Recently declared the Global Brand Ambassador for Harman Kardon, Violinist Miri Ben-Ari, has definitely made her mark on the industry with collaborations that include Kanye and Jay Z, a Grammy Award, praise from First Lady Michelle Obama and a position in the UN as a ‘Good Will Ambassador Of Music’. [Just look all at the celebrities she’s worked with on her Facebook page].
VIBE sits down with the accomplished artist to get the full scoop on her incredible journey, including startup struggles in New York and working with some of the world's top players.
VIBE: How would you say your sound/music has evolved since you first started?
Miri Ben-Ari: I have crossed over to many musical genres, and every experience contributed to the artist that I am today; from classical to Jazz, Hip Hop and R&B, Latin and now electronic dance music.
You’ve said it was your time in the military that inspired you to start your music career. Could you explain that further?
My mandatory military service in the Israeli army provided me with a clean slate to leave the classical bubble I was in, and explore a new musical world. Sometimes it is hard to leave something that you know and enter an "unknown" territory. When I finished my service I felt as if I could do anything.
After serving your time in the military, you left for New York with only your violin. What was your journey like afterwards? How did you survive the Big Apple and build your way up?
I came to NY without anything, almost no money, no family, I hardly spoke English. My drive for music kept me going. I went to college for Jazz but dropped out of school because I needed to work to pay my rent. I was completely on my own and after my dream of moving to New York to study Jazz went down the drain, I started going out every night to jam with different bands playing every style of music. It was a great experience - I was a part of the New York music scene and it helped me become a better musician. I built my way up by word of mouth and getting opportunities to get on stage and perform. My music spoke for me. I recorded three albums in Jazz before I was introduced to Kanye West, Wyclef Jean and Jay Z. At the time, I thought I was still playing Jazz music over Hip Hop beats. My first big break was on BET "106 and Park" and then "Showtime at the Apollo" where I am now known as an Apollo Legend.
Since then you’ve gone on to have a remarkable career, working with the greats such as Kanye West, Jay Z, and Donna Summer. Out of the many artists you have collaborated with, which would you say have left the greatest impression? What were some of the most impactful lessons you learned from each?
All artists I've worked with influenced my music and sound. It was a great experience to work with Kanye at the very beginning of his journey, to watch how he introduced a fresh new sound and see him grow. Working with Jay Z was an unforgettable experience, especially sharing the stage at "Summer Jam”. I really love his music and performance. Both Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and Donna Summer, rest in peace, said things to me, while working together and getting to know them, that stayed with me to this day.
What was it like to work with #1 DJ Armin van Buuren? How did you guys link up in the first place?
Armin and I met for coffee in New York City and we clicked right away. He brought his laptop with him and played me some previews from his album "Intense". I loved his sound and the idea of exploring this new music with him. The next time I met him was in the studio when we recorded the title track for "Intense". We are supposed to perform it together next month in Israel for the very first time and I am so excited! I am also so appreciative of the amazing feedback that I have been recently receiving from the dance music world and fans.
Is there anyone left on your collaboration wish list you would still like work with?
I've collaborated with many incredible artists, I would love to record a song with Stevie Wonder and also with Daft Punk.
Much of your music involves a political message, including your hit single “Symphony of Brotherhood” that features MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech. What are some of the biggest issues would you say society is still facing today as a whole?
As an artist, it is my responsibility to promote a positive message to the world. ‘Symphony of Brotherhood’ is a great example where I utilized my music to almost become a soulful soundtrack to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s, "I Have a Dream" timeless speech. I am a "Good Will Ambassador of Music" for the UN and just spoke at the UN about the nexus between culture and sustainable development. I am a great supporter for our right to express ourselves, especially when it comes to women and youth. I think that societies that don't allow women to be heard are not balanced societies and culture could contribute when it comes to social evolution.
What was it like meeting the nation’s First Lady Michelle Obama, and being honored as a ‘Remarkable Woman’ by her?
It was definitely an experience of a life time, I couldn't help thinking how I grew up in a small town in Israel and here I am at the White House, being honored by the First Lady and performing her "special request" song. This experience has inspired me to believe in myself and my dreams even more.
Being a woman in the music industry, do you ever feel there is a double standard between male and female artists?
I think that being a woman in the industry is not necessarily a disadvantage, it's all up to who you are and how you carry yourself. Speaking at the UN, reminded me that there are places in the world where women would love to have the same freedom that we have here in the U.S. I am very passionate about this subject, maybe because I am from the Middle East.
What would you say has been the proudest moment in your career so far? What do you still hope to accomplish with your music?
I mentioned earlier some very ‘proud moments’ in my career including the White House and being an Ambassador for the UN. What I continue to create and explore the world and share that in a meaningful way through unique music and performances.