Country of origin:
Type of music generally:
Pop/rock combined with eastern world rhythms and styles.
Sadly, Ofra Haza died in 2000.
Wikipedia's entry for Ofra Haza
Some similarities with others who do traditional Middle Eastern music and/or who do electronic pop with traditional Middle Eastern roots, like Natacha Atlas and Noa.
Own, traditional, and cowriters
She was born in 1957 in Israel. She started drawing attention at age 13, winning acclaim for children's music in 1979 and '80, and winning Israel-wide polls as best female artist throughout the early '80s. She has recorded at least 13 albums and appeared in two films! Says she recorded a rock album in 1986 called Breaking Days, which I've never seen.
I have a number of her albums, and think they are pretty spotty. My fave is Yemenite Songs (also called 50 Gates of Wisdom, depending on what release you find). This is all traditional, but it's got truly amazing percussion on it. This was sampled by M/A/R/R/S in their big hit that I can't seem to remember, which gave Ofra world-wide recognition. So she recorded an interesting companion disc to Yemenite Songs called Shaday. Half of Shaday sounds like bland dance pop with the barest hint of Middle Eastern influence. But the other half are really cool reworkings of songs from Yemenite Songs, in Hebrew, with interesting dance/percussion stuff mixed in. I have two albums after that Desert Wind and Kirya [the latter produced by Daniel Lanois]) and I find both of them to be less interesting than the above.
Start with Yemenite Songs/50 Gates of Wisdom, particularly if you're into world music. Get Kirya if folky works for you. Shaday is good as a bit of a novelty, and it's fun to go with Yemenite Songs/50 Gates of Wisdom. Skip Desert Winds unless you become a really big fan. (neal)
Some of her stuff is fairly traditional (and occasionally downright poppy) dance floor music. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I have heard a little bit of music by Ofra Haza. Some of it was distinctly Middle-Eastern, but a lot of it just sounded like garden-variety dance music with just a touch of Persian sound for flavor. I first heard music by Ofra Haza years ago on the radio, and was entranced by it. So I went to a music store and bought a tape. Since I didn't know the name of the particular song(s) I'd heard on the radio, I just selected one at random.
I was so disappointed—it sounded like any other American dance pop music, with just a slight amount of Middle Eastern influence. Evidently I'd made the wrong choice. I really love Middle Eastern music, and I've always wondered if some of her other albums are a lot better than the one I happened to choose. There's no way I could ever remember what the original song was that had gotten me so interested in the first place, but I do remember that it sounded a lot more authentic and beautiful than what I had on tape. (email@example.com)
so sad to hear of Ofra's death, bubble gum or authentic, her voice was absolutely beautiful and haunting, one of my early influences to go more "world" than rock in my career. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I don't care for her live album, but others might. (email@example.com)
Recommended first album:
Opinions differ as to her best albums, but I think all agree that
Yemenite Songs is indispensable. I like Desert Wind a lot, though some prefer Kirya. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As Yemenite Songs released 1985—GlobeStyle Records; re-released as Fifty Gates of Wisdom by Shanachie
Abigail Erenheim—flute, piccolo
Chaim Gispan—tambala, tambourine, tin whistle
Meril Grinberg—French horn, horn, English horn, oboe
Iki Levy—conga, drums, metal percussion, percussion, timbales
Eli Magen—double bass
Benny Nagari—flute, piccolo
Herman Openstein—horn, English horn, oboe
Iian School—clarinet, bass clarinet
Shlomo Shochat—French horn
Bezalel Alonim, Benny Nagari
Yemenite Songs was the first Ofra Haza album that was released in Europe. It features the original version of 'Im nin'alu' along with a collection of very ethnic songs sung in Hebrew. Definitely not overproduced, and in my opinion far superior to Shaday which came out at about the same time. (email@example.com)
Yemenite Songs, as its title implies, is all traditional music. It's my favorite of her albums, and everyone I've given it too has fallen in love with it. (Well, I only give it to people inclined to like it, but still....) It's a mix of catchy vocals and incredible, complex percussion workouts. I find it to be a very catchy and compelling album. It's a really marvelous album, and I don't think you can go wrong with it.
