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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on November 14th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

RITA is her stage name. The real name is – Rita Yahan-Farouz (English: Jahanforuz).  She was born March 24, 1962 in Tehran and though living in Israel since she was 8 years old, now at 50, over the internet, she is the hottest thing in Iran. She loves both her countries that formed her culturally.

Last night Rita told us that her talent to sing she got from her mother who back home would sit on the floor with her feet stretched out in front of her and put little Rita on a pillow and rock her and sing lullabies, while at the same time using her hands to clean peas or whatever chores she had to do. Mother had a nice voice but could not sing in public because those days women could not sing in public, and to the sound of a general chuckle from the audience Rita joked saying – now it is different in Iran. Mother would sing nevertheless at events of their extended family.

Rita began her career in 1980 as part of a musical troupe during her service in the Israeli Army. Then in 1982, she attended the “Beit Zvi” school of acting. Her first exposure to the general public in Israel was at the 1986 Pre-Eurovision Song Contest which decided who would represent Israel in the upcoming European song contest. Rita did not win, but her song,”Shvil habricha” (the Escape Path), along with her provocative performance, garnered much interest. That same year, Rita starred in an adaptation of My Fair Lady and released her self-titled debut album, Rita, which went triple platinum, selling over 120,000 copies. In 1987, she released the English language album Breaking Those Walls under the name of Rita Farouz. That album contained a couple English versions of her Hebrew songs from the first album as well as original material. Despite going gold (20 000 copies) in Israel, that album was not an international success.

In 1988, Rita released her second album, Yemei Ha’Tom (Days of Innocence), which was produced by her husband, Rami Kleinstein,  and which included a song by noted Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin.  In 1988 and 1989 she was chosen as Singer of the Year by Israel’s national radio station and her name skyrocketed.

Rita did not put out many records. She turned to other activities as well. Such as In 2006, Rita put on a show called One (in English) which ran for a month at the Israel Trade Fair – it was a lavish affair including lasers, flamethrowers, 3-D images, smoke machines and forty dancers, acrobats, and actors. Over 100,000 tickets were sold.

In spite of this she is the best selling Israeli artist of all times – with 37 of her songs having entered the national charts – more then any other Israeli singer. She was named “top female singer in the past 60 years” during a special countdown for Israel’s 60th anniversary in 2008. Besides many Best Song of the Year and Best Israeli Singer of the Year prizes, Rita also got the 1994 MTV award for best video for “Zippor Zara” (which I have difficulty translating as it could mean Foreign Bird or Strange Bird). She is indisputable Queen of Live Performance in Israel and embarks on long tours filling venues to their capacity. So it was last night.

June 22, 2011 Rita released her first single in her childhood Farsi (Persian) language – “Shane” – the success was phenomenal. The song is based on traditional Persian folk music, but modernized with a more pop and techno dance beat. Iranians of all ages have responded “overwhelmingly,” including sending her positive emails and writing on her Facebook page. She started a two years project to create a full album with songs of her childhood in Persia. The result is titled “MY JOYS”- a modernized version of her family songs from her own childhood.

Most Westernized popular music, including hers, is banned in Iran, which filters the Internet. However fans have been downloading or buying bootleg copies of her albums. Iranians living outside Iran have “flooded” her recording studio with messages of admiration, especially after the release of the new 2012 album, “All My Joys,” also in Persian, likewise popular among Israelis which caused it to go “gold” in Israel within three weeks of its release.

Rita writes: “This album is my own private vision – as a girl, born in Iran, who grew up in Israel and is now singing in the language of the country considered to be one of our greatest enemies.”

“In the light of the many touching emails I’ve been receiving from all over the world – especially those from Iran, I truly believe that it’s us – the little people – those who can break down the walls that are built by extreme regimes – with small gestures of love.”

When I was a child growing up in Iran, Israeli singers would come to perform in the country. My family and I never had enough money to go and see these shows, but I’d see them on TV, and my dream today is that one day I can go and perform in the country of my birth.”

” I want to introduce the world to the real and immensely rich Iranian culture. Extreme regimes are so temporary compared to the eternity and endless richness found within the Iranian culture. The Iranian people are family-oriented – pleasant, modest and very courteous. In my personal musical way, I want to introduce the world to the Iranian’s real face, as much as I can – “love” being the only logical solution.”

“RITA – MY JOYS” – the Farsi language recording includes:

SHANE (Comb) – My heart built a nest in your hair and please do not use a comb that hurts my heart.

GOLE SANGAM (My Flower of Stone) – If you do not send rays like the sun, I will freeze and turn into dust, if you do not reach out to me like rain, I will wilt.

SHAH DOOMAD (The Bridegroom the king) – The presents to the bride and her agreement. The bridegroom is a flower and his character good and warm.

DAR IN DONYA (In This World) – Love made me act crazy but I know her sweetness.

GOLE MARYAM (Flower that Exalts) – A feast to the heart.

SHANEHAYAT (Your Shoulders) – Your shoulders that allow me to cry give me the courage to wait.

KABUTARE SEFID (White Dove) – My White Dove for whom did you leave me – even when you are not before my eyes you are in my heart – if you do not know how I feel you probably never loved.

OSTA KARIM (God Have Pity) – I do not allow myself even to breeze without him, I wish I were among those that ask – what is love?

BEEGHARAR (Lack of Peace) – I have no peace until I return to your door – I want you to know that I am dying for you.

