SDM’s ONE-on-ONE with Iranian-born Israeli sensation RITA

by Val Sherman

Cher, Madonna, and Adele. One name. In Israel there is Rita. Born in Iran, she immigrated to Israel when she was eight years old and began recording songs in 1985. With occasional excursions to theatre and film, Rita is undeniably the most successful singer in Israel’s history. She has released 12 albums, each of which has achieved Gold or multi-Platinum status. Rita represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1990. For Israel’s 60th anniversary in 2008, Rita was voted the Number One Female Vocalist. Her most recent album, “My Joys,” brings her back to her Persian roots and culture. “My Joys” includes 10 songs sung in Farsi and has already achieved Gold status, since it was released at the end of 2011. Only one word can describe Rita. Superstar.

1. You began working on “My Joys” in 2009 and it took two years to complete. What was the inspiration behind recording an album in Farsi?

To be honest, this is the shortest amount of time it’s taken me to record an album, usually it takes quite a bit longer. Some time ago, I developed a strong feeling that I had to stop everything in my life to explore my musical roots. I really had no clue about the adventure ahead of me. It revealed itself slowly with each step I took. I am stunned by the outcome of this Journey.

2. How did you choose the songs for “My Joys?” Do they hold any particular significance for you?

These songs are the soundtrack of my childhood. They reveal my family’s life story – the songs that my mom used to sing to herself, while cooking or dancing around the house. Her infatuation with music got to us all, and with the years gone by my mother’s singing became the background or incidental music to my family’s joys.

So the songs that I have chosen to record are derived from the joys and memories of my youth. And ballads require that I enter a different mode and mood for performance.

3. Were you ever concerned that the majority of your fans, who do not speak Farsi, wouldn’t understand the songs? Or perhaps, they wouldn’t want to listen to songs sung in Farsi, which is the language spoken in Iran?

I never really thought about it. This album is something I had to do. It is my home, my truth, the real essence of who I am as an artist. And I am overwhelmed and grateful to God that has created song, that he has made music, which can transcend nationality and culture, captivating Eastern and Western hearts as one. I have come to see that when an artist’s audience feels the loyalty and truth that he brings to his work, they are drawn to it, identify with it, love it. I’m hoping that they will find that here.

During the recordings, I was asked many times by surprised friends why I was recording in Farsi, a language currently identified with global threat and danger. My answer was that countries go through periods of anger and conflict, but language and culture – and song – are forever. This time is a nightmare and I hope and pray that we will soon awake to sanity, when the richness of the ancient Persian culture can be shared and celebrated by the world. The authorities do not represent the people. And, as has happened so often throughout history, music can open hearts and open doors so that the world may experience the warmth of the Persian community.

4. It would have been easy to leave your native culture behind, when you immigrated to Israel. Why was it important to keep your Persian heritage alive?

I don’t think my parents or I made any special effort to preserve our Persian culture when we first arrived in Israel. To the contrary, we worked very hard to assimilate, to learn the culture, the language, and to recover from the sense of foreignness that most immigrants feel. Yet despite these efforts to blend in, we carried with us the Persian culture, which is in our very DNA. And great multi-cultural societies like Israel are made so much richer by the mixture of cultures they share.

5. You mother sings one of the songs, “Mobarak Baad.” How did that come about?

I inherited my love of music from my mother. Toward the end of recordings, I realized that the project couldn’t be complete without her voice. My mother used to sing this song at all of her daughters’ and granddaughters’ weddings. I open the concert in a dimmed space and my mother’s voice recorded in the background, and only then the show begins.

6. Were you in any way changed over the two years you worked on the album? Did it affect the way you connect with your Iranian background?

This project was a great opportunity for me to reach deeply into myself. As I immersed myself in the work, I explored the lyrics. I asked my parents about the proper pronunciation. As I learned, I found myself wrapped up in a rich and colorful culture that I’d never known before. And I still feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg.

7. Can you imagine ever performing in Iran?

I do dream the one day I’ll perform in Iran. We must keep our innocence and our hope. We must send love and positive energy to the universe. And few things send these energies more powerfully than music. Few things have the strength to cross borders, break down the walls that separate us, and allow us to dream together. I believe that this can and will happen. Until that day, I want to introduce the world to Persian music, and light it differently.

8. Is there anything different you want your fans to experience from “My Joy,” as compared to your other recordings?

Yes, to reach more deeply to the roots of everyone. When a human being feels safer, he is more open to giving love and being loved – a love which goes beyond the romantic, to the deepest form of connection.

9. You have said that you still feel like a “little girl.” Did this contribute to your decision to write a children’s book in 2010?

It’s funny, but the book I wrote, “Shiraz’s Heart,” is also a bedtime story that my mom used to tell me. After my daughters were born I used to tell them this story too. Little by little I started to add more details to the original short story, and slowly it became a long one. I am so happy that the book has become a bestseller, and recommended by the education department. It is an enormous compliment.

10. You have also performed in musical theatre in Israel and in film. What excites you about working on stage and in motion pictures?

The truth is that acting and music are very different. I spent three years in acting school after the army, which is why acting is a big part of me.

12. Are there any roles in musical theatre you would like to perform?

Oh… yes, “Carmen”, but it is more opera.

13. What projects are you currently working on?

Nowadays I’m running “My Joys” concerts, so I put all of my heart and energies into them. This is a spectacular show, rich with colors and gypsy bubbly sounds. I just love it.


Rita – Shaneh (Official Video – Persian)