In Sony’s Kensington offices, Kobi Farhi has just finished filming a video directed at Roger Waters, the notorious face of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Farhi, 42, fronts the Israeli heavy metal band Orphaned Land. He looks just how you would imagine a seasoned metalhead: long dark hair, thick wiry beard, and tattoos running up his arms. But that’s only half the picture. He is a sincere voice for peace in an increasingly divided Middle East.
Farhi is as much an activist as he is a musician, I suggest. “I’m pretty much a Don Quixote figure because I’m fighting the wind,” he jokes. He has a point — how does one band solve a problem like the Israeli-Palestine conflict?
You could start with Orphaned Land’s famously large and devoted following of both Jews and Arabs. What’s more, the band made headlines in 2013 by touring with Palestinian metal outfit Khalas. The two bands shared a tour bus, a stage and even the prestigious Metal Hammer award.
Farhi takes obvious pride in his time with Khalas. “Our point was very clear: while our politicians say that we can’t live in the same land, look at us — we lived in a tour bus.”
Surely that’s the opposite of the method pursued by Roger Waters and the boycott movement? “Of course, and we’re achieving much more.”
He leans towards me as if I’m the former Pink Floyd frontman sitting across from him. “It’s this obsession with Israel that I don’t understand. But what about Syria? What about the millions of children who are being kidnapped in India? Or what about if you’re gay, the only safe place in the Middle East for you is Israel? It is a double standard.”
He is scathing about Waters. “He’s too obsessed. I really disrespect him for that. My band is a bug when you compare it to Pink Floyd but we achieve far more.”
Orphaned Land certainly know how to unite disparate people under a mutual love of heavy metal. “Every Arab can find himself in our music just as much as a Jew or a Christian can. Yes, we’re Israelis, we’re Jewish, but music is universal. When we do shows, I always ask if there are Jews and Muslims in the crowd and tell them, ‘for two hours we are one big family.’”
It’s hard to imagine that Farhi wasn’t always the musician-cum-activist he is today. It’s even harder to imagine that, as a teenager growing up in Jaffa, he sprayed “death to all Arabs” on the side of a shopping mall.
“It was my lowest point,” he admits. “I grew up alongside Arabs. I even called many Arabs my friends. But the media had brainwashed me so much. You see the terror attacks and Arabs killing Jews on TV and you figure, ‘they want to kill us, they want us dead’. I began to think ‘I want you dead, too.’”
He pauses. “I’m very ashamed of it.” Then what made him change? “I just grew up. Teenagers think they know everything. I realised that I didn’t really know anything.”
Today, Farhi’s fight for peace is far from over. Orphaned Land’s new album, Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs, directs its anger at humanity’s inability to break the cycles of violence with which Farhi is so familiar.
“Things have been going backwards,” he laments. “And, as you get older, you start to become bitter. But then again, I have music, so I have my own way to express myself, to write my own protest. That’s all I can do. It keeps me at the edge of sanity.”
Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs is out with Century Media