Hip-Hop Violonist Miri Ben-Ari Opens Door To Next Generation In Music

By Hanna Szekeres September 18, 2011 Comments

Israeli musician Miri Ben-Ari is taking the R&B and hip-hop world by storm, but not how you’d imagine. Ben-Ari is a classical violin prodigy, who blurs all musical boundaries by using her instrument to mix classical music with modern sounds.

After moving to the United States with nothing in her pockets, Ben-Ari is now on most star’s lists to work with. She has collaborated with the likes of Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey and Kanye West, impressing them with her ability to switch between music genres so fluently.

“Musical instruments in pop and commercial music are usually being used to back up a singer, not to be in the front. I use my instrument as my voice,” Ben-Ari said of her beloved violin. Six years ago, Kanye West, who was among the first ones working with Miri, said of her: “Miri Ben-Ari is to hip-hop now what Miles Davis was to Jazz back in the day! She is re-inventing a whole new Hip-Hop sound!.”

Miri Ben-Ari was born in 1978, in Israel. As a child she was a classical violin prodigy, and attended the classes of world-famous master violinist, Isaac Stern. At the age of 10, her family could no longer afford lessons, so Stern got Ben-Ari a scholarship from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. She was accepted and was given her first violin by the organization.

If the “American Dream” exists, Miri Ben-Ari lived it. “I came all the way from Israel to America with no money, no family, I heardly spoke English, but with a violin and a dream.” Today, Ben-Ari has a Grammy Award (songwriter for best rap song) and was invited by Michelle Obama to perform at the White House. And demands to work with her just kept pouring in.

She played the violin in Alicia Keys’ Fallin’ and worked with other famous recording artists such as Britney Spears, Maroon 5, Donna Summer, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Akon and Mary J. Blige.  In 2009, her single song Symphony of Brotherhood, which featured Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, became the first instrumental single ever to become a hit on the Billboard R&B and hip-hop charts, where it reached the second spot. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of the Israeli artist: “If you want to get jazzed up or relax at home, you put on Miri Ben-Ari!”

“I always loved classical music, but I wanted something more,” the musician told NoCamels. “When I was a kid I was very serious about my classical playing, I was practicing for hours, but I never felt confident about playing the violin, I never felt cool with it. I wanted to be cool.”

miri ben ari - michelle obama

Miri Ben-Ari with Michelle Obama

That happened when she met musician and producer Wyclef Jean. “He introduced me to Kanye West and Jay-Z as the ‘Hip-hop violonist,’ and after a while the title became organic.

“But even more today, my music is a cross-over of music styles. My style comes from my experiences. I grew up in Israel, playing classical music and being exposed to the music and culture of the Middle East. I moved to NY to study Jazz and pursued a professional Jazz career, which gave me to this day, the tools to improvise and compose my own music. I have been playing and recording R&B and Hip-Hop music for years. My current is using elements of soul and hip hop music fused with romantic strings. My experiences made me the artist that I am today,”  Ben-Ari told NoCamels.

In addition to her musical work, the musician has partnered with dozens of charitable organizations worldwide and helped raise millions for their causes. She also founded ‘Gedenk’, a nonprofit organization: “It promotes awareness and education to the youth about the Holocaust. It is a part of my family history and therefore very close to my heart.”

Musically, Ben-Ari is hoping her influence will encourage people to take up classical music and instruments like the violin. “So many parents have written to me that their kids picked up the violin because of me and it makes me so happy,” she said.

“My music education, discipline and determination helped me to become a musician and an artist, but it was my ability to think outside the box that helped me make a difference. It’s important for me to be original and not afraid to not follow the common or what’s out there,” she said. “I like to think about myself as someone who opens door to the next generation. ”

Ben-Ari is now planning to release her sixth album, which she says is her best. The album features songs like “Symphony Of Brotherhood” and the “10 Commandments.”


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