Reggae | Like A Lion

Irie™ Magazine | Reggae - Like A Lion

Like A Lion

Lior Ben-Hur

Born in Jerusalem with Greek and Iraqi roots, Lior Ben-Hur has traveled to over a dozen countries where he spent time learning, performing and sharing experiences with musicians and artists around the globe.

Lior formed his band in 2011 and a year later released an eclectic world music album under the name Sol Tevél. The album sheds new light with contemporary interpretations of old Jewish texts, ideals and mysticism. With their positive message, uplifting melodies and a unique refreshing approach to Reggae, Lior Ben-Hur & Sol Tevél represent a new generation of Reggae and world music.

Along with his 8-piece band, Lior Ben-Hur continues to focus on his passion for Reggae music, which has been a key inspiration on his musical creativity and spirituality. In June 2015, the band released their self-titled Reggae EP, and have since shared the stage with legendary Roots Reggae artists such as Stephen Marley, Black Uhuru, Tarrus Riley, Groundation, Richie Spice and Don Carlos.

In February 2017, Lior Ben-Hur and his band released their debut album titled ‘So I Wander’. The album is produced by Marcus Urani of Groundation and features leading artists such as Kumar Bent of Raging Fyah, Jah Levi, Yossi Fine, Iraqi-Israeli world music expert Yair Dalal, and Palestinian rapper Saz.

‘So I Wander’ reveals Lior Ben-Hur’s deep passion for Reggae and demonstrates his band’s ability to perform high-energy roots music.

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The Interview

IRIE. You started playing guitar at the age of twelve, choosing the nylon-string guitar as your instrument of choice. Why the guitar?

Lior Ben-Hur. I grew up listening to my mother playing accordion. She was born and raised in Greece so it was a mix of Greek and Israeli folk music. I took some piano lessons when I was young but it wasn’t ‘my
instrument’. When I was 12 I met a friend in school who was an amazing electric guitar player, super talented! He inspired me to pick up the guitar and taught me my first few songs. When I asked my parents to buy me a guitar, my mother was very happy that I was interested in music again. My dad called his cousin, a famous musician for an Israeli folk group called ‘HaParvarim’, and we went to a music store. I wanted a steel strings acoustic guitar but my dad’s cousin convinced me I should get a nylon strings guitar. Years later I thanked him for that choice.

IRIE. You’re not just a reggae/world musician, you’re also a music educator. Why did you choose music as a career? What are some of the rewards of your music career?

Lior Ben-Hur. I always have felt that I did not choose music, music chose me. Same for my career as a music educator. I moved to the US with a backpack when I was 21. I did not know nor plan what I would do here and for how long I would stay, I was simply wandering.  After spending several months working hard in a moving company, a friend told me that he knew a Jewish school looking for Hebrew teacher. I went for an interview and when the director heard that I play music, she told me that she was looking for a music teacher as well. I played her a song and she hired me right there on the spot. I have been teaching music in that school for 11 years now.  I never planned to teach music. Moreover, I never thought I would be a Jewish music educator but I have been doing it for 11 years now and I find a lot of meaning in working with the youth.

As much as I love touring and playing in venues and festivals, I see great value in my work with children and feel blessed to have this profession. There is something about the relationship you build with a community and with children when you see them on a daily or weekly basis which is very different from touring in a city or country once every few months. I value the relationships with the communities I work with and see great importance in providing a soundtrack to children’s life.

IRIE. Your debut album, ‘So I Wander’, is now available worldwide for your fans and new followers. The title of the album fits your persona perfectly… as a world traveler who likes to explore new countries and culture. When did this passion first come about?

Lior Ben-Hur. I always dreamed of traveling the world but the journey really started when I left Israel in 2004 and came to the US. As I explained before, I came with a backpack, a guitar and very little money.

The idea of going on the road without a plan and with no agenda excited me. Since then I created a home base in San Francisco, but traveling and wandering is a way of living for me. I love going to explore new countries, new cultures, new languages and learning about new musical traditions.

When I travel, I do not make plans. I usually have the first destination and from there I let the journey lead my way. Being on the road with this state of mind helps me be in the present, disconnect from the daily stress in the babylon of the city life, and gives me a lot of inspiration for creativity. This deep passion for traveling is also the inspiration behind the concept of the new album, ‘So I Wander’.

IRIE. ‘Lion’, the third song on your album, ‘So I Wander’, features Kumar Bent, lead singer for the grammy-nominated Raging Fyah. We were blessed to help make the connection between you and Kumar. We understand that there is a personal story behind it. Can you share it with us?

