Miri Ben Ari: Hip-Hop Violinist
Violinist Miri Ben-Ari is a musician whose name is easily forgotten, but her talent will always remembered. Those of us, who weren’t familiar Ben-Ari’s name, were probably introduced to her when she played her violin during Rapper Twista’s music video “Overnight Celebrity.” Unbeknownst to us, her journey started way before that.
Miri Ben-Ari was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, where she grew up playing classical music from the under the wing of famed Ukrainian Violinist Isaac Stern.
“I was trained classically in Israel, which is a great place to study classical music,” she said in an interview with DCist.com. “It’s in the European tradition. At the time, Isaac Stern had a group in Jerusalem of gifted young musicians who he personally invested in. It was very unique. Having classical technique to that degree definitely gave me the foundation to be the artist I am today.”
During her mandatory time spent in the Israeli army at the age of 17, Ben-Ari heard Jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker’s album for the first time, and fell in love with jazz music.
“That was the beginning and end,” Ben-Ari told The Berkshire Eagle Newspaper. “My soul was sold. He’s a genius — the way he plays he’s talking to you. I’d heard some [jazz] but before [Charlie Parker] I didn’t hear anything that would make me go like, wow, this is what I want to go ahead and what I want to pursue.”
Once her stint in the Israeli army was through, Ben-Ari enrolled in Mannes College the New School for Music in New York City where she was mentored by Jazz Vocalist Betty Carter.
“I came to the States to study jazz, she told DCist.com. “Betty Carter introduced me to the jazz scene. Jazz gave me the foundation to improvise and from there compose my original music. Many times people don’t understand how I can play hip-hop. I’m an improviser. I’ve played with some of the best jazz musicians in the world.”
When Ben-Ari first arrived to the U.S., she was self-conscious about her Israeli origins, but Betty Carter taught her to be proud of who she was.
“The most important thing I learned from her was the importance of being original and the importance of not being afraid to be original,” Ben-Ari explained to The Berkshire Eagle. “You are who you are and that’s it. When I came here it was hard for me, Ben-Ari. “I wanted to have the perfect English that nobody could recognize an accent. I was trying to deny it. But then people said ‘oh your accent is so cute,’ and responded to who I really am. Now I believe that where you come from never leaves you. It’s always part of you.”
Eventually, Ben-Ari was expelled from school after missing too many classes due to her gigs at clubs and open mic nights, but she did not let that get her down and continued performing until things fell into place.
“I was on my own completely but I kept performing,” she explained to DCist.com. “At one open mic, someone asked me to play and there wasn’t a band, just a DJ. I asked the DJ to start flipping records and told him I could improvise over them. People started getting loud. I thought a riot had started. I realized that they were screaming for me. One of the people in the audience was the producer of The Apollo. This is when everything started happening for me. BET’s “106 & Park” saw me at The Apollo and booked me. I got the most response they’d ever had. I performed at Carnegie Hall with Wyclef and he called me the “Hip-Hop Violinist.” I had my title. All of this happened in about a month.”
Since then Ben-Ari has produced five albums and worked with countless artists from Hip-Hop Rapper/Entrepreneur Jay-Z and Pop Singer Britney Spears, to R&B Diva Patti LaBelle and Jazz trumpeter/Composer Wynton Marsalis. Her collaboration with Hip-Hop Rapper/Producer Kanye West on his hit single “Jesus Walks,” earned her own Grammy Award as a co-writer.
Aside from her musical success, Ben-Ari co-founded Gedenk (Yiddish for “To Remember”) in 2006, in an effort to promote the education on the Holocaust in the U.S.
In 2009, her song “Symphony of Brotherhood” featured Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and became the first ever instrumental single on the Billboard “R&B/Hip-Hip” chart, and it reached the No.2 spot.
Earlier this year, Ben-Ari was named one of the 10 most influential Israelis in America after she was invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to the White House to be a part of a Women’s History Month celebration.
After all the musical experience she’s gained from Hip-Hop, Jazz and R&B, Ben-Ari said that it’s all due to her training in classical music.
“It’s the best thing that could have happened to me,” she explained to The Berkshire Eagle. “I had the best teachers. Jazz is so difficult to begin with, and violin is so difficult to begin with. So in order to play jazz you have to have so much facility to improvise, composition in real time, you have to flow. If I didn’t have classical training the way I did, I probably wouldn’t be able to pursue my ideas the way I do. It gave me dexterity; it gave me chops.”
For more info on Miri Ben-Ari visit: http://www.miribenari.com/