Interview: Orphaned Land
Timing is everything. I interviewed Orphaned Land singer Kobi Farhi ten and a half months ago. We were both tired, and he repeated some answers he'd given in other interviews. So I shelved the interview for a while. Now on Christmas day, it seems more relevant than ever. (My interviews with Watain and Nile may provide interesting comparisons.) I'm not a huge fan of Orphaned Land's newest album, The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR, partly because it's indeed never ending. But Farhi's answers aren't as simplistic as one might expect from someone who likes to dress up as Jesus onstage. He's digging at some powerful concepts here.
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How is Orphaned Land perceived in Israel?
We're very big in Israel, in terms of the heavy metal scene. We're kind of the flag[ship] band for Israel - but not only. We're even the flag[ship] band for Middle Eastern countries. Orphaned Land, in a way, represents the whole Middle East culture in music. So we're received very nicely and being followed by Arabian metalheads, despite the fact that we're Israelis, which is really bizarre. Just imagine the fans of the Lakers cheering for the Celtics.
What was the motivation behind ORwarriOR?
We chose to make a concept album about the Warrior of Light because we come from a very tragic region. Seeing all the things that are happening in our region - this blindness, this darkness, this chaotic blood magic circle that goes on - and the fact that leaders are changing, yet the situation of our region stays the same - all these things led us to a conclusion, an allegory that the darkness is a place where you cannot see anything. And the light is some kind of platform that gives you more information that allows you to see more of what there is actually going on. This is why we used the concept of the Warrior of Light, because we try to enlighten the inner light of each and every one of the human beings in the Middle East.
But not only - if you go and ask people in general if they're happy with their lives, I think the majority of the world's people would tell you that they're unhappy. Everyone has his own reasons. It's always disappointment from your governments, from your priests, from your parents, from your girlfriend, you name it. We believe this is an outcome of the very big darkness that is going on on a spiritual level in our world. If we are able to enlighten our inner light, then we are able to see more. We are able to see where we are wrong, or we are able to see, at the end of the day, that our enemies are similar to us.
This is what we're trying to do. We're trying to do it only with music. We're not politicians. We don't think that we are going to change the world or anything. But we definitely want to give people a tool of trying to think in a different way. On a musical level, we reach these goals because combine all these languages, all these elements, cultures, motifs, instruments. We combine them together, and the result is very rich. You can like it. You can hate it. But you cannot argue that it is not very rich. We are trying to say to people, if you are able to live your life the way we play our music, you will have a rich life.
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So much of metal is aligned with darkness. What do you think of things like the Left-Hand Path?
Well, first of all, I must tell you that I am a follower of the light, by all means. It doesn't mean that I am religious or a missionary or something like that. I love darkness, same as I love the light. I think that they're both fascinating. The depths that you can find in the world of darkness are amazing. But what I love is that the light offers some kind of information, while the darkness always keeps you with a question mark.
If I put you in a very dark room, and you don't know this room, and you cannot see anything, you start with questions because you are in the dark. Where's the door? Where's the switch to turn on the light? You just don't see anything, so you ask yourself all these questions. And if I put a match in your hand, just a small match with a small flame, and you're able to light it, the amount of information you can get all around the room, just with the light of the match - it's simply amazing. You can see the door, you can see the way out, you can see the floor so that you will not fall. And you get so many answers coming from such a small match in your hand. So imagine what would happen if your inner light is turning on, and not in a matter of a match, but in full. You are able to see so many things in yourself, in your spirit, in the people in front of you, even in your enemies.
That's the game between light and darkness, and Orphaned Land likes to play this game. We call it the tango between God and Satan. On the one hand, we play very extreme music. We are not a new-age band. We are not a white metal band. We are a metal band. We also use black metal motifs. But we use them together with light and darkness combined in some kind of synergy.
This concept of the Warrior of Light resembles some formulations of Satanism that I've seen, especially regarding the power of the individual.
It also reminds me of Nietzsche, in a way.
Am I wrong in this?
