Chava Alberstein: Multilingual Folkie
In Hebrew, English and Yiddish, this legendary Israeli singer has created an unparalleled body of music.
Alberstein has stood fast by her convictions. "It took time for people to understand," she says. "Today people see that the occupation causes us to be violent."
Some have tagged her a "protest" singer. She, however, prefers to be known as a singer who values content, whether personal or political, and it is this that attracts her fans both young and old, even when they find her politics distasteful.
"I think she projects something moral," says law student David Gabai. "I don't accept her political views. This is beyond politics." The rock song "London," the title work of the album that includes "Chad Gadya," is one of Alberstein's all-time hits. It portrays loneliness and despair on a personal level, but also disappointment with what has happened to the country. The lyrics are from a Hanoch Levin play: "I have no illusions about Lon-don...there, too, I'll be alone...[but in London] despair is easier to handle."
There have been hard times in Alberstein's career, when her creative juices seemed to run dry. Each of these periods has marked a significant turn and a renewal. One summer, encouraged by her husband, she recorded the English album The Man I Love, with her brother accompanying her on clarinet. Also, with her husband's encouragement, she tried acting, appearing in two of his films on kibbutz life.
Looking back at the first album she wrote, Mehagrim (Migrants), in which "Sharaliya" was the lead track, Alberstein admits the songs were immature. "But it is very authentic. It was all young people; the sound was new."
Now, while Mizrahi (Israelis of Sephardic and North African background) singers are reviving and renewing their parents' lost culture--which they had been told was "primitive" and worthless--Alberstein is drawing again on her immigrant roots, creating the music of maturity, knowing that one's parents' culture will die with them unless they are given a voice. If Yiddish was once considered a sign of weakness, the language of those who had gone to their deaths like sheep to the slaughter, Alberstein has made it a sign of strength, of the power to bring the dead back to life.
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