It contains a song called "Galbi", which was released as a 12" single that ran up the dance charts. This led to a snippet of the song being used in M/A/R/R/S sample-happy hit "Pump Up The Volume". (neal)
Yemenite Songs (aka Fifty Gates of Wisdom) is pretty authentic non-pop. I appreciate it, but don't listen to it much. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Wide on release
Dani Ali—keyboards, programming
Izhar Ashdot—bass, drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, multi instruments
Gilad Atsmon—clarinet, flute, saxophone
Nicholas Brown—drums, programming
Nick Brown—drums, programming
Scott Davidson—drums, keyboards, programming
Steve Goulding—drums, drum programming, programming
Steve Greetham—bass, guitar
Charles Jones—bass, guitar
Robin Langridge—drums, keyboards, programming
Iki Levy—drums, percussion
Sylvia Mason—backing vocals
Ruby St. James—backing vocals
Bezalel Aloni, Yair Nitzani—executive producers; Izhar Ashdot, Wally Brill—producers
Shaday is also quite good, though rather erratic. It has some very standard, kinda shlocky dance songs, but is most notable for some really exciting reworkings of some of the songs from Yemenite Songs, where she takes the traditional songs, still sings them in Hebrew, but they get a bit more of an electronic/dance treatment, recasting them as electronic dance mixes. It's an intriguing album. I still prefer the original versions, but it's kind of fun to hear them given this treatment. (You can certainly dance to the originals, since the Middle Eastern percussion that drives it is much livelier than the drum machines added later.) This disc also has a number of English language songs, which are only passably interesting. They're in more of a Euro-disco mode, or maybe bland faceless diva mode. I find this album to be half great, and an excellent companion to Yemenite Songs.
It's this style that the Just Say Bleh discs pick from. Just Say Mao has a dance-happy re-mix of a song from Shaday (which was overproduced before they re-mixed it). (neal)
Shaday is quite good, although some of the pop doesn't quite work. She sounds kinda like Martika on these, or perhaps like Sandra's work outside of Enigma. The reworkings on Shaday are of "Im Nin'alu" and "Galbi". There's also a stunningly lovely a cappella version of the text "Set me as a seal upon your heart", uninformatively titled "Love Song". "Da'ale Da'ale" has, to my ears, the best arrangement on the disc. (email@example.com)
1989—Sire (U.S.A.)—9 25976-2
Wide on release
High, possibly very high. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ofra Haza—vocals, arrangement, background vocals
Bazalel Aloni—arrangement, Yemenite Jewish prayer
Rachele Cappelli—background vocals
Thomas Dolby—background vocals, keyboards, drum programming, synthesizer programming
Lisa Fischer—background vocals
Joshua Fried—arrangement, keyboards, drums, programming, musical shoe tree
Lani Groves—background vocals
Kadya Haza—guest vocals
Iki Levy—drum and percussion programming, live cymbal, tasht, tasht loop, darbuka solo and fills, drums, percussion, ethnic percussion loops
Joe Mardin—arrangement, additional sequencing, keyboards, programming, vocoder, drums, background vocals
Andy Paley—guitar arrangement
Mark Stevens—background vocals
Omar Faruk Tekbilek—baglama, ut
Fonzi Thornton—background vocals
Bezalel Aloni, Thomas Dolby, Ofra Haza, Arif Mardin
Very interesting music based on Middle-East traditions, but with a taint of pop. (email@example.com)
Over-produced and *too* dancey!! (Marion)
Desert Wind is the Ofra I listen to most. "Slave Dream" (the name may be off) is, to my ears, her finest track, and "Ya Ba Ye" her most fun. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Joe Zitt and I are polar opposites on this one. I almost gave up on her after it came out. I found it to be overproduced and almost entirely uninteresting, losing most of the traditional touches and going in a very wrong direction. There are one or two songs that I really like, though, which redeems the album a bit. This album was a definite step in the wrong direction. Almost all mediocre pop songs, with very little of the original style that made her interesting. There are still a few Hebrew songs, which are the definite standout tracks on the album, and a moving version of the Kaddish. There's also one Thomas Dolby-produced track, which is better than most of the other poppy songs on the disc, but still not all that interesting. Overproduced. (neal)
This was produced by Don Was for simplicity and is a very nice way to get acquainted Israeli music and that whole neck of the woods. 1 track is *narrated* by Iggy Pop! Will be looking for more! (Marion)
I probably would have given up on her with Desert Wind, but Kirya was a move back to a small folk label (Shanachie). Plus, it was produced by Don Was, who does one of his standard brilliant resurrections. He takes someone who has wandered astray and reacquaints them with their roots, and the results are excellent. There may even be fewer Hebrew songs than on the previous album, but the songs in English are a huge step above any of her previous English-language output. There are some really moving songs, as well as dancey and catchy ones. It's an fine blending of her roots with a more American folky sound. This album sounded good from the first listen, but it wasn't until repeated plays that I found many of the songs had crept into my consciousness. I found it much more enjoyable then Desert Winds, and appreciated the traditional aspects that she brought back. Not as strong as Yemenite Songs and Shaday though. (neal)
I didn't care for Kirya much. In a word: bleh. This one struck me as less interesting retreads of the stuff done more energetically on Desert Wind. The track with Iggy Pop on it should never have gotten out of the studio. (email@example.com)
"Im Nin'alu" was sampled by M.A.R.R.S.'s "Pump Up the Volume", though I believe she was first sampled by ColdCut for their remix of Eric B. and Rakim's "Paid in Full".
She sings on The Prayer Cycle (1 track).
Thanks to Jens P. Tagore Brage for work on this entry.