Well, no, because I think that some of this individualism is very much important. We rely all our lives on our priests, on the belief that there is some kind of messiah that is coming to bring us salvation, while the people who can do that are actually ourselves. The inner powers, the inner strength that we have is so huge that we don't need to rely on anyone else. We can definitely create our own reality. We can shape our own reality the way we want it by being aware of our inner powers. [But] at the end of the day, we're saying that everything is connected to One. We think that everything is united into a One. Everything belongs to One.
This idea of the connection of beings is Buddhist, in a way.
I think so, yeah - the way they connect with nature and with the animals and with each other. This knowledge and being aware of your environment and how you are connected with it - you're just another different form of the whole One. This is very much Buddhism. You're definitely right. It very much reminds me of motifs of the Kabbalah and Buddhism and all these groups of great spirits.
In "Imagine", John Lennon said, "Imagine there's no heaven...no hell below us". If he were right, would the world be better off?
I don't know. To tell you the truth, I think the problem of the world is our inner darkness, more than God, Satan, heaven, hell, or religion. We are the ones failing to understand and translate religion into what it's supposed to be. It's our personal savior. There are always these great ideas, and we are always failing to translate them into our daily lives. At its basis, religion is just about morality, tolerance, compassion - all these beautiful things. And the fact that we use religion with politics, the fact that we can kill people in the name of God, the fact that there were crusades in the past or jihad in the present or Jews who think they are the chosen ones - all these things are really misinterpretations of what religion is actually about. This is the problem that we have because our inner light is completely ruined and we are completely blind.
How does one cultivate the inner light, and how did you do it? Did you have a conversion type of experience?
I did it just by following my heart. There are many voices that are speaking within ourselves, and if you know how to listen to your heart, it will definitely lead you to fulfill your true existence, to fulfill who you really are in your best way.
We came here to experience a journey. We came here to learn. We came here to make ourselves stronger and richer and more enlightened. I don't believe that we came here to the world just to make generic things or to follow society's definitions and rules. I followed my heart - even if it says that I disobey society's rules or definitions sometimes, and if I'm some kind of a weirdo or an outsider in many ways.
I would say that for people who wish to enlighten their inner light, it starts from a point where people have to believe that everything is in their hands. If your girlfriend cheated on you, you cannot blame her. You should blame yourself, because you were the one choosing to be her boyfriend. You were the one thinking that she is someone other than what she actually is. These are all our choices. Everything we create is the things that we choose. And if people would be aware of the fact of their inner power and what they are capable of creating, this is a great starting point for them to shape their lives like white canvases, and they are the painters.
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To explore Orphaned Land's non-metal roots, whom should one listen to?
You could listen to the Arab female singer Umm Kulthum. The meaning of it in Arabic is "the mother of all mouths". She's such a huge singer in the Arab world that that's the way they used to call her. I would say that you should listen to Omar Faruk, who is a Turkish artist, but he performs a lot in the USA. You could also listen to the Western band who combined these elements, called Dead Can Dance. Dead Can Dance is one of my main influences.
When working with Western and Middle Eastern music, do you ever feel a tension between the two?
Well, I like music of all kinds. My band is definitely a fusion between East and West in many ways. That's what I like. I simply adore every culture. It's fascinating to see why they play or eat or dress the way they do. I always find it fascinating, and I always find it very great to make a salad with all of that. Western music is great to my point of view, and there is magic that you can find there that don't exist in Middle Eastern music. If it's right, it doesn't matter where it comes from.
Orphaned Land covered a Turkish song called "Estarabim." What was the story behind that?
In a surprising way, the two countries that Orphaned Land is most famous in are Israel, which is a Jewish country, and Turkey, which is a Muslim country. When we come to play in Turkey, the place freaks out. It's always packed, and the fans are always crazy. We always make the gesture of performing a song in Turkish.
Turkey has its own so-called John Lennon. They call him "The father of Turkish rock", and his name is Erkin Koray. In the '60s and '70s, when Turkey was very much conservative and rock 'n' roll music was not even known in Turkey, he was the first revolutionary who had long hair. He was hassled a lot of times by people because of that. He was even stabbed a few times because of it. With the crossover that he made between Turkish music and rock music, he is actually our musical father in this aspect.
