Earlier this week, Viola and I had the pleasure of speaking with Kobi Farhi, the lead singer from Orphaned Land, during the band’s visit to Chicago, IL. Orphaned Land is currently on tour supporting their most recent release, The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR. (To read our review of the album, please click on the following link.)
As Viola and I prepared to interview Kobi, we walked towards the “green” room in the Bottom Lounge. Members of Suidakra, Via Vengence, Indian and A Storm of Light were preparing for the concert later that evening. As we entered this dimly lit room, we shook hands with the other members of Orphaned Land. We were greeted by Kobi, and Viola and I sat down on a couch across from him.
With such a complex musical voice that encompasses many styles, we set out to learn more about the group’s musical beginnings, what inspires them, and what the band hopes to accomplish. For over twenty-five minutes, we spoke about these topics and so much more.
Contrapuntist (Contra): What kind of music was played in your home as a child, and what compelled you to go into music?
Kobi Farhi (KF): My grandfather and my father used to listen to operas, like operas from Puccini, Italian operas, San Remo Italian songs. Both these songs from San Remo and Puccini operas, they are very much exciting with lots of drama is going on. I always had this sensitivity to music. I noticed, since I was very young that I could listen to a song from an opera that I could get goose bumps just by being very excited so much by the music. I grew up in a very musical home where music was playing the whole time.
While I was listening to these songs, I grew up in Jaffa, which is a small city inside Tel Aviv. It is a mixture of Jews, Arabs and Christians. So neighbors were always listening to different things like Arabian music or, I don’t know, any other kind of music. There was always music around and lots of kinds of music. This is probably why I am a multicultural person.
Contra: At what point did you get interested in heavy metal? What was your introduction into this realm?
KF: It happened when I was around 15 years old. I was exposed to an article about Iron Maiden. And I felt like I had discovered a secret world; a very magical, mystic secret world. You know teenagers how they are. I went and bought the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden and I was overwhelmed like I was never before. I was like shocked, like holding my chair, because I thought I was going to fly away just by listening to it. I knew from this moment I was a prisoner of metal music.
[We all laugh]
Contra: Hmm…that is an interesting phrase, “prisoner of metal music.” So once it grabbed you, it just never let go?
KF: Well… first of all – the strength. It is so strong and so powerful. Metal music has this power. Lyrics are always upfront, to your face. No masks whatsoever. Not trying to be friendly to the radio or something like that. It is simply truth to your face, in many ways. This is what I liked about it. As an Israeli teenager living in a very fucked up land, where everybody is fighting all the time about it, and life is never a paradise land with everybody always looking at them. So, I felt like I had discovered something true for the first time in my life and that was very important for me. Cause we are all, in a way, seeking for truth in our lives in all aspects. As a musician, it was the point that I knew I had found my home. I am a music lover in general, but I knew that heavy metal was going to be the canvas I was going to paint on.
Contra: You said that in your early musical youth that your family listened to opera. Is that what led you to gravitate towards vocals and singing?
KF: I was singing with the songs that were playing in my home since I was two years old. My first ever recording is a tape where my grandmother recorded me singing some song. So I started my career when I was three years old.
Viola da Voce (Viola): You gotta dig up that tape!
Contra: That is a bootleg right there.
KF: [laughs] I should sell it on EBay one day. Anyway, having my grandma as my first sound technician, what can be better than that?
Viola: If you don’t mind me asking, where did your family come from? Were they from Europe?
KF: Originally, yeah. My grandparents came from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece. If you go back to grand, grand, grandparents, they came out from Spain. My family name has also little bit of Arabic meaning in it. “Farah” (not sure if spelling is correct) in Arabic means “freedom”. This is the story of the Jewish nation. It is like Judaism unites them all, but they are multicultural; gypsies all around the world. This is why it is so fascinating to live in Israel in many ways, in terms of colors and cultures and mentalities. There are so many. Just in the band, ask everyone in the band where his grandparents came from, it is always a different place. It could be Iraq. It could Bulgaria. It could be Russia. And here we are; Judaism unites us. And still, it is a multicultural thing. It is always interesting.
Viola: You mentioned you listened to a lot of opera. Do you have a favorite aria?
KF: I like “E lucevan le stele” from Tosca [by Puccini].
Viola: [Gestures with hand giving “metal horns”] Tosca, metal for opera…
KF: I think metal has a lot to do with opera in many ways, in terms of power. I like arias from La Boheme, but what are their names? I can’t remember. My favorite aria of all time is not from Puccini, actually. It comes from the opera called I Pagliacci, but I don’t remember the name?
[We all try to think about the name of the aria, and no one can think of it]
KF: There is this part in I Pagliacci where I could really burst into tears, but what is the name? I’m sorry, I don’t remember. It is Italian. [We all laugh some more]
After doing some research, Viola and I think Kobi was referring to the aria, “Vesti la giubba”. This is the most famous aria in I Pagliacci, so it is our best assumption.
Viola: Did you have any other influential classical music, other than opera? Or, was it just opera?
