Popular Hassidic Singer Adi Ran Speaks

After a singing a couple of lines, Adi Ran steps back from the microphone and just lets the crowd continue the song for him.

Benyamin Bresky and Ezra HaLevi, | updated: 14:19

The crowd would have done so regardless. This particular occurrence at the Dead Sea Music Festival on Passover shows just how popular Adi Ran has become. Ran's charismatic stage performances and appearance on the Ushpizin soundtrack has made his songs some of the most well known in the post-Carlebach Jewish roots music scene.

His newly released double-disc live album has been well received. Unlike his previous three albums, this is Ran alone with acoustic guitar.

"When I play with other players, you must do something orderly," states Ran of his studio albums. "But when I am alone, the mind and the hand and the mouth together do something new every moment. When I do it unplugged, it all the time changes. It's not like in the studio."
Ben Bresky interviews Adi Ran.

It was Ran's dream to recreate his solo gigs on disc. "I just played all the songs many times and just took the good. I didn't do it like other albums where you mix the guitar and bass and drums. I did it all in one take like back in the day. You play, you sing. That's all."

One of the most memorable scenes in the 2004 movie Ushpizin was of the wife mouthing the words to Adi Ran's song Ata Kadosh [You are Holy] as the song plays on the radio in her kitchen. This scene, mixed with clips of Ran playing guitar, comprises the music video that was aired on mainstream Israeli TV, something rare for religious oriented music. Another one of Ran's songs plays during the ending credits of the movie. Although the songs were not made specifically for the movie, Ran feels the connection is good and is proud of the result.

It's hard not to notice Adi Ran's guitar, featured prominently on the covers of his albums. It is plastered with bumper stickers, mostly from the Breslov Hasidic movement. But the 20-year-old guitar didn't always have the same look.

"Before I was a religious man," he said, "I had a big sticker of an I-don't-want-to-say-what on the guitar. It was my symbol. I was the guy with the sticker of the [scantily-clad] girl on the guitar. Now I have done teshuvah [returned to observant Judaism]."

Ran is now an adherent of the Breslov Hasidic movement, founded by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the late 1790's and early 1800's. He frequently sings about the group's beliefs.

Most of his on-stage band mates do not wear kippot [skullcaps]. But none seem to mind his overtly religious message. "It's good rock and roll," he says. "The secular, when they hear it, they like it. In the beginning of my teshuvah, I played in secular clubs. They liked it. The fans and the players. They came many times without getting paid."

One such song that exemplifies his shift from secular to religious is Peyot [sidelocks, a symbol of Hassidic religious Jews], whose lyrics roughly translated read, "I want big peyot, beautiful peyot... It's so fun to be Jewish, it's so fun to be religious." After the song was recorded, a friend pointed out to him how much it evoked a similar song from the early 1970s musical Hair. It's a reference Ran identifies with.

"I take the rock and roll to Hashem [G-d], not to idol-worship. You have good in the bad, and you take the good from the bad. Rock and roll is good, but you have many dirty things inside because the big rockers think they are so good, they think only they are important."

The Peyot song is one of his harder rock numbers which ends in an off-kilter, out-of-tune piano and guitar segment. This is not unusual, as many of Ran's tunes have a musical quirk, be it either his guitar playing, switching to scat singing or belting out a high note in the middle of a chorus.

"The sense of humor is an inseparable part of my songs," he says. "I cannot write a serious song without a little laugh. When it's so serious, then it's not true. We must know that everything is a joke. The world is only visual reality. So with every idea, always, always, always bring in a sense of humor. That's what makes it a complete truth."

That humor is sometimes a surprise for listeners who fall in love with his anthem-like, Beatles-esque ballads, only to later discover his hard rock numbers with his raspy vocals.

Another aspect of Adi Ran's music is his frequent references to Breslov concepts.

"Rabbi Nachman says, 'ain yeoosh baolam klal.' There is no such thing as hopelessness in the world. It's an illusion. The concept of hopelessness doesn't even exist. Everything that happens to a person in the world is for his eternal good. If you walk down the street and get hit in the head, it's the same as if you walk down the street and get a million dollars. It's the sense that G-d knows what He's doing and it's for your own good. You must realize you are nothing, nothing, nothing. Hashem wants you to sing, and He opens the mouth and He sings the song. You are just the pipe. When you know this point, it's not dangerous for you. You are not confused. You do not become crazy with drugs and Jimi Hendrix and blah. Because you know that you are nothing."

But "being nothing" doesn't mean Ran isn't working hard. He is currently working on a new studio album entitled Nekudot Shel Kissufim, or Points of Desire. Its subject matter is, once again, the relationship between man and G-d and music.

Ran: "Every man has a song that must be taken from him. Everyone's got a song that's theirs. Their souls are only able to approach G-d through their specific song. Only songs will give them the openness of the mind [through which] they can see the world. There's less opposition to a song than to a lecture. Music with good words, it can change the mind of the man. To write a song to Hashem, this is my job in the world. I feel it."

To listen to the full interview, click on http://www.israelnationalradio.com/Asx/beat-ben.asx

Benyamin Bresky is the host of The Beat on Israel National Radio and maintains a journal on music in Israel at http://israelbeat.blogspot.com.

(Photos: Ezra HaLevi)