In 2004 when we came to Turkey, we asked a local promoter to provide us with a Turkish song to cover. We asked for a song that everyone would like. And he sent us the original song [of "Estarabim"]. Ever since then, we've played it every time we've come to Turkey, and every time the place goes nuts when we're playing it. So we decided to record it. I actually wrote [Koray] and he wrote me back. I went to Turkey to record him, so he is actually performing with us in this re-recorded version of his song.
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Erkin Koray - "Estarabim"
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Orphaned Land - "Estarabim"
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Erkin Koray recording with Orphaned Land
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Judging from discussions of Orphaned Land online, it seems that the band's fans and Middle Easterners in general are more concerned with lyrics than Westerners. Here, people will listen to entire death metal albums and not know a single word. Do you think lyrics are more important in your part of the world than in mine?
It's a very hard question. On the one hand, I must disagree with you, because some of the metal bands that I know have great topics that they deal with. Metal bands always have deeper lyrics than pop songs about girlfriends and stuff like that. Bands like Napalm Death and Kreator sing about society and have lots of criticism about what's going on, the environment, and stuff like that.
But being in Orphaned Land is definitely some kind of responsibility, because we never speak in our lyrics about personal subjects. I never speak about myself or about our lives or our girlfriends or stuff like that. [The focus] is always the macro-picture of the Middle East. It is always about everything that is going on here. And having fans from sides that are considered to be enemies, like Arabs and Jews, we feel a responsibility. We became a band that is some kind of ambassador for all Middle Eastern metallers.
Our reality forced us to live in a situation where our lyrics are a very deep angle, along with our music, which is very deep. Everything related to us is always very deep. Take the artwork of the new album. It's not just photos or Photoshopped work. This is a complete work of art combining Hebrew and Arabic words together in calligraphy. It was made by an Arab, a Jordanian guy. Being an Israeli in the Middle East, and having all these wars over here and what's going on, from Iraq to Israel to the Occupied Territories - this is a very hard situation that goes on here. There is a blood circle that goes on here, so, yeah, lyrics must be very deep, and it's definitely more important to sing about [larger issues] than my personal life.
Is it hard to move between your personal life and your role as a musical ambassador in the Middle East?
The person that I am with the band is definitely sometimes a completely different character than what I am in my personal life. I could be in my personal life very humble or even shy. When I am onstage, I am completely the opposite. Knowing that a lot of people who are Arabs or Jews are waiting for our music - knowing that they need it as some kind of food to their hearts and souls - this is a huge feeling of responsibility. We have fans in Egypt who were thrown in jail because of listening to our music. So I keep asking myself a lot of times if I'm doing the right thing. But I know that in order to break the chains of [the situation] between all the nations here in the Middle East, we need to break some rules, and we need to do something different, and I must really listen to my heart.
Yeah, it's scary. It's very scary because our fans - it's not like they just love our music. They are simply devoted to everything that we represent, in terms of ideas, in terms of lyrics or messages. This is a huge responsibility. The fact that we succeeded in being an Israeli band that has Arab fans is great proof for me that we are doing the right thing, because Arabs are being educated from the age of zero to hate Israelis in many countries. They are educated from a very young age that we're the devil. And if these people are following my band, making tattoos of our logo, reading our lyics, sending me emails, and crying while listening to our songs, then I know that we definitely started a small movement. This movement is really some kind of hope for this tragic region.
So sometimes even my personal life, I have to give it away to dedicate myself to that. I can tell you that in the latest year, since we started the recording until this very moment, I barely had a personal life. I was simply working and working and working. I sometimes went to the studio for 20 hours a day. Making a lot of interviews and promoting the album - I simply dedicate myself to the ideas and message of the band because I believe this is my most important contribution to this region. If I have kids in the future, I want them to be proud that I tried and even succeeded to make something.
You constantly talk about the dynamic between Arab and Jew, and Christian and Muslim. That is less pronounced in America than in the Middle East. Will the band's goals be different when you tour here?
No, I think that we should be who we are. Everyone knows what's going on in the Middle East, and everyone knows the Arab/Israeli conflict. The USA has its own angle with Islam, you know, since 9/11, and what's going on with Iraq and Afghanistan. So you have your own points of view and conflicts. But at the end of the day, it's the same pasta, it's just another package. I think that Americans could find themselves attached to what we represent.
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