Miri Ben-Ari Interview
|Label:||Universal motown Records|
|Next Project:||Symphony Of Brotherhood|
|Website:||Miri Ben-Ari's Website|
Israeli-born violinist Miri Ben-Ari came to New York City with an instrument in her hand and lofty dreams in her head. In 2001, Miri’s dreams would begin to come true when former Fugees member Wyclef Jean discovered the musical sensation. Not long after she began to work with A-List artists such as Twista, Janet Jackson and Kanye West, the later with whom she co-produced the successful single Jesus Walks (which also won Miri a Grammy award.)
Since releasing her Universal Motown debut album “The Hip-Hop Violinist,” Miri has spent her time advocating an end to racism and anti-Semitism. Already this year Miri has released the singles “Symphony of Brotherhood,” which samples Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and “Adom Olam Ad Matei,” a duet with Israeli rapper Subliminal that tells the story of the Holocaust in a whole new way.
During an interview with DJBooth.net’s DJ “Z,” Miri talks about the struggle of coming to America and finding work with her violin, which have been her favorite industry collaborators and why more artists need to make a difference using their musical platform.
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Miri Ben-Ari Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on everybody? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big and joining us, inside the DJ Booth right now is an extremely talented musician. All the way from Israel, known to many as the Hip-Hop Violinist, Miri Ben Ari. Shalom!
Miri: Shalom “Z”! How are you doing today?
DJ Booth: I’m great, thanks. You’ve been real busy the past few months. Why don’t you talk a little bit about what you’ve been up to?
Miri: Well, where should I start? At the very beginning of this year I worked on the release of my album “Symphony of Brotherhood,” featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I cannot even believe it’s me, Miri Ben-Ari, featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Just saying that alone—I mean just saying it is like ‘wow’.
DJ Booth: Chills—yes I agree.
Miri: As you know my current album “Miri Ben-Ari: The Hip-Hop Violinist” features so many people like Kanye West, John Legend, and Akon, and this time around, I’m featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is almost inconceivable for me. The greatest thing about this song is that I utilize my strings to be a soundtrack for the greatest speech in the world: “I Have A Dream,” from the march in Washington D.C.. This speech and (Rev.) Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me and in so many ways. It was the greatest opportunity to serve his legacy, and message, with the sound of my strings.
DJ Booth: You know Miri, I had the chance to check out the music video for “Symphony Of Brotherhood,” and it brought back memories to when I was child, and watching that speech [for the first time.] Knowing that you learned violin at such a young age, as a child, I’m sure that you had many dreams and aspirations. Do you feel like at this point, your dreams have come true?
Miri: No, never—my dreams are so big. I am very optimistic about my dreams. My dreams don’t have anything to do with me as a person. My dreams are bigger than me, and involve other people. My first dream is that we will have more of a perfect world. That we’ll find a cure for cancer; a cure for AIDS. That there will be no wars. There will be no racism! I’m from the third generation of Holocaust survivors, so I have an aversion to racism. When you have these dreams, to merge these dreams with music, it’s the highest point for an artist.
DJ Booth: You truly do have a unique opportunity, and you used that opportunity to record the song, “Adom Olam Ad Matei.” Just a few months ago you were relaying to me and others, that you recorded this for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Explain what you went through to record this song, along with Israeli rapper Subliminal?
Miri: “Adom Olam Ad Matei” means “God Almighty, when will it end.” It is a song dedicated to the memory of the Jewish Holocaust and the 6 million dead, and who perished in this horrendous event. Like I said before, being a third generation Holocaust survivor, I went through a little bit of a journey myself. At first, I couldn’t talk about it. The first time I heard my family’s testimony from my grandfather I was 12 years old. They told me what happened when I came home to complete my family tree. That was the only time, they revealed their history, and I guess back then, when I was little, it really traumatized me. I couldn’t talk about my family for years, and that I was a daughter to Holocaust survivors. Then when I came to the states, my new circle of friends were African Americans; Jazz musicians, Hip-Hop and R&B artists, all very dear friends. And they talked about their struggle, and their parents, and their grandparents—and their daily struggle with racism. I was very touched by the way that they shared, and I decided to share too. You know it wasn’t a coincidence that my first song was dedicated to the fight against racism. “Adom Olam Ad Matei” is the first song that is talking about the Jewish Holocaust, so bluntly, and it’s the first Hip-Hop song [with a music video about the Jewish Holocaust,] of its kind—done by me, and Subliminal… my favorite Hip-Hop artist. It came out in Israel and made a lot of noise. I flew to Israel to play the song for Holocaust Memorial Day in Jerusalem. I know we touched a lot of souls, and I know that we connected with the Holocaust survivors whom are still alive, with grandparents and grandchildren, that need that connection.
