Then and Now: Ofra Haza

Back in 1988, Sire Records put out an artist sampler called Just Say Yo, and the lead track, “Galbi” (Listen HERE), was by an Israeli singer named Ofra Haza. The song is so laden with synth/dance elements, that, for me, it was easy to slip this song into a set when DJ-ing back in the day. Plus, her voice was sampled on “Pump Up The Volume” by M/A/R/R/S, so it wasn’t too difficult to have a good deal of Ofra Haza in one set! 🙂

After hearing the song on the sampler, I ran out and bought her CD, Shaday, that had one of her most popular songs, “Im Nin’ Alu” (Listen HERE). Stylistically, it’s very similar to the dance version of “Galbi,” and features many of the same vocal gymnastics Haza was famous for, but terms of sheer popularity, “Im Nin’ Alu” was the big dance hit for Haza — and would mix pretty well with “The Cutter” by Echo and the Bunnymen. There’s no doubting that her vocal chops were beyond reproach, but it seemed that the Eurodisco/Middle Eastern fusion was going to run it course soon enough if Haza didn’t show the world she was more than a novelty act – which, by the way, she wasn’t. Haza was an extremely popular singer and actress in Israel from the late 70s.

Her follow up to Shaday, was Desert Wind featuring songs that were softer in style, but they had the added benefit of being composed so the listener could easily get lost in her voice and not bombarded with thumping beats (Listen to “Da’asa” HERE). It was clear with the songs in Desert Wind Haza had jettisoned the disco crowd that flocked to her music and was courting fans of who were drawn to so-called “World Music.” Three years later, Haza released Kirya (produced by Don Was) and featured Iggy Pop doing some odd narration on “Daw da Hiya” (Listen HERE). Kirya signaled that Haza had found a niche that made her comfortable, and she rode that neo-traditional wave to the end of her career (Haza died of AIDS related complications in 2000). “My Ethiopian Boy” (Listen HERE) and a new version of “Galbi” (Listen HERE) clearly reflected the folk/traditional side of her Yemenite Jewish heritage rather than au courant trends in popular music.

Haza’s vocals were first-rate, but if it wasn’t for the wonderfully overblown dance music she created in the late 80s, she would have remained a regional act whose talents would have remained hidden from a larger world-wide audience.

–PK

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