Hush now my baby, be still love dont cry,
Sleep as youre rocked by lifes stream
Dream and remember my last lullaby,
So Ill be with you when you dream
River, oh river, flow gently for me,
Such precious cargo you bear
Do you know somewhere we can be free?
River, deliver us there.
~These poignant words were
perhaps Ofra Haza's last lullaby that we heard. Ofra sang the voice of Mose's mother in The Prince of Egypt. This angelic
songstress was just starting to be recognized in American music for her incredible talent, though many of us in the Middle
Eastern world of music already danced to her words and praised her soulful voice. Sadly for the world, Ofra died on Wednesday,
February 23, 2000 at the age of 42.
Ofra Haza was born in Israel into a Jewish-Yemenite family. She was the
youngest of eight other brothers and sisters. Her family was financially poor, but musically rich in traditional culture
and history. Her mother would sing with Ofra when she was little, which later, Ofra attributed to her own talent and success.
At age 12, Ofra joined a theatre group in her little village of Tel Aviv Hatikvah. The founder of the group, Bezalel
Aloni, immediately recognized her shining talent. From then on, he became her manager and remained loyal till the day she
died. With the encouragement of Bezalel, Ofra accepted more opportunities and by the time she was 19, her solo career was
on its way.
In 1979, She became a bubblegum sensation with her first pop hit, The Tarts Song singing out about
everything funny, flirtatious, consumerist. For Israel, her lyrics were about everything a young woman was not supposed to
be, I wanna shout out loud, Im a Tart! and Israeli teenagers went wild. I can imagine, at the time, that it was the equivalent
to Madonnas, Like a Virgin, song. Israel's radio pop music editor, Benny Dudkevitch, said of Ofra, "She was Israels
first female pop success."
Later in her career, she delved into her parents ethnic roots to consolidate
a more Israel sound. She began blending Yemenite Jewish poetry to a techno eightie's beat.
In 1985, she released Yemenite Songs. On the front of the cover, you can see Ofra in full Yemenite wedding apparel. The album
became an instant success, in Israel. The song, Im Nin Alu which expanded a devotional poem by 17th century rabbi Shalom
Shabazi, into a modern love song, that reached #1 in the German charts for nine straight weeks, and #1 in the Euro charts
for two weeks.
Her next album, Shaday, continued her international success selling over one million copies worldwide.
She received The New Music Award for The International Album of the Year in 1989. She launched a sold out tour through U.S,
Canada and Japan. Continuing to win other outstanding awards, she released her second album, Kirya in 1992. She was nominated
for the Grammy Awards for the best album in the World Beat category.
Throughout her career, Ofra performed with
such musicians as Paula Abdul and Sisters of Mercy. She sang in movie soundtracks, Colors, The Governess, and The Prince of
Egypt. She performed in Oslo when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
She wanted to keep her private life just that, private! She wanted
her non-professional life kept out of the public eye, including her two-year marriage to businessman, Doron Ashkenazi. However,
her private life only fueled Israels curiosity, and she made headlines when in 1987, she survived a small plane crash. Incidentally,
after that, Ofra celebrated Feb. 3 - the day of the crash, as a second birthday.
In mid February of 2000, for
thirteen days of her hospital stay, faithful fans gathered outside waiting to hear of her recovery. Ofra died in Tel Avivs
hospital on Feb.23, 2000; they reported that she died from a massive organ failure. They refused to say what caused this
organ failure, only commenting that this was Ofra's wish. There has been a lot of mystery and rumor surrounding Ofra's illness
at the time she died. Instead of doting on the cause of death and the reasons, lets respect the privacy that she wanted and
remember the incredible gift she gave us.
After her death, Prime Minister Ehud Barak said of her, Ofra emerged
from the Hatikvah slums to reach the peak of Israeli culture. She has left a mark on us all.