This Yemenite singer has played a prominent role on the Israeli and International music scene.
Reprinted from Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia with permission of the author and the Jewish Women's Archive.
Ofra Haza was born on November 19, 1957 in the Hatikvah quarter of Tel Aviv to parents who had immigrated from Yemen with their eight sons and daughters. Her mother, already a singer in Yemen, would often perform at family celebrations. Haza herself sang from an early age and was a soloist in her local school choir.
As part of the neighborhood program of the Tel Aviv Municipality, the Hatikvah Quarter Theater Workshop was established under the leadership of Bezalel Aloni. Haza was accepted into the workshop at the age of twelve and it was through this program that in 1973 she sang the song "Ga'agu'im" (Yearning), which became famous, reaching first place on the hit parade. At the Mizrahi Music Festival of 1974, the song "Shabbat ha-Malkah," performed by Haza, took third place. Following her army service, Haza decided to make singing a career.
Since Israel's major songwriters initially rejected Haza's requests to write songs for her, her manager Bezalel Aloni began composing works for her himself. In 1979, Haza appeared in the film Shlagger (Hit) performing the song "Shir ha-Freha," written by Assi Dayan and Svika Pick. The song became a huge hit and Haza led the hit parades on all the radio stations, earning the title "Singer of the Year" four times from 1980 to 1983.
Breaking into the International Music Scene
In Israel's "Pre-Eurovision" song competition in 1983 Haza performed the winning song, entitled "Hai," by Ehud Manor and Avi Toledano. She traveled to Germany to represent Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest, where the song took second place. Her major international breakthrough came in the wake of the album Shirei Teiman (Yemenite songs), which she recorded in 1984.
Shirei Teiman consisted of songs that Haza had heard in childhood, using arrangements that combined authentic Middle Eastern percussion with classical instruments. The composer-arranger Izhar Ashdot, who remixed the album's songs, added electronic instruments to the song "Galbi" (Libi [My heart] in Hebrew). Set to a Middle Eastern beat, the song became a "dance music" hit. A DJ from the Voice of Peace radio station passed along Ashdot's version to friends in Europe, and the song was released by German record giant BMG, which distributed it throughout Europe, particularly in France and Germany. "Galbi" became a huge international hit.
Haza's star continued to rise, both in Israel and abroad. In 1988 Izhar Ashdot and Yair Nitzani did a remix of the song "Im Nin'alu," first recorded by Haza for her Shirei Teiman album in 1984. After hip-hop artists and sampling pioneers Eric B & Rakim inserted the original version plus an addition by Haza in English and German into their song "Seven Minutes of Madness," Haza's "Im Nin'alu" soared to international fame. By the end of 1987 the song had sold more than two million copies worldwide.