Lior Ben-Hur. We give thanks to Irie Magazine for the special connection to Kumar. I really feel that what he brought to the song makes it very special.  The song is very personal. I wrote it while I was traveling in Colombia, and I wanted to write and express myself without protections. The song is sort of my life story and an insight into my connection with music. Since I was a very young child I heard melodies in my head and I wrote songs since as early as six years old. But the first “real” song wrote was at the age of 15, shortly after my mother died from cancer. I was depressed and did not know how to process my feelings. Music was the source! Creativity was the source! I wrote a song for my mother and by that released a lot of grief. Since that moment music has been my guide in life. That was the moment my journey with music truly started, and the song talks about this journey, the obstacles, the meaning of success and the ups and downs. Sometimes you feel “strong like a lion” and sometimes you’re simply “fragile as a man”.

IRIE. In producing your debut album, you chose to work with Marcus Urani (Groundation) and Roots Reggae Music Ambassador, Jah Levi. What drew you to them to handle the reins of your debut album?

Lior Ben-Hur. Lior Ben-Hur. Working with these guys has been such a blessing for my band and myself. Groundation has been one of these bands that influenced me the most in the meaning of “new reggae music” and live performances. I first saw them live in San Francisco and I was hooked! I loved everything about their music, their message, their sound and their live performances. At that moment I knew that I wanted to create a similar vibe with my band. I was simply inspired. Since then I have been a big Groundation fan, and years later I connected to Jim Fox of Lion & Fox Recording Studio in Washington DC, who is responsible for their amazing recording sound. We worked together on our self-titled EP and I expressed my love for Groundation. Fox connected me to Marcus Urani and at that moment a new journey started that results in the ‘So I Wander’ album.

Marcus produced this album with nothing but pure 100% positive vibes. Meeting with him and working with him in the studio was an eye-opener about how music should be done. Marcus is not only the main producer of this album but is now also a very close friend.
As for Jah Levi, I heard his music many years ago and always wanted to meet him. I love the way he uses world music elements in his sounds of reggae and thought he is an amazing songwriter. In addition, I use his song ‘In This Reality’ for my work as a music educator, and it is a big hit among children and youth.

“I was personally introduced to him by our mutual friend and legendary bassist/producer, Yossi Fine.

When I met him, I saw not only an amazing musician and producer, but a very unique human being—conscious, compassionate, authentic and loving. I asked him to help with this album and he agreed. He produced track #5 titled “Sh’ma Nyabinghi,” which is a combination of Rasta and Jewish traditions. He co-produced and mixed our cover for his song ‘In This Reality’ and another world/reggae track titled ‘Old City Love’ featuring the Iraqi-Israeli world music expert, Yair Dalal.

IRIE. We really love the attention to detail in the design packaging of ‘So I Wander’. On the album insert, there is a map with unique locations designated for each song. Can you explain the purpose behind this concept?

Lior Ben-Hur. As I previously mentioned, I find a lot of inspiration while traveling. Therefore, many of the songs I play were written abroad. The design of the map in the album describes physical location for each song that relates to either where the song was written or a story about that specific location. It is another insight into the concept and meaning behind ‘So I Wander’.

IRIE. We were fortunate enough to see you perform live at Reggae on the River with your 8-piece band. Can you tell us how you all came together to form Lior Ben-Hur and Sol Tevél?

Lior Ben-Hur. We have been playing music together for many years now, even before this specific band was formed. Most of us met while studying music at San Francisco State University. There we played together in many different ensembles, from jazz music to Persian music.  In 2011, I had an idea to create a world Jewish music album. I contacted these amazing musicians to see if they would like to join. They agreed and in 2012 we released an album under the name Sol Tevél. Since then we practice together on a weekly basis, arrange music together, and tour. This is my family! You see, when you live so far away from your home country the people you meet become your family. I give thanks and blessings every day to be so fortunate to lead a band with such talent. Their belief, dedication, and energy are what give me strength to continue on this path, and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way than being on this journey with these guys and girls.

IRIE. What are you plans for the Lior Ben-Hur & Sol Tevél with the album release? Will you tour in 2017?

Lior Ben-Hur. Now that the album is completed we plan to take the music on the road and looking forward to visiting new venues, cities and countries. The album drops on February 10 and that week we are joining the legendary Jamaican band, Israel Vibration, for a few shows on their west coast tour. In March, I will do a solo tour In Latin America visiting Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. We are also planning a summer tour, specific dates TBD.

IRIE. Would you like to say anything to the IRIE audience?

Lior Ben-Hur. I would simply like to thank both Irie and this audience for the support. We are facing challenging times, especially now that Trump is in power and injustice is more present than ever. We need to unite and bring a conscious message to the universe. Music is just the vehicle but the people are the movement, so we need to be the change in order to create the change together.

IRIE. Give thanks, Lior Ben-Hur! Your music and its positive message is welcomed!