Israeli Rock Star Rita: Huge in Iran
Iran-born chanteuse Rita is the biggest thing happening in Israel right now. She’s also the biggest thing happening in Iran right now, no surprise since she sings the blistering new versions of the classic Iranian rock and pop songs on her latest album My Joys in her native Farsi. These songs are also against the law there, no doubt adding a samizdat appeal. She and her first-class band deserve to be much better globally than they are right now: they’ll be on US tour this November (sadly, the New York concert has been cancelled). Fans of gypsy and Middle Eastern music will love them.
The album’s production, by Israeli rockers Knesiyat Hasekhel, gives the songs a towering, majestic art-rock intensity, lushly arranged with a full rock band and orchestra and frequent spine-tingling solos from reeds, fiddle and tar lute. Rita’s voice is bright and direct, sometimes quiet and poignant, sometimes evoking far darker emotions. The album’s opening track is a biting Rachid Taha-esque Middle Eastern dance-rock tune, followed by the big syncopated minor-key art-rock anthem Gole Sangam, driven by biting, bluesmetal-tinged guitar and a tinkly piano motif.
A surf guitar phrase sputters down the scale over a bubbly yet ominous Balkan horn arrangement to kick off her current mega-hit, Shah Doomad: it wouldn’t be out of place in either the Gogol Bordello or Yemen Blues catalog. Dor in Donya, a stomping, slow, broodingly anthemic rock song, builds to a hypnotic dancefloor pulse. Bracing quartertone accordion and microtonal fiddle fuel the ridulously catchy Gole Maryam, the band running a couple of verses before the vocals kick in: it’s the best song on the album. They follow that with a sad ballad that grows lush on the chorus and then maintains the majestic ambience.
The loudest track is Kabutare Sefid, a hypnotically insistent, suspensefully galloping, apprehensive Middle Eastern rocker. Osta Karim builds from a biting, tense four-chord progression to a bitter, minor-key chorus with vocals to match the music, followed by another galloping anthem, Beegharar. The album ends with a quiet, Beatlesque chamber pop ballad, a brief voice-and-drum chant and then a momentary reprise of the eerie Balkan bubbliness of Shah Doomad.
Taken as a whole, the album testifies to the rich cross-pollination that was happening in Iran, albeit somewhat under the radar, before the Khomeini counter-revolution and the reign of terror that continues to this day. How do you hear this music? Rita has a youtube channel; Hebrew speakers can also check out her main site. Rita also has a disarmingly cute solution to tensions between the land of her birth and where she lives now: “Don’t send bombs. Send me!” No wonder Ahmedinejad and the mullahs he serves are so terrified of her, and her songs.