KF: Yeah, yeah. I would say that life in general is so much influencing in terms of our creation of music. If you listen to our music it so diverse and ambitious that it is just a worldwide trip. If you were to go through my CD collection you would find even Pakistanian music, Indian music, Arabic music, Western music, rock music; simply everything. I am with the attitude that if it is right, it doesn’t matter what it is. I love it. I’ll grab it because I think it is fascinating to know different forms of music. Same as it fascinating to taste different kinds of food, I don’t know, like Indian food for a foreigner, or to learn about cultures, the same for the music. It is always fascinating to hear the sounds from the different cultures. So if it is right, I am in to it, always.
Viola: You said that your most influential rock album was the Seventh Son of the Seventh Son, what would you say is the Middle Eastern album or artist that influenced you the most?
KF: uuumm… hard question…
Viola: We don’t know that much about that type of music. Is there a good artist or album that is a good bridge for us?
KF: There is an Israeli singer who died, he was also junkie. But he was like the wall breaker of oriental music in Israel. His name was Zohar Argov. He was like a wall breaker and he was really a revolutionary
[We asked Kobi to write down the name of artists he was talking about and he was kind enough to do so.]
Ok, so Zohar Argov was Israeli. Om Kolthoum, she was an Egyptian singer and she is the voice of the whole Arab world. She is the mother of all divas of Arab singers. Her voice, her character, she is the first woman of the Arab world and everybody admires her music. She really hated Israel and Jews, but if I put that aside, the music itself is winning over her political opinions, for me.
Contra: It is interesting that it was a woman. Considering the culture and the land that you think a woman would best represent that region?
KF: I tell you what, she was Egyptian. And Egypt is like the front land for the Arab world. They are the most, so called, educated, not so religious, in particular. Like not really extremely religious. They are Muslims, it is not a democracy. You know, they have their own cinemas. The Egyptian language is one of the richest Arab languages. They have the litrical(?) language of the Arab nation. They are really like the flag nation for the Arab world, in many ways. So, Om Kolthoum was like some kind of singer who would sing to the whole Arab world. You she said one time, that if Egypt would win Israel in the war that she would sing for six days in a row. I don’t know if it was fortunate or unfortunate that Egypt didn’t win the war, in terms of music.
Contra: Through music, Orphaned Land has managed to bring both Jews and Muslims together. When you travel outside of the Middle East, how different is the audience response to your message?
KF: It is always great because Orphaned Land is always something different. Everybody is really used to American bands and European bands. And they are familiar with what is going on and Orphaned Land is simply different in visual terms or in musical way of speaking. So, they cannot ignore it. They may like it, they may hate it. But they simply attach to the fact that it is something different, which makes their curiosity stronger. We always find people that are very much interested; to speak with us, to communicate, to search or learn about the band. This is a good angle for us because it is a good starting point for us. Reaction is always good. Some people are always there for the music. They don’t really care about uniting Jews and Muslims; it doesn’t have anything to do with me, which is OK. The music is there. And it is pretty ambitious the way it is as music, you know. Not everyone really needs to go to the bottom of things to the whole subject of the concept and the angles and stuff. And that is OK. But it is always good, some people like us for either the message; some people like the message and not the music. Some are going for both.
Viola: What do you think it is about metal music that brings people together? Just in general, not just your music, but metal music in general seems to bring people together. I was just wondering what you thought?
KF: I think metal people really live by all means. The meaning of the word metal, they really live it throughout their whole lives. Whether it is the posters in their rooms, they way they dress, their accessories, you can identify a metalhead on the street much easier than you can identify a classical music or jazz lover. They take it until the end. Like, it is going to be everywhere; tattoos, everything attached, it is going to be there. I think metal is about devotion to the whole thing, much more than the other music styles in a way that you are actually living it and breathing it in your daily life. This is probably what makes metal into a global village that metal is the main subject and not some color or stuff like that.
That is my answer, I think. And I was just thinking out loud by the way.
Viola: Yeah, that is awesome. Actually, we were debating the other day because Contrapuntist was saying that metal music is so aggressive that you figure it would make people angry and want to fight each other. And I said, I wouldn’t call it angry, I’d call it powerful. We were just trying to figure it out.
KF: Some people say, instead of taking out your aggression on kid’s friend or the environment, you take it out through your art and that way you cleanse your soul. I mean, Cannibal Corpse are not going out slaughtering children, they are just singing about it. There are many ways to look at it.
Contra: The last two Orphaned Land albums were written around a story line. I read your recent album, The Never Ending Way of the ORwarriOR, took five years to complete. Could you provide some details into the band’s writing process? And what was it that took so long to produce ORwarriOR?
