VIDEO: Yemen Blues brings mix of sounds and traditions to S.F. Jazz Fest

“I sing everything I am, everything connected to me and everything I want to be,” says Israeli singer Ravid Kahalani, leader of the band Yemen Blues.

Kahalani, whose group will perform Wednesday, June 8 at the 34th annual San Francisco Jazz Festival, often sings in Arabic — the language of his ancestors, the Jews of Yemen, one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities.

“When people hear me singing in Arabic and know that I am Jewish, it gives them the reminder of who we are as human beings and that we are closer to each other than we think,” he said in an email interview.

Ravid Kahalani and his band

The band, which sold out its show in its SFJazz debut last year, blends sounds and traditions: ancient Jewish Yemenite chants, jazz, West African folk music, funk, mambo and more. Kahalani composes all the music and is now collaborating with producer Bill Laswell, who has worked with artists ranging from Herbie Hancock to David Byrne to Iggy Pop.

Kahalani suggests every culture has its blues, since it is a music form that “represents history of music and culture.” He added: “I see myself trying to make the new … music with no borders.”

Yemen Blues is making its visit here as part of a six-month, six-nation tour on which San Francisco is the only West Coast stop. It comes two days after a show in New York. The next show after San Francisco is at the Sun Beat Festival in Park Hayarden, Israel.

The band’s first, self-titled album features a track, “Jat Mahibathi” (“Love Is Coming”), with a video set in Jerusalem’s Old City, in a traditional Arabic smoke shop. Kahalani sings among hookah smokers and excited onlookers, who catch on and start singing along. Accompanied by an oud player and two doumbek percussionists, the singer chants, claps, dances and gets the crowd moving.

The music on “Insaniya,” the band’s second album, shifts toward deeper band showmanship and more dance-oriented tracks. “Insaniya-Humanity” is one such example: Its title is a pun on the word “insaniyat,” Hindi for “humanity,” as well as, more obviously, “insanity.” This ironic play of meanings is reflected in the music itself — a mad collision of styles with a wild, ecstatic feel — all of which not only points to humanity’s inherent insanity, but channels it through rhythm and celebrates it.

Though danceable numbers pepper “Insaniya,” at the same time virtuoso jazz-style improvisations are an important part of the music, as Kahalani said: “There is not one show exactly like the other … there are lots of solos.”

For his SFJazz show, Kahalani is joined by musicians including Shanir Blumenkranz, known for his contributions to New York’s experimental music scene. Blumenkranz, an oud/bass player who for this project is playing gimbri, a three-stringed African bass instrument, said in an email that it’s no contradiction for him to be playing more dance-oriented music with Yemen Blues.

“For me it’s all the same — making music with my family,” he said. “I am able to add what I am — a Jew, born in Brooklyn to Egyptian/Polish parents.”

Yemen Blues, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 8, SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin St., S.F. $25-$55.