World music is a disingenuous marker for a genre. Besides presuming that popular forms of western (that is, American) music like pop, rock, rap, soul and country-western are something other than of the world, the term “world music” tends to flatten the rich idiosyncrasies and particularities of music coming from all corners of the globe. It makes filing CDs at your local HMV or Virgin Superstore easier. But that’s about it.
But Yemen Blues, the most exciting touring band out of Israel (with apologies, Monotonix), are different. Mixing traditional Yemenite music with soul, blues, and West African rhythms, the group’s claim to the “world music” moniker is well-earned. “The sense of the band, especially in industry circles, is that this band is the hottest thing,” said Eric Stein, artistic director of the Ashkenaz Foundation in Toronto, Canada. So when Stein heard that the band was plotting a North American tour, he scrambled to schedule a Toronto date. (Yemen Blues plays in Toronto on February 26 before dipping south of the border for dates in Chicago on February 27, Los Angeles on March 6, and New York on March 9, among others.) “I’d been hearing rumblings for months that there was this hot new thing coming out of Israel. And my ears always perk up to that kind of thing.”