KF: It always takes us a long [time] because we deal with subjects and we have never been songwriters; we are more kinds of storytellers. When it comes to creating music, we never write a song, we always write a theme and a story we want to tell. We divide this story into chronological chapters of like where it begins, how it continues and where it ends. We never write a song, we always write riffs. We have this bank of guitar riffs. It could be acoustic guitars, other instruments, like saz, bouzouki or stuff like that. It could be violin or electric guitar. We have them recorded as a bank of riffs. And then we start to build the whole story like a puzzle, so we take the chronology of the story and we see that you have here the birth, and you have here the wrath of God, or some really sad song related to, I don’t know, just a sad song. We take a sad and a very angry melody to the wrath of God, and we start to put it [together] like a puzzle. If you were listening to the Orphaned Land songs, it always starts with a riff, goes to another riff, then to another one, to another one and another one. Goes to a solo, and then ends up in some Middle Eastern celebration going back to a melodic part and then it ends. This is the way we put it, we put these pieces of music together like a puzzle. And in the end, you get the picture. It really is writing in a puzzle formula and don’t know many band that work like that. Before I even start with the lyrics, the music itself should tell you a story. If you listen to our albums instrumentally, it should tell you the story just the way it is without any words. If you check our albums and the themes of the songs, you can try and listen just to the music. The music should tell you a story and then we do the lyrics at the end.
This whole process really takes time. It is like being an archeologist. It is not really writing a song about your girlfriend or life, which is great, but that is not who we are. It is always digging and thinking maybe we should put that here, no we should put that here. It is like a big salad. Sometimes it is a nightmare. But when you get it and you are done at the end of the day, you know always that it is unique and very ambitious, and diverse and complex and there is so much information. You can listen to it 150 times and still discover layers that you had discovered from the last time.
Viola: If you could work with any artist or musician – living or dead – who would it be?
KF: Hard question. First of all, my all time favorite mentor and beloved poet is Leonard Cohen. I really like his lyrics and his voice. Having his voice on one of our albums is like one of my wet dreams.
[We all laugh]
Honestly speaking, I would love to work with every musician who really makes good music that could contribute to what we do; anyone, from any culture. That is what we always do. Our albums are always with guests; musicians from all kinds. So I would work with anyone who is fascinating, setting aside some of my personal idols that I would like to work with.
Contra: So what are some of those personal idols that you would love to work with?
KF: Well, we have Steve Wilson from Porcupine Tree who is on our most recent album.
Contra: We were going to ask you about that. What was it like working with Steve Wilson?
KF: Well, we are fans. The fact that he was in love with our music is such a compliment, because we are fans of Steven. To know that he was fascinated with our music is probably one of the greatest compliments out there because he is one of the most talented musicians of today. It was amazing to work with him. It was amazing for me to see that when it comes to work that it was the moment that I stopped being his fan and became the guy that worked with him. I am a fan, but when it comes to Orphaned Land I am not a fan of no one. The work has to be done. There were moments when I was not that happy, for example, so we had to work on it. It was fascinating, that was the process. You can’t just get it on a silver plate the greatest result in the world; it always has to be a process. His ideas, his mixing ideas, the keyboards he played on the album, it was simply brilliant. To a diverse music such as ours, you need someone who knows how to mix it properly. Steven is the right guy because he is not only a technician, he is also musician. This added value for our complex music is such an essence that Steven really did such a great job. He helped the latest album to become our best album yet to date.
Viola: What does your family think of your idea of trying to unite people of different religions? Do they support that?
KF: They are very proud, very proud of me. They still complain that I don’t make enough money and that I won’t be able to provide to a family once I have it. But still they are very proud. They see these amazing stories of fans and Arab fans and what is going on.
Contra: Is there anything else that we haven’t discussed that you’d like people to know about Orphaned Land?
KF: I would really like for people to believe in themselves. I really believe in humankind despite all our actions along history. I would really like people not to follow blindly after commercials or the media or leaders that are just manipulating them. I think that people are strong enough to stand on their own and to know who they are and to accomplish their existence, here, the way they want to do it. Because life is such a precious experience, and I am sometimes sad to see people just following society definitions because that is the only thing they know and they are afraid to follow their hearts. So I would really like to say to people to know, from my own personal experience, that I have followed my heart since I was fifteen years old, since I discovered metal music. I could be in the high tech industry. I could work, I could go and make money, but I gave it all up to follow my heart. It is a sacrifice, but it is also one of the greatest gifts I could ever want in life because I feel that I squeezed lifelike a lemon. If I died today, I feel like I succeeded to accomplish something. I am sad to hear that sometimes reach to age of, I don’t know, just being old, feeling that they didn’t fulfill it or they missed it on the way. So I want to say to people that it is just right there, on the table, go and take it. And if you follow your heart and society or life or even your way, it is full of traps and pains, it doesn’t matter. Just do it, because it’s worth it. If you follow something, and you just get slaps on the way, it means you are on the right way. I mean the guy climbing the Everest suffering so much, but in the end he is reaching the Everest on the top, it makes the whole hard way sweeter in the end. That’ll be my own personal advice. It won’t get you rich, but it will make you happy.
Viola: Where do you see Orphaned Land ten years from now?
KF: There is this utopia of a worldwide peace and we changed the name of the band from Orphaned Land to, I don’t know, a Promised Land or Party Land or something like that, and we are playing these party songs all day long. Maybe it is wishful thinking.
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