Miri Ben-Ari: Strings Attached

She went from recording “Overnight Celebrity” to becoming an overnight celebrity, but don’t call Miri Ben-Ari a one-hit wonder. This Israeli-born artist is out to prove that a violin-toting virtuoso can be more than a novelty in the world of Hip-Hop. Although she came with Bach-inspired fire on Twista’s “Overnight Celebrity”, the hit song was only the first opus for the one they call “The Hip-Hop Violinist”.

Her album, aptly entitled The Hip Hop Violinist, is full of cameos from industry heavyweights like Kanye West, Scarface, and Anthony Hamilton. She also just shot a music video for her single, “We Gonna Win”, featuring Styles P. And just for good measure, she recently inked a deal with Reebok to represent the Rbk “I Am What I Am” advertising campaign. It might seem like Miri’s success did indeed happen overnight, but her story begins nearly five years ago.

Back in 2001, Wyclef Jean was at one of Miri’s performances – and that night, something sparked. It took Wyclef’s mindful ear to notice that this talented violinist could offer a fresh perspective in a world in need of innovation. Wyclef couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pair Ben-Ari up with Hip-Hop’s elite. After a groundbreaking performance at the 2001 Summer Jam set with Jay-Z, Hov had no choice but to invite her to perform at his Showtime concert in 2003. Things haven’t been the same since.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives found some time in Ben-Ari’s hectic schedule to chop it up about her humble musical beginnings and how quickly things can seemingly change…overnight.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Congratulations on the new album, Miri. It sounds like you’ve been busier than ever.

Miri Ben-Ari: Real busy. As you know, I just dropped the album. It’s my moment right now. I’m busy promoting the album and we’re getting ready to drop the video. Styles P is in the video and [Reebok] was involved with that. I’m working a lot with Rbk right now. They chose me as the new face for the “I Am What I Am” [ad] campaign. It’s a special relationship because this is the first time a company like that has shot a video for an artist. It’s really an honor, but it’s also a lot of responsibility.

AHHA: So how did the deal with Rbk come about? Why did they approach you?

Miri Ben-Ari: Like every other event in my life, I was just at the right place at the right time. They saw me at the [NBA] All-Star Game. After they saw me perform, they approached me about working with them.

AHHA: I’m sure after hearing you perform, a lot of people probably look at the violin much differently now, especially as far as Hip-Hop is concerned. Do you come across Hip-Hop heads who express some interest in taking up the instrument?

Miri Ben-Ari: Are you kidding? Every kid I come across now wants a violin. They say they want to be a Hip-Hop violinist. For kids today, it’s become cool again. I’m proud that I can play a part in that.

AHHA: On the flip side of that, I’ve read some comments on the internet from people who say that you might not be taking full potential of your skill by doing Hip-Hop. They say that playing the violin in this very unorthodox manner goes against all the classical training you’ve had. What do you say to this?

Miri Ben-Ari: This is something every artist goes through; determining which direction they take their music. This is my musical choice. I’ve taken this instrument from the background and have put it up front as a solo instrument. When you listen to the album, you will have no doubt that this is a mainstream Hip-Hop album and you will have no doubt that this is my album. When it comes to musical instruments, it’s one thing to have the concept, but it’s another thing to actually execute. As far as the traditional players, they can’t say sh*t about me. Once they see what I’m capable of, they’re like she can play. I just chose to do it differently.

After playing Classical, I went with Jazz. The sickest name in Jazz, Wynton Marsalis, worked with me on my second album. He basically said, “Yo, that b*tch can play!” [laughter] I never need to prove myself to the Jazz world. I’m not doing Hip-Hop because I couldn’t make a career in Jazz. I had a career in Jazz. I had a great career in Jazz! But now, I’m doing what I want to do.

AHHA: How long have you been a Hip-Hop head? Who were you listening to when you fell in love with the culture?

Miri Ben-Ari: My Hip-Hop experience is not as long as my musical instrument experience. I’ve been playing music all my life. If I had listened to Hip Hop since I was like six-years-old or something, I’d have been a Hip-Hop head most of my life. But my parents didn’t introduce me to anything except Classical music. I really didn’t have the opportunity to check out the music that I love today, which is music of the soul.

AHHA: What do you think about the Hip-Hop landscape at the moment? Who do you think is hot right now?

Miri Ben-Ari: I’m very happy with what’s going on right now with the movement of Kanye West…and John Legend. John is a real musician. John can play the keys. It’s not a gimmick. There are other singers like Anthony Hamilton, who are really talented and can really sing. I like Bobby Valentino. He can sing. These guys are real.

AHHA: So what are your thoughts regarding sampling versus live instrumentation?

Miri Ben-Ari: I’m all for production. Don’t get me wrong. I play a live instrument. It’s what I do. To me, I think sampling can be great, especially after working with Kanye. Kanye doesn’t play instruments, but he is so musical! The way he samples…he has an ear. He has a natural ear. It’s amazing how he uses samples. Using a sample doesn’t mean you cannot play. I use samples on my own album…hell yeah. Samples make a track hot in a way that only samples can do that.

There are so many ways to make music. I even used to play drums. I’m a groove-oriented person. I’m very much into the groove. If it wasn’t for my parents, I’d probably be playing drums instead of the violin.

AHHA: Do you have any interest in fusing your sound with other genres of music aside from Hip-Hop?

Miri Ben-Ari: I believe you would not be able to find one type of music that I have not played. I’ve played everything from Rock, Latin, World Music, Middle Eastern music, Greek music, Jewish music, you name it. That’s why I am the person I am today. But Hip-Hop and R&B, what they call ‘Black Music’, is what comes out of me when I write. You discover your own identity when you write music.

AHHA: So what lies ahead for you? Where do you see your career going in the long run?

Miri Ben-Ari: I want to change the game even more. When I started doing my thing, I think it was at a good time. I think people are more ready now than they were in the past. I think I introduced something that made it possible for people like myself to be involved in the game. I think we need to keep it out there and take it to the next level. Like I said, I want to change the game even more. I’m all about making a difference and I’m not afraid to do it.

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