Latest release: All is One (Century Media)
Israeli progressive metal band Orphaned Land is a singular entity in the world of music, an act whose powerful message has allowed them to transcend the political and religious boundaries that divide their homeland and the areas around it. Blending traditional Middle Eastern scales with doom and death metal and combining it with lyrics that talk about hope, peace and unity, Orphaned Land has won fans from places in the world that see most Israelis as a traditional enemy. Some fans even believe that the group’s habit of touring with Palestinian bands is worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Vocalist Kobi Farhi recently spoke to Loud about how his band has been his greatest mentor and how he would change the world.
Greetings Kobi! You are going to be in Australia very very shortly, bringing the Orphaned Land experience here for the first time.
Yes. We’re very excited about coming to Australia for the first time. It’s a long long way to go from the Holy Land to your wonderful land. We are very excited, mainly to meeting the people, talking to the people. You have to understand, coming from the Middle East to Australia, to a land where people are constantly saying ‘No worries’… Coming from Israel to hearing people saying all the time ‘No worries’ is something we really can be inspired from, because we are constantly worried here in the Middle East, about so many things.
It must really be a different world for you, just as it would be for us as well if we were to see your country. You’ve been able to combine different worlds within your music, and I understand you’ve been able to do tours with Palestinian bands. Those worlds come together here in Australia and while we do have problems it is fairly peacefully most of the time, so that in itself must seem very different for you.
We are from the source of the conflict, and the conflict is very strong. We are brainwashed. All sides are brainwashed against each other. I don’t know why, anywhere else, in Europe and Australia, anywhere else, Arabs and Israelis can get along. But here in the Middle East, the conflict is very very strong. But I have grown to see, being with Orphaned Land, I have grown to see that it is just a brainwash. It is very easy for us to have thousands of fans who are Arabs and Palestinians, who are Syrians and Lebanese, Egyptian or Iranian. How can it be that a bunch of Israelis from a metal band are succeeding to do those wonders that politicians fail to do. I don’t know. Any other author or poet, or anyone else, they don’t succeed to do that! How can it be that the metal dudes do that thing? I have learned from Orphaned Land more than I have learned from any rabbi or imam or priest. I have learned that music is, of course, a universal language – everyone knows that – but the power of music to influence people to try other ways, to be influenced to try different ways, is something that I have discovered from Orphaned Land. Orphaned Land is my mentor, more than anyone else. While Israelis and Palestinians have difficulty living in the same landscape or city or neighbourhood, we shared a tour bus with a Palestinian band, and we did it more than once! It’s nothing but easy or natural. According to history, Arabs and Israelis are brothers. They are both descended from Abraham. The brainwash is so strong that we have forgotten we are brothers. And aren’t we supposed to love our brothers? So we are simply breaking that paradigm over and over and over again. It’s a great privilege to be part of it. And I think that every metal fan should know that story and be proud. Metalheads are always proud of their music and the bands they like, and I think that’s what Orphaned Land is doing in the Middle East. It’s a story that every metalhead, even in Australia, should be familiar with, and embrace and be proud. Because we are a metal family and that’s something that we are eager to share with our Australian fans.
When you say that it’s brainwashing, where do you see that coming from? Who do you think is responsible for it? Is it politics, belief? Where does it come from?
Oh man, the brainwashing is everywhere! It’s politicians using the media. It’s our education system. It’s not only a Middle Eastern problem. I guess you know that the first toy a parent buys his kid is toy guns. And that means that we are trained from a very very early stage to use weapons. I have seen more than one five year old kid whacking people on a computer game. They just hold the rifle against the TV screen and whack people… five years old. So it’s a psychological effect, what is done to you when you grow up. Now you have to be a soldier to defend your home. And you are trained from the age of three or five to hold a gun and to whack people. That subconsciously prepares you to be a soldier, to be a fighter, to hold weapons. And that’s also a brainwash! Buying your kid a toy gun is a brainwash. Especially in the Middle East. And having the TV, having the media, having our religious leaders brainwashing them. Us, we, the people, acting like sheep following shepherds. That’s the way the system always programs [us]. To follow our rabbi, to follow our prime minister, to follow our shepherd. And that’s why we are are brainwashed. Arabs have their opinion about Israelis without even meeting one! Because their imams tell them, and the imam is the spokesman of God. How can you go against him, if he tells you the Jew and the Israeli is the son of Satan? He is a mass murderer. He drinks blood. If he tells you that, you believe him! And if our rabbi tells the Israelis that Israel is the Promised Land, it was promised to the Jews, it is ours even though we came here after thousands of years of absence – we believe it! So the brainwash is in many, many aspects. I was raised with the belief that all Arabs want to kill me. I have discovered that thousands of them don’t necessarily want to do that! It’s just a brainwash. Today, I have discovered that I have many Arab friends who would not only not kill me, they would protect me with their own bodies if anyone came to kill me. And vice versa! I am, these days, especially thanks to Orphaned Land, free from that brainwash, and I am free from all that propaganda, free from that religious politics, everything! And I am doing my best to wake up those people from those paradigms they are trapped in. We are touring with Palestinian bands. We are the most famous Israelis among Arabs. You cannot find, in all Israel, take politicians, poets, authors, movie directors… you name it. We are the most popular Israelis among Arabs – the members of Orphaned Land. And we do it with heavy metal music. That’s the greatest story of them all.
You talked about weapons before. It sounds like you’re using the music of Orphaned Land as a weapon for peace, as some way to bring people together.
