DURING a 23-year career as one of Israel’s most successful music exports, Orphaned Land has toured the world, defined a new sub-genre known as “oriental metal”, picked up a legion of adoring Arab fans and even been awarded a peace prize by the Turkish government – at a time when it had no formal relations with Israel.
Now, the band is on its way to Australia to treat audiences in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to their unique blend of heavy metal, religious melodies, Middle Eastern and folk music. And vocalist and co-founder Kobi Farhi tells The AJN he hopes it won’t just be heavy metal fans at the shows.
“I invite all the people in the Jewish community in Australia to come and check it out, come and meet us, we want you there,” he says.
“Many times in Israel people who are not really metal fans are coming to our show. We have a lot of Jewish chants in our music, it’s like a big synagogue of rock’n’roll … I think it’s a concert for everyone.”
Farhi says that songs from Orphaned Land’s 2013 album All Is One will feature prominently in the show.
“The reaction [to All Is One] has been amazing,” he says. “The message of the band, that is something that people – especially metal people – really embrace, and I feel that that album really took us to a new level.
“New countries are opening for us now to play shows … and that’s definitely because of the success of that album.”
Orphaned Land’s message of peace and unity has won it fans all over the Arab world in countries hostile to Israel.
“I think music is one of the best healers that the world has these days … music can enter your heart, like a bullet before you are thinking,” says Farhi.
“I definitely know that music is a cure. I definitely know that music can inspire and show another way. We’ve toured with Palestinian bands; we have a huge contingent of Muslim fans. People are stopping me constantly on the streets in Israel and telling me: ‘I’m not a fan of heavy metal, but I’m proud of what you’re doing; you’re doing a great service to the Jewish nation.’”
Farhi is quick to point out, however, that Orphaned Land is not a political band.
“We never expressed any political opinion whatsoever; you can never find [in] any newspaper or interview if we are right wing or left wing, we never speak about it,” he says.
“We really think that music is above politics, it’s a universal language. I’m not naive to say that music can change the world, because the world is not run by musicians, the world is run by politicians.
“But if I’ve succeeded to do more with my heavy metal band … I got four peace awards; I have dozens of Arab fans who greet me for Rosh Hashanah or for Pesach, I have those people who are calling me brother … If I succeed to do that, I ask myself again and again: How does it take years for our leaders to just bring themselves to the table?
“So we can definitely show a way. We can inspire. I don’t think we can change the world, but we can just inspire people to see that there is another way than the way politicians and the media are always showing.”
Farhi says the European tour that Orphaned Land undertook last year with Palestinian band Khalas was amazing.
“Just imagine that while Jews and Arabs are fighting for a piece of land, the Holy Land, having trouble to live together in the same city, we were living together in a tour bus,” he says.
Fortunately, Farhi says the band hasn’t encountered any anti-Israel sentiment while touring the world; although he recalls one instance when a swastika was painted on their tour bus.
“Some of my band members got very frustrated because of it, but I told them a simple thing: You cannot let one idiot destroy the fact that the club is going to be full tonight of people who think the complete opposite, and [who] came here and bought tickets to sing with us,” he explains.
“There’s always brainwashed people, there are always narrow-minded people … We should concentrate on the fact that we need to bring people together.”
The band has been doing just that for more than 20 years now, a fact not lost on Farhi.
“I sometimes cannot really understand, that the majority of my life I am with Orphaned Land. That is a huge part of my life,” he says.
“Orphaned Land for us is everything. You know my rabbi told me once: ‘The day you will love a woman the way you love your band you will get married the next day.’”
While the band is in Australia, fans in Melbourne will get an extra treat – a special acoustic show at Deakin University on Friday, March 21 at 12.30pm, followed by a Q&A session. The free show has been organised in collaboration with the Israeli Embassy in Canberra and the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS).
Farhi says Orphaned Land is excited about the Australian tour.
“Everybody knows that Australians are saying ‘no worries’ all the time. So coming from Israel, where people are worried constantly about many things, that’s really inspiring,” he said.
“The fact that people in Australia know my band, buy tickets and come to see our shows – that’s not something I take for granted. Come and see us, come and meet us – you will not regret it.”
Orphaned Land performs in Sydney on Thursday, March 20 at The Factory Theatre, 105 Victoria Road, Marrickville at 7pm; in Melbourne on Saturday, March 22 at Gershwin Room, The Espy, 11 The Esplanade, St Kilda at 8pm; in Brisbane on Sunday, March 23 at The Rev, 25 Warner Street, Fortitude Valley at 7.30pm. All bookings: www.wildthingpresents.com.
REPORT by Gareth Narunsky
PHOTO: Orphaned Land singer and co-founder Kobi Farhi (centre) with band members.