I first heard of ANNA-RF when a friend shared “Jump,” a playful video with lyrics that resound in our fractured world.
For all of us love is the flame
The fire that burns the hate
Helps us dream and create.
I can’t see the different between
And I know that the answer’s within.
Humanity is one big tribe
So why can’t we live side by side?
The very next video of theirs I clicked on was a stirringly beautiful rendition of a folk song from Azerbaijan.
Intrigued, I found out all I could about the group.
Musicians Roy Smila and Ofir J.Rock met in the small desert village of Shaharut, Israel back in 2011. They quickly forged a musical connection that evolved into the band ANNA-RF, which they named after an Arabic-Hebrew expression that means both “I know” and “I don’t know.” They play what they call electro-ethnic-reggae, although that term doesn’t stretch as far as their music which is highly versatile, in part thanks to collaboration with musicians from all over the world. Their compositions are original and often spontaneous, mixing new sounds with ancient traditions. Instruments they use include the kamancha, lafta, sazbush, flute, guitar, and didgeridoo.
A little rummaging around YouTube makes it obvious that visual art is an integral part of what they do. They create videos for each song, filming in mountains, deserts, and busy markets. They can be found dancing in desert rain
and playing Celtic reggae with musicians in Switzerland.
Last year the band added a new member, Or Rave. I reached out to them for an interview and they kindly made time to email me back from a concert date in London.
Despite our complicated political times, your lyrics are mostly celebratory. What message does your music convey?
We find no truth in borders or other fictive ideas of separation. We enjoy the beauty of everyone and we find inspiration in every culture and every place. Our music is based on this point of view, therefore it is positive and open.
What’s your songwriting process like?
Our home and studio is in a tiny village in the desert. The emptiness of the desert is what inspires us to fill it with creation.
A song can start from anything. A line on the kamancha (the Persian violin), a riff on the guitar, a sentence someone throws to the air.
We also tour a lot and in our journeys we meet amazing people and artists who we collaborate with. In many cases that connection is an inspiration for a new song.
How does travel influence your music?
When you are traveling your life is highly dynamic and flexible. From that we get a variety of new points of view and inspiration. By traveling we meet a lot of amazing people and artists that influence us and broaden our horizons.
Tell us a little about collaborating with other musicians and who you’ve played with so far.
For us one of the most beautiful proofs of the similarity of mankind can be found in music. When you play with other musicians from around the globe you understand that all over this planet people get the same feeling from music and you can find similarity right in the musical scales.
We’ve played with:
- Imamyar Hasanov, the great kamancha master from Azerbaijan
- Yair Dalal, the well-known Oud master
- The Turbans, the great Gypsy band from England
- Farafi, beautiful African music from France and California
- Daniel Waples, famous hang player from England
- Davide Swarup, the hang and SPB pioneer from Italy
- Tom Bertschy and Thom Freiburghaus, the medieval musicians from Switzerland
And many, many more amazing artists from all over this planet.
These videos are mostly filmed in evocative natural settings. What are some complications of filming in the sand, on a mountainside, or roadside?
In most of those beautiful locations there is no water or electricity there so we have to prepare in advance. We have to have food and water supply and to be very precise. We have to carry on our backs all the props and all the equipment.
Any interesting stories about mishaps in filming?
In the “Weeping Eyes” video we had to hike for nine hours to the location in the Himalayas. The energy that we spent there was way too much and we could not stay, so we had to climb down all the way back to our guesthouse. All of us were so worn out.
Can you tell us the story of how one song evolved?
Our last song is a collaboration with a great composer and musician called Eran Zamir. He came for a weekend of creation. A tradition we like to do on the first day—we played together and he played some of his own compositions and after a while we chose a line that all of us especially liked. With this line, Or the beat master added his own rhythm and we wrote the lyrics and created the structure of the song. Roy added a kamancha solo (that we connected to a guitar amp for the special sound of the over-drive) and Ofir recorded the vocals. On the next day we wrote the script and shot the video in the desert. The video is a result of our creative connection.
What are you listening to these days?
We listen to a lot of Azeric, Turkish, and Persian music as well reggae, pop and new electro and dubstep acts. We are inspired by many different styles and find beauty in all of them.
Your videos tend to include repeat props like a stuffed monkey and a variety of hats, and repeat themes like hitchhiking. What’s up with that?
The symbols are there for any person to see them as they will.
Fans can buy ANNA-RF music here.
This interview originally appeared in First Day Press.