Thursday, December 25, 2008

How Iran-born Israeli singer bridges the divide

Israeli singer Hanna Jahanforooz has quite a following in her native Iran. The Chicago Tribune examines how music can be a force for good, spreading harmony and goodwill between enemies (with thanks: a reader)

TEL AVIV—Israel and Iran may be sworn enemies, but Hanna Jahanforooz, an Israeli performer who sings in Persian, has fans in the Islamic Republic and among Iranian exiles abroad.

Jahanforooz, 37, was born to a Jewish family in Tehran, where Persian is the native language, and came to Israel when she was 12. It was a few years after the Islamic Revolution, and the family sneaked across the border to Pakistan and later made its way to Israel through France, joining thousands of Persian Jews who have settled here.

More than a year ago, Jahanforooz posted her music, video clips and pictures on MySpace and began attracting enthusiastic responses from some Iranian musicians and listeners.

"I love your music, and your voice is beautiful," wrote one woman from Iran. "You are a hope to the women of Iran and the Middle East."

The messages keep coming, even though Jahanforooz clearly identifies her location as Tel Aviv, Israel, on her MySpace page (

"It's my pleasure to be your friend," read a recent note from an Iranian musician named Masoud, who signed off with, "peace."

And one Iranian fan who is a Web designer created a home page for Jahanforooz, while she has sent him songs over the Internet.

That is all a far cry from the call by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map, or the drumbeat of hostility toward Israel from the Iranian government, countered by Israeli threats to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

Music has long served as a bridge over the abyss of conflict in the region. Israeli singers who perform Middle Eastern-style music are popular among Palestinians, and Arab singing stars—such as the Lebanese diva Fairuz and the late, legendary Umm Kulthum of Egypt —have for years had a following in Israel.

Jahanforooz, whose day job is working with troubled teenagers, describes her songs as a mix of traditional Persian tunes with influences of flamenco music and opera. Her songs have been played on Israeli radio stations and a national music video channel, and she has made live appearances, though her niche of ethnic music is far from Israel's pop music mainstream.

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