That’s true. We’re using our music as a powerful tool. In one of our songs, ‘Codeword’, we are saying that we are the terrorists of light. That’s what it is. We are a weapon that brings people together. It’s a weapon that connects people, reminding them of their history. Reminding them not to follow blindly after the newspaper or the leader. They have their own interests. Each and every one of us, we have our own intelligence to judge for ourselves, to check for ourselves. I mean, how can I make an opinion about an Arab without meeting an Arab? So I went and met Arabs. I talked to Arabs. I want to hear their story. I want to hear their tragedy. Because we have a saying in Hebrew [that] the truth has three sides: Your side, my side and the truth. So I want to listen to the other side. I want to learn how they shape their own opinion. And it’s very interesting. Each and every one of us is intelligent. We shouldn’t follow blindly. Newspapers, TV and stuff like that, I am almost completely free of those things. The brainwash and all those really shallow ideas of the newspaper and the TV. I really think that they are destructive and that they are dividing us. I think everything begins with education at the end of the day.
By meeting people, did you find that they weren’t really that different from yourself? That they were the same as you.
They were the same. The same. I don’t have anything else to add. They were completely the same. Jews and Arabs are coming from the same source. We are both descendents from Abraham. And that means we are brothers historically. Even religion admits that. We are so much alike in many ways. Our languages are similar. We look similar. I just don’t get it. These days, where the world is global and we have lots of information and the Internet is bringing the whole world into your laptop or iPhone, one of the pluses of that revolution – there are a lot of minuses – but one of the pluses is that everything is accessible. The Arab Spring could have not started without people seeing other people believing in the word freedom. It’s easy to communicate these days. Music is accessible these days. Back in the day when we started the band, in the 90s, when you wanted to listen to us you had to get your CDs from Europe or something because they wouldn’t sell Orphaned Land or metal in general in Arab countries. Now you’re two clicks away from doing that.
We are the same. I have lived with Palestinians. Not in the same building – we lived together on a tour bus. I can tell you, we are the same. We snore the same way. Our socks, farts, smell the same way and we make coffee the same way. It was one of the greatest things for me, to be the singer of Orphaned Land and do what we do. To share our music with Arabs, to share my ideas and to share their ideas, and to talk to them and have a dialogue. When we aren’t surrounding ourselves with walls and we are sharing our tragedies and our fears and our frustrations, that can really help you to overcome – just to have someone to listen to. Because both sides are so concentrating on being victims and only listening to their side of the story, there’s not really a dialogue between them. I would change the whole education system if I could.
It seems like you’ve already had some kind of impact, just getting people to listen to your side of the story. You must feel that you’ve got through to them to some degree. Do you see any hope? You mentioned the Arab Spring and even though that ultimately failed in lots of ways, do you see any hope that in the future things might change?
Well that’s a very hard question because you know, I have to admit that as the years are passing by, I’m starting to be a little bit bitter. I’ve discovered that about myself in the latest years. I’ve been with Orphaned Land for 23 years now and we’re doing wonders in the Middle East. On a personal level I can say that we’re doing wonders. We’re really creating Utopia every time that we’re with the band on the road, playing songs. It’s a complete Utopia. On the other hand, I’m always asking, Did I really change something? The kids are built to hate each other. Our movement is a movement of dozens, but the Middle East is hundreds and millions of people. So, it’s a small movement. It’s an important movement, but how much did I really change? I’m always asking myself, Am I the warrior of light, to change something? It’s a very hard question. It’s the hardest question of my life. I don’t know. I don’t know, really. I’m not naive to believe that music can change the world, but I definitely believe we can influence people to follow other ways or to think or to show them that they are stories of other ways. I think that in other to change really something, an enormous change should happen in the education system. Delete it all and re-write it from the beginning. Instead of learning useless stuff of history or even literature, I would start teaching people about the sanctity of life, to give them values. I would teach them the value of life is so sacred that, OK, you have a conflict – that doesn’t mean you have to pull the trigger! I will change the system of giving toy guns to children. I will teach them other languages. I will arrange meetings and football games with Jews and Palestinians, for instance. And I will simply teach them that killing is something that cannot accept. Do you know what? Let me be vulgar for a moment. Every person cannot imagine himself having sexual relationship with his mother or sister. The first reaction is like, “Whoa man, what the fuck?” Imagine if that was the reaction if I told you that if you have a disagreement with your enemy, go to war and kill him! Imagine if your reaction was, “Oh man, what the fuck are you talking about? That is something I cannot even bare in my mind!” That’s simply something you can change with education. If you educate children that killing it out of the equation… You have a conflict? Fine! Conflict is a part of life. You have a conflict with your parents, with your room mates, friends, girlfriends… The second lesson that I need to teach children is that you need to listen to each other. It sounds boring, but stop for a moment and hear the other side of the story. Listen to one another. I’m doing it with my Palestinian friends. The only conflict we have is who will pay the bill. We love each other so much that if we are talking about the war in the Holy Land, we are fighting about how much we would give each other: “Take my home!” That would be the fight of two brothers who love each other, and it’s the complete opposite of the way we hate. So I would change the whole education system and teach about life and all those hippie ideas!
It’s amazing that you just didn’t give up many years ago, Kobi. You obviously truly believe in the message you’re trying to spread. You may only be touching a handful of people each time but it’s better than not reaching anyone at all.
Exactly. That’s what people tell me when I’m starting to sound a little bit bitter. “You’ve done wonders with heavy metal. You’re just small people, but you and your bandmates have succeeded to have a movement of dozens of Arab fans, and maybe it didn’t change the world yet, but it’s not nothing.” That’s what they tell me all the time, and I tend to agree. I’m still here and we still have cause to continue to do that.
Orphaned Land is touring Australia with Voyager and Orsome Welles:
20/3: The Factory, Sydney NSW
22/3: Esplanade Hotel, Melbourne VIC
23/3: The Rev, Brisbane QLD