Thursday, January 23, 2014

Yossi and Sari Alfi perform in London

Sari Alfi

 To mark the first international day commemorating the exodus of Jews from Arab countries, singer Sari Alfi is coming with her father, the celebrity storyteller Yossi Alfi, to London as guest stars in Harif's Soiree Orientale on 17 February. But the singer was not always as fascinated by her eastern roots as she is now, she tells The Jerusalem Post:

"I joined the family business. Show business, that is.”

As the daughter of storyteller and poet Yossi Alfi and sister of renowned comedian Guri Alfi, performing runs in musician Sari Alfi’s blood. With a multicultural background, Alfi intertwines her ethnic roots to create her art.

“I once asked my daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up. She answered, ‘Iraqi,’” says Alfi. “Coming from my family, that does not surprise me. We are all artists who come from different places. My father is Iraqi, my mother is British, my husband is Australian, and we live in Israel. Let’s face it, we are mutts.”

In her new album, Yamim Hamim, produced by Roy Sela, Alfi blends authentic Babylonian melodies with contemporary Western music. She writes and composes all her own music and lyrics.

Her album includes guest performances by traditional Iraqi musicians, such as singers Ismail Fadel and (Ehsan) Iman and violinist Yair Dalal. By using more traditional musicians, she gives Iraqi culture a modern twist with edgy electronic beats.

In her younger years, Alfi identified more with her mother’s British background. As she matured, she began to embrace her Iraqi roots. The turning point occurred at her wedding. She surprised her father by singing an Iraqi melody. That song ignited a lifelong love affair with Iraqi music.

“When I was a kid, I hated Iraqi music. I thought it just sounded like moaning,” says Alfi.

“The second I stepped on stage and started singing at my wedding, I had a movie moment. I sang ‘Fog El Nahal,’ one of the most traditional Iraqi songs. I realized the beauty and complexity of the music and wanted to learn more.”

By discovering Iraqi music, Alfi’s bond with her father increased immensely. As she began to study Iraqi musicians and styles, she delved into her family roots. In 1949, Alfi’s father escaped from Iraq as part of the Jewish exodus to Israel. He came as a three-year old, but he always stayed true to his Iraqi roots. As a storyteller, he incorporates stories from his family history into his show.

“The older I get, the more I learn about my family’s history,” says Alfi. “I’m named after my great-grandmother, Rima. I used to hate my middle name. I said, ‘The day I turn 18, I’m changing my name.’ Then I heard my father’s story about how she never learned to read or write. She used to sign her name with a handprint. When I got my bachelor’s degree, I wrote out my name as ‘Sari Rima Alfi.’ Now I’m proud to be named after Rima,” she asserts.

On February 17, Yossi and Sari Alfi will share the stage to mark the first international day commemorating the Jewish exodus from Arab countries.

Sponsored by HARIF, a UK organization promoting the heritage of Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, the concert will be held in their Central London venue.

“I can’t believe my dad and I will perform together in my mom’s country,” says Alfi. “My family comes full circle. My only wish is that my grandparents could be there. I want my Iraqi grandparents to see us embrace our culture. I want my British grandparents to see me perform in the middle of their home. Not having them here is bittersweet for me.”

As a parent herself, Alfi wants to pass down her Iraqi culture to her children. Her family observes many Iraqi-Jewish traditions. From singing Shabbat prayers with Arabic tunes to cooking traditional Iraqi dishes, Alfi wants to expose her two daughters, Liri and Yahli, to their Iraqi heritage.

“When my family originally came to Israel, many of them were embarrassed by their Iraqi roots,” says Alfi. “Now my father is sharing stories, my brother is telling jokes, and I am singing with traditional Iraqi rhythms. We share the stage together as one big Iraqi family. We have even performed for President Shimon Peres. We have proven that Iraqi culture should be celebrated, not hidden.”

Read article in full

To book your place at Harif's Soiree Orientale on 17 February in London, click here.


Anonymous said...

That's great news.
Mazal tov
wish I could be there
What an occasion that will be!

Anonymous said...

yes, but why describe the recitation of Jewish prayer songs with middle eastern strains as "Arabic tunes"? Even the music of Ashkenazic Jews tends toward that minor key.