More results...

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

More results...

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Ofra Haza One of Rolling Stone’s 200 Greatest Singers of All Time

You have probably already heard this news, especially if you follow Israeli and pro-Israel news sites: Israel’s Ofra Haza made Rolling Stone’s list of The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time, coming in at number 186.

Like a call to prayer, the opening phrase of Ofra Haza’s 1984 song “Im Nin’alu” is instantly transportive, sweeping the listener up in her expressive, fluttery mezzo-soprano. And when U.K. production duo Coldcut sampled that passage on their landmark 1987 remix of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full,” it was a cross-cultural masterstroke that helped bring the Israeli singer’s unmistakable voice to the pop mainstream. Inspired by her Yemeni-Jewish ancestry, Haza combined traditional vocal conventions with modern technique to create something that felt at once ancient and ahead of its time. On albums like 1984’s Shirei Teiman, 1988’s Shaday, and 1992’s Kirya, her unprecedented splash in the U.S. pop market cemented her status as “The Madonna of the Middle East.” 

Ofra is a most deserving inclusion, although I am not a fan of the “Madonna of the Middle East” moniker (given to her by music journalists well before this Rolling Stone list), which I think degrades her memory. Her singing talent way exceeded that of Madonna’s for a start. Just listen.

And let’s be honest – she was not trashy like Madonna.

It is noteworthy, also, that Ofra managed to break into the Arab market.

Haza, the most famous Israeli musical artist to break into the Arab market, is also perhaps the most revered Israeli singer in the country’s history. Haza’s musical explorations of her Yemeni heritage won her tremendous popularity — and surprising adoration in the Arab world.

As one of the first high-profile Israeli pop singers of Middle Eastern heritage, Haza was drawn back to the traditional songs of her childhood after her initial run of success in the early 1980s. It was these recordings — like her biggest album, Yemenite Songs, released in 1984 — that drew the attention of fans from outside of Israel and, particularly, inside the Arab world.

In an interview in 2008, one radio executive explained that the success of Aderet came in part because of the bridges that Ofra Haza had built years earlier: “We grew up in Beirut listening to Ofra Haza, “he said. “It is just music.”

Haza was vocal about her relationship with fans from the Arab world, going so far as attempt an unprecedented goodwill trip to Yemen in 1995 as an Israeli artist. (A month before the planned visit, the trip was abruptly canceled after local media harshly criticized Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdul Karim al-Iryani for his quote in an Israeli newspaper assuring that he would help secure Haza a visa.)

When asked about her Arab following before her untimely death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 2000, Haza said, “I get fan letters from Cairo, Kuwait, Dubai, Jordan, Syria. It’s wonderful to see that music has nothing to do with politics. We don’t have the power of politicians, but we have our power to unite people.”

Regarding the goodwill trip to Yemen, the book My Memoir as an Activist for Israel and Yemenite Jews: Volunteers for Israel by Sampson Giat gives a different reason for its cancellation; Ofra and her family were on their way to Yemen, flying to Amman to change planes for Yemen airlines. But while at the airport, they heard that Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated, so returned to Israel.

Interestingly enough, Ofra’s inclusion on the list did not cause a great uproar from the usual Israel-hating suspects.

Like so many other legendary singers, Ofra died way too young. But her memory continues to be a blessing, and this latest list is just another example of this.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Scroll to Top