Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ofra Haza – Shaday

   As a cultural mosaic Israeli society is successful experiment. Many groups of Israeli citizens keep their traditions, differentiating and enriching the resultant cultural life. Jews from Yemen belong to the most unique and distant communities living in Israel. In 1964 Ephraim Kishon and Menachem Golan’s comedy Sallah Shabati, the brilliant movie debut of Chaim Topol, the situation of Yemenite Jews becomes part of bitter social satire. For years while many ethnic and cultural groups gained positions in various areas of life this part of society was often marginalized one. Living in poorer conditions, taking part in organized work and education but with no apparent effect on quality of life, Yemenites with their own music, art and traditions remain a cultural niche for decades. 
   In popular Israeli culture Yemenites, sometimes mistakenly identified with Mizrahi Jews, were on a narrow marigin for many years. Specific melodic and rhytmic patterns, ethnic instruments, ancient vocal techniques, connections with Arabic music in scales and pitch were characteristic qualities of this sound which was so distant of European Jewish tradition. In 1980's the waves of world music and basing on folk rhythms electronic pop give great popularity for the 1984 album Shirei Teiman (שירי תימן  Yemenite Songs) by Israeli singer Ofra Haza. The album of songs to poetry of 16th century Rabbi Shalom Shabazi became first success, and first of the songs, a’cappella vacalise of Im Nin’Alu was frequently used in various remixes. In 1988 on the basis of this recording were released many remixes on 7-inch and 12-inch singles featuring original Hebrew and new English versions of Ofra Haza’s vacalise.

Ofra Haza – Shaday (1988)

   Next album Shaday has been recorded in Israel and in England and published in December 1988. The record became Ofra Haza’s biggest success, peaking position 130th on the year Billboard 200. This achievement was based on the popularity of previous singles. English version of Im Nin’Alu recorded with electronic instruments published in many versions on singles in 1988 became commercial success, giving singer the real base for international career. General part of the album has been recorded by multi-instrumentalist Izhar Ashdot. Other two Israeli musicians were Iki Levy and Alon Oleartchik. The group of artists has been completed by keyboard programmer Dani Ali, saxophonist Gilad Atsmon and a list of ten English session musicians.
   The program of the album is well balanced set of nine popular songs in synthpop style and world music. Some songs, like the opening B-Side Galbi or ending this selection Shaday are more ambitious. Some are rather progressive electronic compositions than synthpop and some vocal performances are more complex. Most interesting parts of this album are these vocal performances, some with strong religious background – good example is Love Song being a fragment of Biblical Song of Songs (incipit Simeni Kahotam Al Libecha). Opening the Shaday A-Side with hit song, giving some compromise between popular and traditional culture, this album was first of all a great opportunity to give the chance the Yemenite culture can be heard worldwide. And as shown by the time, this was the real breakthrough in the way Yemenite Jews have been seen and even bigger breakthrough in the way they perceive themselves.

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