Maureen Nehedar’s transition from Hebrew to Farsi allows her to express additional sensibilities and hues of her amazing vocal talent.
Can a breathtaking experience last for six and a half minutes? In the world of the arts, yes. That’s what happens toward the end of Maureen Nehedar’s new album, “Gole Gandom” (Wheat Flower), when the song “Juni Juni” comes on.
Since there was already a breathtaking song (the unaccompanied “Prayer for Peace”) on Nehedar’s previous album, one might have thought the system would have trained itself to neutralize that rare experiential situation, but happily that turns out not to be the case.
“Juni Juni” is a model of minimalism. It opens with a very brief musical sentence, four phrases only – played (by Nehedar) on the setar, a Persian instrument – which repeats itself with minor, yet very pronounced, rhythmic shifts throughout the song.
The same four phrases, again and again and again, bounded by an abundance of air that fills up with Nehedar’s voice. She blends translucence and depth, softness and resilience with a marvelous melody whose origins are folk-Persian but to which she has added original touches.
One woman singing and accompanying herself on a repetitive stringed instrument: so much power and beauty encapsulated in that creative nuclear cell. (An older, shorter version exists on YouTube, but my fervent recommendation is to listen to the superb cut on the new album.)
Nor does one have to wait for “Juni Juni” to know that Nehedar’s decision to release a whole album of songs in Persian was fully justified. (Her debut album, which came out two years ago, was based on Hebrew piyutim, or liturgical poetry.) Nehedar sings marvelously in Hebrew, but the transition to Farsi allows her to express additional facets, sensibilities and hues as a vocalist (and with a vocalist at this level, every encounter with a new hue is a revelation).
Blending Beauty and Beauty
There is something captivatingly naughty about the way Nehedar twirls the melody in “Juni Juni,” an element that didn’t exist in the previous album. It’s true that there’s no place for this in piyutim, whereas there is in folk music, but it’s apparently also due to the influence of Farsi on Nehedar’s singing.
She was born in Iran and came to Israel as an infant. Farsi is her mother tongue, and her intimacy with it is of a different order. It’s also, of course, the language of Nehedar’s grandmother, as can be heard in the next-to-last cut, the beautiful “Lalaily,” in which her voice meets that of her grandmother.
The album’s opening sequence – the first three songs – is the only place in which the music strains to achieve heft. There’s a momentary impression that Nehedar’s choice to forgo the aspiration to authenticity and serve up the music partly in Western harmonic arrangements, will thin out the material and enfeeble the substance of the folk element.
But that impression is quickly dispelled – in the fourth song, “Dochtare Man,” whose arrangement does a spectacular job of blurring the automatic East-West binarism. It doesn’t have to be either-or, it can be both together, and not in the form of nebulous fusion, but as a blend of beauty with beauty.
The next sequence of songs reflects the diversity and depth of folksongs as such, and of the Persian variety specifically, fluctuating between bursting joy (the medley of wedding songs on the fifth cut) and the grief of the heavy drinker (“Sa’ri Name”). The breadth of the emotional range is as the breadth of the vocal range.
This gorgeous album consolidates Maureen Nehedar’s position in the top ranks of Israeli singers.