By Tom Schnabel

The first time I listened to the l985 Globestyle LP Yemenite Songs, I knew this was something special. A voice as pure and as soaring as an angel's flight, a beautiful young woman resplendent in traditional Yemenite wedding garb.   Then I found out the the texts for the songs were written by a rabbi hundreds of years ago.   If that doesn't make for a strikingly different album, I don't know what would.

This early album has remained my favorite all these years.   Little did I know she was already an icon in Israel when it was released.

When I finally met her for an interview a year later, I was struck by her shyness.   She didn't seem like a pop star at all.   She politely answered all my questions, but seemed awkward, like she was trying to give the right answer to each query.   And my shows are fairly informal and I try to make the artists feel at ease.

Later, here for the Grammys, she appeared in my UCLA World Music class and sang, holding up a small oil can, which she used as a rhythmic embellishment.   She had a voice so perfect, perfect intonation, and a high clear timbre that I never liked obscured by too many production gimmicks.

I was heartbroken when she died.   I was never sure that a woman this beautiful would be content to be solely a recording artist;   I thought that she had been aspiring to a career in film.   I believed that her disappearance from the scene was a result of her film career not taking off;   I also heard that she had gotten married and was focussing on her children.

How awful to have suffered so quietly, and to have been so shamed by her illness.   It made me wonder about Israeli society; here in America people who are HIV+ don't have to hide it.   And it also made me wonder if she could have gotten the same retroviral drugs that keep people like Olympian diver Greg Louganis and Magic Johnson AIDS-free.   Too late now.

Ofra was unique and outshone all other female Israeli singers.   She had it all, and I, like all music lovers, feel a little more emptiness in the universe because she's gone.

Tom Schnabel
Producer, Café LA, KCRW
Program Director, World Music, Hollywood Bowl

Ofra Haza (1957-2000)  


Established: May 7, 2001             Last updated: February 22, 2023

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