Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ofra Haza – Yemenite Songs


   In eighties small ethnic groups and their cultures were increasingly interesting to the world public as an alternative to incoming globalization and cultural unification. The way paved in sixties by various rock experiments became clear answer for music business and when in record stores sections with world music had appeared, listeners’ interest was no surprise. What happened in eighties can be considered as a continuation of earlier waves of ethnic music, indeed in terms of scope and severity it was new phenomenon. This was the moment of success for many musicians creating their style outside the trends of seventies. One of most famous was Ofra Haza (1957-2000), Israeli singer and actress with captivating, never-to-be-forgotten voice. Her voice was the ground for starting her career.
   Ofra Haza was born in Shechunat Hatikva, working class neighborhood in southeastern Tel Aviv. As 12 years old girl she started to act in Shechunat Hatikvah Workshop Theatre. Director of the troupe, Bezalel Aloni find her great talent and become her mentor and future manager as well as producer of great part of her records. She was 17 years old when she had recorded her first albums with Workshop Theatre. Two years later she was a star of pop music. In 1979 after completing military service Ofra Haza published her first album Shir haShirim beShaashuim (Song of Songs with Fun) and since then every year she was releasing one or two albums. In 1984 main Israel label Hed-Arzi published Haza’s ninth album Yemenite Songs. Album became instant success and in next few years it had two dozens of re-editions in Great Britain, Italy, Germany, US, Netherlands, Yugoslavia and Japan. One of most popular was 1986 edition released by German label Ausfahrt.

Ofra Haza – Yemenite Songs (1986)

   Eight songs collected on this album are sung in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, with accompany of acoustic instruments in style being a crossover between folk music traditions and contemporary popular dance music. Lyrics had been taken from poetry of Shalom ben Yosef Shabazi (1619-1720) who is widely considered as one of best Jewish poets of all time. Themes of songs span from religious to social, from ethical to love songs. Most famous song Im Nin’alu (When locked) is built over poetic sentence “When doors of generous people are locked, the doors of Heaven are not”. In Galbi (My heart) title phrase “My heart loves freedom, don’t stop me from being free” is sung by young woman to find love in the heart of chosen one, even if he doesn’t know about her. These two songs opening both sides of Yemenite Songs, Im Nin’alu as first track on the first side and Galbi as first song on the second side. In 1988 both were published on singles promoting next Ofra Haza’s album Shadday which became the great international success. Other songs are even more interesting in various poetic and melodic forms. The set was perfectly fit into new trends. In eighties, when coarse disco rhythms and flat electronics were pretty overexploited, temperate acoustic sound and folk rhythms were giving new capacious perspective. No wonder the Yemenite Songs album was so famous and published in so many re-issues.
   The interesting feature is massive use of classical orchestral instruments. What was intended to sound like folk music, was arranged for ensemble of 19 instrumentalists comprising strings, French horn and ensemble of wind instruments flutes, oboe, English horn, bassoon, clarinet and bass clarinet. These groups were balanced by double bass (Eli Magen), percussion with wooden and metal drums (Iki Levy) and Yemenite tin and tambala (Chaim Gispan). Arrangements were made by Benny Nagari, who was musical producer as well. Great success of Shaday album and fame growing with remixes of Im Nin’alu and Galbi makes Ofra Haza internationally recognized celebrity. The Yemenite Songs occurred to be an ideal promotion of ethnic music and whole cultural heritage of Yemenite Jews. It remains most sincere and open-hearted album by great singer. Growing popularity of vigorously expanded music based on ethnic idioms was clear sign for incoming social changes. For this perfect work of art, for beautiful voice and creative attitude to the musical heritage fully deserved note is five stars.

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