How does it feel to be a role model? Do you feel a lot of responsibility or do you feel that no matter what, you would be doing the same things that you are doing now if no one was looking towards you?
I am passionate about helping others because at the end of the day I have to look at myself, look back at what I have accomplished, and ask myself if I have done enough. The fact that people do look up to me, especially as a role model, gives me even more of a sense of responsibility than I already have. I guess I am not your usual artist in this sense, because I strongly believe that being a role model is the biggest responsibility that an artists can have. I believe that it is something that we should take very seriously. We should carefully examine the message we send, the power we have, and how we intend to use that power to influence others. I think about it all the time.
You’ve worked with a slew of big names, such as Donna Summer, Kanye West, and Maroon 5. What does it feel like having your name attached to so many other amazing artists?
It’s amazing, truly amazing. Funny, not too long ago, I had a meeting with Jeff Robertson who has managed Alicia Keys for many years. We were just bringing up old memories about the time I worked on “Fallin’” with Alicia and the people that were around back then and who’s still around today. Donna Summer came up and I was reminded of something that she said to me. You know she was such a wise and inspiring lady and things that she said to me have stayed with me.
It’s a great experience to record with such amazing talents and have the privilege of your sound being a part of songs that will last beyond your time. It’s pretty powerful.
Is there anyone you’re hoping to work with next, or are working with right now?
There are so many amazing artists I would like to work with eventually. I love collaborating. I truly do. Right now, I’m working on some songs with Questlove from The Roots. I am also working with Andrea Morricone, who won an Oscar for his score in the film Cinema Paradiso. He and I are working together on music for the Nobel Peace Summit, which will take place later this year. If I could work with someone on my wish list, it would probably be Stevie Wonder. I met him a couple of times and he loved my playing, but we’ve never worked on a song together. He’s one of my idols.
Did you always know, in the back of your mind, that one day you’d play at the White House and make such a name for yourself? Or are you still amazed by how far you’ve come?
I grew up in a small town in Israel called Ra’anana. My parents are educated and simple people who wanted to give us the best education and the most loving childhood. I still sometimes find myself in situations where I ask myself ‘is this real?’ I don’t take anything for granted. I try to seize the moment as much as I can.
What was that like playing at the White House?
It was one of those defining moments. [Laughs] It was amazing. I started my performance with my original song, Symphony of Brotherhood, a special request of First Lady Michelle Obama, and continued with the American National Anthem on a whim. I hadn’t planned on it, I just felt that it was the right thing to do. I felt very proud and humble at the same time.
What created your strong desire to give back and build your own organization, Gedenk?
Gedenk meaning “to remember” in Yiddish, in my case, is in honor of my families’ history and their story: the Holocaust. My families’ story influenced me to promote tolerance. It came from a very personal place. When I was twelve and I was doing a family tree project, I went to my grandparents and asked them about our family history and they both burst into tears. I learned that day that they escaped the Holocaust, but their families were not able to escape and they were shot into a hole in the ground. Their story and the notion that I was a part of this human tragedy has stayed with me. I felt the urge to do something and had to find within myself a positive and powerful energy to influence others to make sure that it will never happen again.
It’s amazing how history, on one end, repeats itself, and how many genocides are currently taking place in the world since the Holocaust. People don’t understand that the Holocaust didn’t start with genocide, it began in baby steps, with bigotry and hate, focusing on the differences between people with the false philosophy that some groups are better than others. It didn’t start with the massive genocide. This is why I believe that it is so important to promote tolerance, to make our society more balanced and compassionate. Gedenk uses art, writing, music, and culture to promote this ideal. If you go to gedenkmovement.org, you can get more information on what it is that we do. It is truly a wonderful organization.
Besides working with Gedenk, Ben-Ari also works with many organizations and foundations in her never-ending goal to contribute to a better world for all. With all the work she does, it is hard to believe that she can find the time for everything. Later this year, Ben-Ari plans to release a new album that she is extremely excited about. Talk about being an awesome role model! Since she does so much, be sure to follow her on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram @miribenari and visit her website miribenari.com to stay up-to-date with all of her work.
Miri Ben-Ari Interview “A Symphony of Soul” was originally published in Cliché Magazine’s Aug/Sept 2014 issue.
Photographer: Quavondo, Makeup: Kayti Pillor, Hair: Sal Salcedo, Stylist: Ja’niya Walker