By Tad Hendrickson
FOR THE STAR-LEDGER
Ethnic hybrids in music can be found today with such regularity that it's seemingly now a rule more than the exception. But the strong sense of individuality that Ethiopian-Israeli singer Ester Rada gives to her mix of jazz, R&B, soul, African music, reggae and rock certainly stands out. As will the reason for it: She was born and raised in a small town of Kiryat Arba in the West Bank region to Jewish-Ethiopian parents, and this unique mix of traditions helped galvanize her to become the artist she is.
"When I was young I was very much confused," says Rada, 29. "I didn't know who I was -- at home I had an Ethiopian culture, language and mentality, and outside I had a completely different thing. I thought I would have to choose a side. Only when I grew up did I realize I don't have to choose. I am a lot of things and that is the beauty of us as human beings."
It wasn't until her family moved to the bigger Israeli city of Netanya when she was 10 years old that Rada discovered MTV and secular music.
"The mix of all that is what I am, and my music is the mix of who I am," she adds.
Her diverse musical vision and electrifying live performances make her an ideal debut performer for the new Roots & Ribs Festival at the Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center in West Orange on July 1. While she's toured extensively at home and in Europe and done smaller U.S. tours, Rada is in the midst of a 40-city North American run in support of her self-titled debut album, released in February.