them influenced me differently, from Kanye West to Armin Van Buren
What was the inspiration behind the Symphony of Brotherhood?
I like to approach my instrument, the violin, as a vehicle to unite and bring people together. I was fascinated by Martin Luther King Jr. legacy and “I have a dream” speech in particular and decided to produce my music as a soundtrack to his words.
Because I am a third generation to Holocaust survivors, it was important for me to promote and create the message of “symphony of brotherhood” and join the fight against racism.
What hip hop artists do you listen to?
Everyone, a blend of old school and what’s on the radio.
What was it like working with Jay-Z?
Jay-Z is very talented and a very nice person. He knows how to put his team together, something to learn from.
As an artists do you feel you have a responsibility to support the efforts of MLK and bring awareness to the Shoah?
Absolutely, my non for profit organization “Gedenk” is dedicated to bring awareness and education to the youth about the Holocaust. Racism is a universal struggle and it is my duty to “never forget”, to share my story and carry the flame of awareness. (www.gedenkmovement.org)
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