Miri Ben-Ari Talks ‘Dim the Lights’ Video, Kanye West Memories, Roberta Flack’s Advice
Miri Ben-Ari, often known as the “Hip-Hop Violinist,” stumbled into hip-hop by accident. She took her violin and played alongside a DJ at a party in an attempt to impress a booking agent for the legendary Apollo Theater. Clearly, he wasn’t the only one who was impressed. She performed there and has gone on to collaborate with hip-hop heavyweights like Kanye West and Jay-Z. She was also invited to perform for President Obama at the White House this year.
Now the Israeli-born entertainer is focused on her next album. The BoomBox spoke with Miri about her past success with Kanye West, memories they’ve shared, advice she’s received from esteemed soul singer Roberta Flack and her new “sexy” and “humor”-filled video for “Dim the Lights.”
How often do you get over to Israel?
Well, I’m very, very lucky to combine family and work when I go there. The last time I was there I was shooting the video for “Dim the Lights” and now I’m going there to see family again. I’m also performing for the launch of the new Boeing 747 for Delta. I’m going to be there along with the CEO of Delta.
So what inspired the concept for your new video, “Dim the Lights”?
I had to capture a few things for this video. I wanted to showcase a few things, a few elements. First thing is that I produced the song, arranged, orchestrated, programmed, engineered, did everything. I play all the instruments, almost like a one-man show, which is a unique thing, generally speaking, but it’s even more unique when it comes to us ladies. I’m not aware of any female artist that is producing everything on her own, including engineering. I know I’ve been in the studio with other artists and they always look at me like, “Whoa, you do that?” And I was like, “Yeah.” For me, it’s something I do, and seeing other people’s reactions, I wanted to showcase this and also inspire the ladies out there to do their own thing. It came from that place.
I also wanted to, because this is what I do, I wanted to showcase my performance and the violin has the craziest solo during the middle of the song, so it’s a very light song and sexy, and I’m really getting down with this solo. I wanted to capture my fashion, my style, to make a fashion statement. I think playing violin is a very sexy instrument to say the least. It’s feminine, in my opinion. I wanted to imply luxury with style. I want to mix and match. And then I also wanted to capture my sense of humor.
The album is coming out next year. No title yet. I mean, yes, we do have names, but I’ve been through albums where you switch the name right before. It’s Miri Ben-Ari, it’s my music. “Dim the Lights” is the second single. The first was released actually a few years ago and it was almost a test. It was the first instrumental I’ve ever released as a commercial single. It’s called “Symphony of Brotherhood” featuring [recordings of] Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I released it despite everyone telling me not to release instrumental music and it succeeded so much in so many ways. People loved it. It’s received many awards. I was invited to perform it at the White House last year. It was the First Lady Michelle Obama’s favorite. I performed it this year, actually not too long ago, for President Obama.
I know you’ve collaborated with a lot of rappers in the past. Who would you still like to work with that you haven’t and why?
I like so many of them. I would like to work with Drake. I love him. How could you not like his music? He’s a very smart rapper. And also, he’s half Jewish. In a weird way, I feel related to him. We’re like two Jews in the hip-hop scene. I love everything about him, he’s so talented. If you like Kanye [West], you like Drake. And I like Kanye.
You also won a Grammy for your work on “Jesus Walks” with Kanye West. Was that something you expected for that song and that project or was it a big surprise for you?
Well, I worked a lot with Kanye West. Produced most of the songs on [his first album] The College Dropout. I wrote, arranged and orchestrated the strings department. I was in charge and he had a lot of strings. I was touring with him for a very long time. I was featured by him, I was not in the orchestra. He would introduce me and he would leave the stage and it would be my part.
Some people say this is their favorite part or project of Kanye. I would say it’s at a time when everything was new and fresh and there was nothing like him and there was so much hype. We all knew it was the beginning of something amazing and incredible, that it’s going to be there for a very long time. We were all very happy. It was myself, Kanye, John Legend, and we were all just very happy to be a part of this. It’s like a movement it started. It was the very beginning, the explosion. Winning a Grammy with him was kind of a part of this freshness. The momentum was unbelievable. Looking back today, I understand better of what it was then. This was very special at the time.
Along the same lines, there are a lot different names and big names you’ve worked with, is there a favorite project or collaboration you’ve done that you could name?
There’s so many, I don’t even know where to start. I have collaborated with so many artists. Of course, performing with Jay-Z was an incredible experience.
Is there anyone that you go to for advice in the music business? Another artist or record executive or someone that’s really been there for you to turn to?
Yes, absolutely. Well, first of all, my manager Josue Sejour is also my best friend and I don’t think there are a lot of artists who can say that about their managers. He’s the family that I don’t have in the U.S. and I am a very lucky person to say that. There are some artists that I get to work with, especially the older ones, or the one who has been around longer than I have, just to sit down and talk to them… I really listen, I really take things they tell me.
The late Donna Summer was a friend, and I didn’t see her very often, but even then when I got to see her, she would say things to me that were so deep and to this day I’m using her advices. It always comes back, things she’s said to me. It’s incredible, right? People don’t know how brilliant Donna Summer, how deep as a person.
There is Roberta Flack, the soul legend. She came to honor me, to give me an award; I think it was last month. It was a Big Vision award, she came especially for me. Let me tell you, when Roberta Flack gives you advice, you listen. She has been around, she knows. She is a smart, smart artist. That’s another person, that’s another artist that is very musically educated. A real piano player, a real musician. It’s incredible. So I just gave you like three examples. I love to listen to people that have been around and learn.