Violinist Miri Ben-Ari Enlists Mya, Fabolous, Kanye West For Hip-Hop Debut

Israeli fiddler's devotees include Wyclef Jean, Jay-Z, Wynton Marsalis.

Over the past three years, Miri Ben-Ari has carved out a unique niche
as the hip-hop violinist for artists including Jay-Z, Wyclef Jean and
Kanye West. Soon, however, the 26-year-old may be calling on some of
her rapping friends for musical assistance at her own shows. Miri will
release an album this year.

The project, she said, is “hard to explain. It’s one-of-a-kind. There’s
nothing like it. The only thing I could compare it to would be Carlos
Santana’s projects, because he’s an instrumentalist who mixes different
elements like pop, rock and Latin music. And I’m doing the same with
classical and hip-hop.”

Ben-Ari, whose last name means “daughter of a lion,” is still at work
on her untitled project and getting her guest stars together. Mya,
Scarface, Lil’ Mo, Fabolous, Anthony Hamilton and Kanye West have all
agreed to appear on the LP.

“I’m actually producing,” Ben-Ari said of her album. “I’ve been
producing for some time. Sometimes I do it from scratch. Sometimes I
collaborate with other producers. Sometimes I get a track and flip it.
Sometimes I start a track and we develop it. And sometimes I’ll hear a
track, fall in love with it and do it my way. It all depends.”

Her first foray into hip-hop isn’t her debut opus. She released the
jazz album Sahara in 1999 and the live Temple of
Beautiful
in 2003. Miri grew up playing classical music, fell in
love with jazz at 16 and branched out into other musical genres. She
moved to New York from Israel in the late ’90s hoping to use her
classical training onstage.

“What I really wanted to do was improvise,” said Ben-Ari, who recalls
being introduced to rap through Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. “I’m a
stage addict. I love to perform. New York is the best place to express
yourself musically, to check out other music and find opportunities to
get on different stages.”

Miri first played hip-hop and R&B on her violin at open-mic gatherings,
and then began attending jazz classes. Famed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis
soon took her under his wing.

Introduced to Ben-Ari by a mutual friend, Wyclef Jean was so taken by
Miri he asked her to perform with him during a “Showtime at the
Apollo” taping and a Carnegie Hall gig. Appearances on BET’s “Rap City”
and “106 & Park” followed, and the floodgates opened when Jay-Z had her
play during his historic 2001 Summer Jam set. Jigga subsequently
featured her on his live Showtime concert early last year.

“I loved it,” she said of Summer Jam. “It was amazing. So much energy,
so much love. Working with Wyclef and Jigga was tremendous. They’re
both brilliant and know what they really want. They’re not superstars
just because they have mad talent.”

Miri’s been working a lot lately with another mad genius, Kanye West.
She just played on a track he produced for Janet Jackson, and her
violin is heard on approximately 90 percent of his recent The
College Dropout.

“We started trusting each other after spending so much time in a studio together,” Ben-Ari said of recording West’s album. “He doesn’t need to talk to me anymore when he gives me tracks. He knows what I do and trusts me. When I do my thing, I always know what to do. I never need to think about anything, I just do me. Music comes to me. I
don’t process any thoughts when I play music. I always like to hear things instantly.”