Sunday, March 27, 2011

For salvation, Kaddish. For redemption, Kaddish. For revolution, Kaddish? Ofra Haza, Twitter, and the Yemeni Revolution

It's rare that Jewish music has international prominence and when it does it's usually because of some dustup over Israel. For a current example, check yesterday's Israeli National News article "Jewish Music Group Rejects Israeli Money After Threat." While an interesting and frustrating article, Jewish music itself plays a small role. The article could just as easily been about a Jewish literary group or student group. Not so this morning.

Today I woke up to a twitter discussion between National Public radio strategist and digital technology community organizer Andy Carvin and Maria Al-Masani, a Canadian public relations agent, model, and former Miss Universe Canada. Al-Masani was telling Carvin, and others, about how Ofra Haza's song Kaddish was becoming the anthem of the current Yemeni revolution. Haza was a popular Israeli singer of a Yemeni-Jewish family who sang pop-Israeli, Yemeni-Jewish, and Yemeni-Arabic music.

Here's the exchange:
Al-Masani Saturday 3/26, 23:09: @acarvin @TomOdell Andy you are jewish? That's wonderful! Have you heard the music of Yemeni-Jewish singer Ofra Haza?
Acarvin Saturday 3/26, 23:11: @ was a big fan of hers before she passed away, RIP.

Saturday 3/26, 23:13: @acarvin same here. :-) Her music in general but especially her song kaddish is played by so many in Yemen as sound track to uprising

Acarvin Saturday 3/26, 23:14: Yemeni Jewish singer Ofra Haza and the revolt. Wow. RT @al_masani: her song Kaddish is played by so many in Yemen as soundtrack to uprising

Al-Masani Saturday 3/26, 23:14: Awesome! @jilliancyork Loving how @acarvin is standing up for Muslims against Twitter hate tonight.

zweever212 Saturday 3/26, 23:22: Israeli singer Ofra Haza's song Kaddish played by many in Yemen as an inspiration for uprising. / @al_masani

Al-Masani Saturday 3/26, 23:26: @zweerver212 to us she is Yemeni. She also sings many songs in traditional Yemeni dialect.

Al-Masani Saturday 3/26, 23:27: @gfry @emilylhauser Ofra Haza is a source of national pride for Yemenis. We have a Yemeni-Jewish population, many are Israeli citizens

zweever212 Saturday 3/26, 23:28: @al_masani well yes, she's a yemeni jew, i've heard her songs in the dialect since im an arabic student. we're all one people.

Al-Masani Saturday 3/26, 23:27: @zweerver212 exactly, Jews, Christians Muslims united against brutal regimes #MENA #Egypt #Yemen #Libya
Ofra Haza singing Kaddish at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1990*

Haza's Kaddish isn't the liturgical prayer of the same name. But, similarly to Alan Ginsberg's poem Kaddish, picks up on themes from the prayer to create her own secular prayer for peace and redemption. It's a deeply moving song and it's wonderful to think of it being adopted by a people striving for redemption and peace.

The discussion is also fascinating as it shows how labels like Yemeni, Israeli, and Jew are negotiated. Haza fits all those categories, but the commentators, for their purposes, preferred more restricted descriptions. Yemeni. Yemeni-Jew. Israeli. When confronted both were able to step back to the larger label set. The result... the restricted categories turned out to be ways of describing the commentator, not Haza.

Just as a note, I don't have any independent confirmation that what Al-Masani said is true and that Haza's Kaddish is really being played in Yemen right now. If anyone has any additional information, please let me know.

* The video I posted is not the video linked in the twitter discussion, which is more pop and more English language. It's not clear from Al-Masani's tweets what recording is being played right now and the Montreaux recording has always been a favorite of mine.

hat tip to OfraFan for uploading the video.


rachel said...

Just stumbled across your blog, and am delighted! I love what you are doing, and plan to visit again.

Bruce said...

How ironic that an Israeli singer inspires Yemeni insurgents. Go figure. She was so talented...they may have ill goals for Yemen, but they have good taste in music!