Israel in the Gardens | Mosh Ben Ari brings his world beat to main stage

Mosh Ben Ari is the other Rasta man of Israeli rock.

Like the enormously popular Idan Raichel, Ben Ari also has long, flowing dreadlocks (though rumor has it that Raichel recently shaved his head). He’s also got a similarly eclectic world music style popular with fans around the globe.

Now the two artists have something else in common: Both can cross headlining Israel in the Gardens off their bucket lists. Raichel was here in 2008. Ben Ari, 42, will take the main stage at 3:15 p.m. on June 2 during the annual celebration at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.

Israel’s Mosh Ben Ari will play Israel in the Gardens as part of a whirlwind, three-city U.S. tour. photo/courtesy mosh ben ari

It’s the right moment for Ben Ari to return to the Bay Area after a five-year absence. Not only has he recently released a new single, he’s returning to one of his favorite cities on Earth.

“San Francisco is one of the places I connect with best,” Ben Ari said in a phone interview from his home in Israel’s northern Galilee. “There’s something in the atmosphere and the energy there that reminds me of home.”

The applause of 20,000 fans at the Gardens, many of them Israeli expatriates, will also probably remind him of home. Sure to be included in his set is the new single, “Ma Osim (What to Do),” which takes a characteristically Ben Ari view of interpersonal conflict.

“What to do with the pressure that looks you in the eye,” he sings in Hebrew. “That takes you far away/With this madness that doesn’t give you peace/Doesn’t let you breathe/Doesn’t let you dream.”

Over his long career, Ben Ari has exhorted audiences to exchange the madness and pressure for something a little more joyful. His song “Salaam,” which he wrote when he was a member of his former band, Sheva, has become a staple of Jewish summer camps and youth services.

“My spirit is for sure Jewish,” says Ben Ari, who claims Iraqi, Yemeni and Russian heritage.

Born in the north-central Israeli town of Afula in 1970, Ben Ari started playing rock guitar at age 16, and then began expanding his focus to music from India, Turkey and North Africa. Along the way he picked up all kinds of instruments, from the Indian sarod to the Moroccan gimbri.

In 1997 he co-founded Sheva, which included both Jewish and Muslim members. They released four albums over a 10-year career, always stressing a message of peace and coexistence.

Ben Ari also released three solo albums during that time, though it was his second, the gold-certified “Derekh” (A Way), that established him as one of Israel’s top singer-songwriters.

Ben Ari’s music tends to blend rock, soul, reggae and elements of his own Mizrachi heritage. It’s made him a draw around the world and a regular on the concert circuit.

That may explain in part why he chose to forgo the Tel Aviv high-life for a quieter existence on his farm in the Upper Galilee.

“The first thing I see when I get home is stars,” he says, meaning the celestial kind. “I’m trying to live more simply and with less noise.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.