Ester Rada is at the Imperial on May 2 and McPherson Playhouse on June 19. (photo from Ester Rada)
Ester Rada’s most recent recording, I Wish, was released in March. The EP features Rada’s interpretation of four of her “favorite songs of the great Nina Simone”: “I Wish (I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free),” “Sinnerman,” “Four Women” and “Feeling Good.” Rada takes these classic songs made famous by an iconic singer/songwriter and makes them her own. Chutzpah, in the best sense of the word – which makes it fitting that Rada is being presented in Vancouver by Chutzpah!Plus. She plays the Imperial on May 2.
Rada was born in Kiryat Arba, just outside of Hebron, a year after her parents and older brother immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia as part of Operation Moses in 1984.
“Childhood is an amazing period of time because, as a kid, you see only the good in life, and there is a lot of good growing up in a small town, so life was great,” Rada told the Independent about her younger years. “Only when I look back I realize how strange and unnatural it is to grow up between fences and soldiers and fear from your neighbor.”
Raised in a religious household, Rada was exposed mainly to religious music, as well as Ethiopian, of course. Her mother’s decision to move the family to Netanya when Rada was 10 (her parents had divorced many years earlier) turned out to be pivotal.
“Netanya is a bigger, non-religious city near the sea, no fences and borders,” said Rada. “Drawn to this freedom, I allowed myself to enter the secular world. At the age of 12, MTV and VH1 were the platforms I could get music from, and there I was exposed to Stevie Wonder and Babyface, Boyz II Men, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo; their souls entered mine.”
Rada composes, sings and plays multiple instruments. When asked to highlight some of her musical training and/or performing background, she said, “At the age of 10, I was part of Sheba Choir. At the age of 15, my brother bought me my first guitar and I taught myself how to play. At 18, I was recruited to the army as a singer for two years.”
She has lived in Tel Aviv since the age of 21. “It is the best place in Israel,” she said. “The culture and art, music and beauty, freedom and love are the things that took me there.”
Joining Habima Theatre, Rada’s acting career took off before her singing career. She has performed on stage, on television and in film. While she still works in both arts, she admitted, “It’s getting harder combining the two. Last year, I was still acting in the theatre, but when I started touring I had to quit. I still get offers, but I’m not going to do theatre soon – but I’m shooting a movie this summer.”
While she speaks more than one language, Rada sings mainly in English. Her full-length record, Ester Rada – which includes the four songs on her debut solo recording, the EP Life Happens – features all English songs, with the exception of “Nanu Ney.”
“The music I listen to is mainly in English, the first song I wrote at the age of 13 was in English – also, I want to share my love with the whole world and I feel English is an international language,” she explained.
Her music has been described as a fusion, “gracefully combining Ethio-jazz, urban funk, neo-soul and R&B”; “her own blend of ska, reggae, world music, dance beats and jazz.” But Rada told the Independent, “I don’t like to describe it, as there is no one definition. I’m a mix of a lot of things and so is my music. Also, I’m changing all the time, so I believe that the ‘Ester Rada sound’ will change as well.”
Her look certainly has changed over the years, and one can’t help but remark on her unique, keen sense of fashion.
“I’ve always loved beauty,” she said of her style. “I remember myself as a kid wearing my mom’s shoes, clothes and makeup. I love that by wearing different clothes I can become something else.”
And much of her music celebrates such freedom, encouraging listeners to have the courage to explore, to not be afraid, to experience life and to enjoy it. Rada’s musical adventures tell us that she definitely practises what she preaches.
Ester Rada’s 19+ show at the Imperial, 319 Main St., on May 2 starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $36 (students $25), plus GST and service charge, from chutzpahfestival.com or 604-257-5145. She also is scheduled to perform in Victoria at the McPherson Playhouse (rmts.bc.ca or 1-888-717-6121) on June 19, 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $45/$53.