DJ Booth: Miri, with so much controversy swirling in the United States over the negative image of the Hip-Hop industry, what kind of response in Israel did you expect, considering how groundbreaking it is to relay this message through a medium that hadn’t been heard before?
Miri: Well, Hip-Hop is the pop culture of today’s world, everybody knows about Hip-Hop music. Also, Hip-Hop is the one genre where you can feel free to talk and speak your mind, or have “real talk” as we like to say in Hip-Hop. It’s responsibility. It’s almost our duty to say what is good. In other genres, we have to go around [that] but in Hip-Hop, it’s “direct talk.” Playing the violin, the instrument of the Jewish ghetto, was the best way to explain [this.] This combines exile with rap, and blends the old Jewish melodies. Everybody in the Jewish world, and Israel knows about this, and [it] just ties it all up. Of course, there are some who think you shouldn’t talk about the Jewish Holocaust. But if you don’t talk about it, then how will [people] know? How can you be sure that people will not repeat the same mistakes? In this day and age, there is another genocide war, and history repeats itself.
DJ Booth: I couldn’t agree with you more. In the beginning, when you came over here to the United States, did you have any idea that you would be able to do what you have now done?
Miri: I’m afraid to say yes.
DJ Booth: No, there’s nothing wrong with that answer. Please explain why?
Miri: I’m a dreamer; I’m a visionary. There were many doors that shut in my face when I got here. When I came here, from Israel, I was a classical violinist and I didn’t speak English very well—almost not at all. I didn’t have a family [here.] I didn’t have money, and lived in a Christian home for girls; I had to struggle to do something. Everybody kept telling me “there was no use for the violin.” “You have to play another instrument, its definitely not commercial.” I fought real hard because I had a dream and I believed in my dream. I believed in myself. I believe in talent, and hard work. If ten doors say no, and one says yes, you walk through that door. You don’t need to take the door that says “no” that seriously. That is the story of my life, and I think that if you’re really committed to making a difference, you can in fact make a difference. Speaking of “Symphony of Brotherhood,” it is a song that is only instrumentals. It reached #2 on the Hip-Hop charts, and was the first [video of its kind] accepted by MTV as an instrumental-only music video.
DJ Booth: Tremendous!
Miri: It’s groundbreaking. I don’t believe in people who say “No.” I believe in people who say, “Yes.”
DJ Booth: I couldn’t agree more. For example, I’ve been trying to get you on the phone for about 4 years and I simply wouldn’t accept “No” for an answer. Finally you’re on the phone with me today.
Miri: [laughing]… Haha, that long really?
DJ Booth: Oh yeah, I’ve gone through so many people to get you on the phone. Before this interview is over, I’m going to get your direct contact so I won’t have to go through any of this to get a hold of ya’ again. You mentioned the A-List of artists you’ve worked with such as Kanye West, Janet Jackson, Twista. Who have you’ve worked with in the industry that has best complimented your violin strings?
Miri: What a great question. Nobody has ever asked me that question. Believe it or not, it’s hard to tell. I think my favorite producer, who is actually my brother. My brother and I have created this song, “We Gonna Win.” It is like Hip-Hop meets classical, and no other song really captures the essence of both—and not in a corny way. I introduce my brother, within “Symphony Of Brotherhood.” That is the first song to really reach out to people, you know, the way that songs with vocals [can] reach out. People think I must be talking, and must be saying something in [a] song. So I would have to give it up to my brother, his name is Ohan Ben-Ari. He’s a Pianist. He is the most talented person in the family.
DJ Booth: Don’t be so humble, Miri.
Miri: Ha-ha—I’m his biggest fan.
DJ Booth: Just recently you were featured as a violinist and writer for the film “The Freedom Writers,” which just was released on DVD. What did this project mean to you and what other endeavors will you be involved in throughout the calendar year?
Miri: You know the “Freedom Writers” was such a coincidence, because that was the time when I started putting together my non-profit organization to promote awareness about the Jewish Holocaust. The “Freedom Writers” is telling a story about Hillary Swank, and she’s getting her students together, coming from completely broken families, a lot with no parents or murdered parents. She finds the commonality and the similarities through their experiences and the book “The Diary of Anne Frank.” She takes them to the Museum of Tolerance in L.A., and touches the subject of racism. They needed someone to tie the Hip-Hop sound with the violin. The violin is a very Jewish sound and naturally the director reached out to me and that was the time that I started getting into this campaign, and now this campaign is becoming really, really big.
DJ Booth: Well, I wish you nothing but the best of luck on all of your endeavors and this huge project you have, “Symphony of Brotherhood.”
Miri: “Symphony of Brotherhood” is available at iTunes, and if you would like to find out more about me you can go to www.miribenari.com or you can go to www.myspace.com/MiriBenAri.
DJ Booth: I really enjoyed doing this interview with you. We need more people like you making a difference in this world.
Miri: Thank you very much for your support “Z.”