Day 14: A song that no one would expect you to love – Leorej hayam – Ofra Haza

I really can’t know which songs people expect, or do not expect, me to love. I am deeply moved by some very popular, very folksy, very down-to-earth songs. The list is long.

I truly love Ofra Haza. True, part of her songs wouldn’t be out of place in some bus in Bogotá (they actually play them in buses in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), but her incredible voice, her way of speaking Hebrew, with her Yemenite accent that one hears in the slums of Bat-Yam and Holon, in some areas of the markets (Shuk-ha-Carmel, etc.), almost Arabic with `ain and xet coming from deep under, her incredible physical beauty and her eyes – I can simply not not love Ofra Haza.

One could argue at length that she plays the sentimentalist card all over, that her songs are contrived (Yerushalayim shel Zahav could be an example of that) but just try hearing Ofra singing Adama (tierra), Elo Hi (Dios mío) or Leorej hayam (Al borde del mar) and you know that her voice is out of this world, that her melismatic play comes from deep Yemen, that she is (was) a force of this world.

Very Israeli, yet very Oriental, Ofra was somewhat difficult to place. Her early songs are much less interesting to me, as I feel they are more similar to many popular ballads ranging from Latin American to Middle Eastern styles. But later in life, she developed a very personal style, with long, very long, melismas, with pure lines lifting one’s heart as a dervish dance, with amazing connections to singers such as Um Kalthoum in Egypt, Jewish traditional cantors and refreshing nods to modern Israel (as in her song Sof haQaits – End of Summer).

Here she sings during a sad event right after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

I somehow feel better translating a few lines of the song into Spanish, on the fly:

Elohai, elohai, elohai – Dios mío, dios mío, dios mío / Kol ha neshama she natata bi, elohai – Toda el alma que me diste, Dios mío / Tagid li ej laatsor et hadmaot – dime cómo trancar las lágrimas / Tagid li eifo yesh olam ajer lejiot – Dime dónde hay otro mundo para vivir – Tagid li lama ein emet rak hazait …

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