Some artists take great risks, challenging political and cultural assertions, while still managing to bring audiences joyfully to their feet. Rita Yahan-Farouz, Israel’s foremost pop voice, has done just that on her latest album, My Joys (2012). The dynamic and sultry singer has made a quiet statement against sabre-rattling bluster and political oppression, bringing the distinctive pleasures of her Persian family’s songs and celebrations to life with striking, fresh arrangements. Her stirring, upbeat renditions of classic Persian songs in Hebrew and Farsi, though banned in Iran, are quietly being sold in underground music shops. Gratitude has poured in from Iranian fans, despite the risks involved.
Rita says music began early in her life. “When I was just a child, I was at my uncle’s engagement party in Tehran. They put me on a chair, gave me a microphone, and I sang a song, accompanied by two violinists who were at the event. Throughout the duration of my song, I had a deep, strong, distinct feeling – like a laser beam cutting through and boring down through my innocence and my youth – a feeling that this was a place I was returning to, or arriving at – like a very familiar home.
That night on the way home, I told my parents that I was going to be a singer. Even though I was just four years old, this purpose, this calling, never left my heart,” she says.
The amazing thing is that the reality turned out to be much bigger and much more surprising than the dream itself. Her story is a Cinderella story that happened overnight – from the very first television appearance, and turned into a wonderful love story between the Israeli audience and her.
Rita is clear where her influences lie. “There’s no doubt that Persian music was the very first music I ever heard,” she says, “In particular my mother’s voice, which enveloped and accompanied me during my childhood and throughout my life. My mother has a warm and beautiful voice, and since at that time being a female singer in Iran was considered dishonourable, she could never realise her love for music and singing – which is why she would share all this beauty while in our home, as she cooked, cleaned and took care of us children, and later on at family occasions, and other private joyful events.”
‘Though banned in Iran, are quietly being sold in underground music shops’
At the age of eight, when her family moved to Israel, Rita was exposed to Israeli music, which is a concoction of many different cultures and countries, pop and rock. Ultimately, she found the pop-rock space to be the most natural place for her.
But she also recognises the deeper significance of her work. “Today I realise that the lyrics to the songs I have written independently are influenced by Persian lyrics and the Persian way of singing, which is free of cynicism, and highly emotional – raw feeling with absolutely no shame,” she says.
Rita expresses sadness that in our day and age there are places that forbid freedom of people’s spirit, mind and will. “But I don’t let myself forget that we, the artists, have a vital role in this crazy world,” she adds, “to bring hearts closer together; and that music has more than once caused revolutions in the world; and that within this insanity of egos and people with such detrimental influence, the music – or any other action of true love – is what brings people closer, firstly to themselves and then to others.”
‘Love is the only logical action in a world where people’s egos have caused some of the biggest disasters in humanity. We, the everyday people, must find any way we can to reach out and offer simple, loving hands – to hold and strengthen one another and remind others that life is already full of complications and we shouldn’t complicate it further,” she states emphatically.
‘Rita’s pop inventiveness and rock energy, has softly but firmly shifted the conversation, in Iran and in Israel’
Rita says her work on the My Joys album enraptured each and every person who took part in making the album – up to the point that during rehearsals, recordings and mixes, everyone was dancing to the rhythm. “The genuine joy that spouted and erupted from the music was deep rooted and honest and I’m happy that I succeeded in fulfilling the dream that I had had: that the same would happen during the live performances, too. The music in Hebrew, spanning my entire career, together with the songs in Farsi, all wrapped into a colourful array of Persian-gypsy renditions, sweeps the performers on stage – and the audience – away to a place where the source of happiness is. There is no one happier or more thankful for this than I,” says Rita when asked to comment on the process behind her album.
‘Rita infuses Persian lyrics in Hebrew and Farsi sounds, backed by her rich and sultry voice’
Although she’s a pop icon and a born performer, Rita says the work is endless, and has never stopped, since she was four years old. “All my life, from age four, I have learned and experimented in any way I can, in order to hone, enrich and deepen my craft and my art. I also never grow blasé about the fact that I have actually fulfilled my dream. Modesty is very important in all of this. And, most of all, I guess you really have to love people in order to truly get excited again and again, even after endless performances. Personally, I still get as excited like an eight-year-old girl!” she laughs.
Art & Culture Interviewed by: Sahil Sharma
Pictures by: Rita