MREYTE YA MREYTE (It is not in me) – There is nothing left in me – it is finished. The quiet night the cold moon.

MOBARAK BAAD (Good Luck) – This night of lights and blessings – the bride and bridegrooms fresh from the Hamam. Do not touch the bride’s hair – it has expensive pearls – a wedding of kings.

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Rita, the most viewed Israeli Singer/Performer of the last two decades, and the best selling Israeli Artist of all times – now she is taking over also the peoples’ choice in the Muslim world – she is effectively becoming an underground peace emissary in that complicated part of the world – this because she simply sings and talks of real people’s feelings.

But more then that – she is a bridge between the country from which her family had to get out and the country that received them – with the daughter growing up while absorbing both cultures. That is the model of an immigrant enriching the country that absorbed her, while retaining the culture of the country she left. Without any doubt – she is now completely Israeli, but she also helps decrease the demonization of the two cultures in each others eyes. More then that, also in the Arab countries Rita is appreciated because she mastered the beat of the whole region, and helps bring the region in contact with western music innovation as well.

At The Town Hall in the Broadway Theater Section of Manhattan, the place was filled not only by Israelis, but present was a mixed audience that included Arabs and Iranians. Next to me was sitting an Arab-Israeli woman – I know because she was speaking Hebrew – and she was accompanied by seemingly an outside Arab. At the reception I saw an older couple that I do not know their origin – perhaps Turkey or Lebanon. You just do not ask an inappropriate question that could expose people in today’s climate.

So far as Israel is concerned, Rita’s family arrived in 1970 – at the start of the rise in Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini, and before the Iranian Islamic Revolution 1978-79. They were refugees from an Islamic country in a process that started 1948 when Israel declared its Statehood, followed by an unofficial exchange of population that caused about equal numbers of Jews from Islamic countries to leave in response to the conditions that caused Arabs to leave Israeli territory. Iran, a non-Arab Muslim country, was slower in this process – but nevertheless was part of this process as well. The situation is similar to what happened also in 1948 – the break-up of the Indian subcontinent into Pakistan and India.

While all other refugees got absorbed into their new host countries by their ethnically related groups, it was only the Palestinian Arabs that remained homeless because there was no will to absorb them. Israel never understood that this process – the refusal of the Arab States to absorb the refugees that came from Palestine – something that the UN willingly supports now for 64 years – had to be stressed as a balance to its own absorption of the Jewish refugees that found their haven in  Israel. Rita comes now and reminds us of this a-symmetry, and what amazes us is that the country of her origin, though an enemy of Israel, is populated with a new generation ready to recognize true value, and their own, when it comes their way.

To get further views about Rita, we include the Wall Street Journal cross-blog that includes material from Beirut, that tells about Rita – as she is viewed from across the border fence:

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Iran and Israel Can Agree on This: Rita Jahanforuz Totally Rocks

Jewish Star Remakes Persian Oldies in Tel Aviv and Her Fans in Tehran Can’t Get Enough.

The Wall Street Journal blog from Beirut- June 3, 2012.

By FARNAZ FASSIHI in Beirut and JOSHUA MITNICK in Tel Aviv

[RITA] Joshua Mitnick / The Wall Street JournalRita performed Persian songs at a packed concert in Ashkelon, Israel, in May.

Music-loving Iranians craving nostalgic Persian songs of a bygone era, or the upbeat dance music that is banned in their Islamic state, have new darling: Rita, the Israeli singing sensation.

Rita Jahanforuz, 50 years old, is Israel’s most famous female singer—and suddenly she’s big in Iran. Iranian-born and fluent in Persian, Rita, as she is universally known, moved to Israel as a child and has lived there ever since. Her latest album, “All My Joys,” revives old-time Persian hits, giving them an upbeat Mediterranean flavor that caters to the Israeli ear.

Israeli’s singing sensation, Rita, has won an underground Iranian fan base after releasing an album in Persian. In an exclusive interview, WSJ’s Joshua Mitnick talks with the star about how she’s become a goodwill ambassador for two countries that are sworn enemies.

The album went gold in Israel in just three weeks, despite being sung entirely in Persian. It also propelled Rita onto the music scene in Iran, where she was all but unknown outside of Iran’s small Jewish population.

Now, from nightclubs in Tel Aviv to secret underground parties in Tehran, Israelis and Iranians alike go wild when the DJ plays her hit “Beegharar,” or “Restless.”

Rita’s fans within Iran, where the government heavily filters the Internet, use tricky software to furtively download her songs online. Bootleg CD sellers in the back alley of Tehran’s old bazaar wrap her albums in unmarked packages and hush any inquiries when asked if they sell her music.

Rita Jahanforuz’s Music

“Shhh…don’t mention Israel. Just say music by ‘Rita Khanum,’ ” which means “Ms. Rita,” said a young man named Reza selling bootleg music CDs and DVDs of Hollywood movies.

The governments of Iran and Israel are each other’s sworn enemies, and within Iran it is considered a taboo to publicly endorse anything that has to do with Israel. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said Israel should be wiped off the map. Israel has said it would consider pre-emptively bombing Iran to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon.

Rita, however, with her striking beauty and bubbly demeanor, has emerged as an unexpected bond between ordinary Iranians and Israelis—part cultural ambassador, part antiwar spokeswoman. A picture of Rita with the banner, “Iranians we will never bomb your country,” is posted on her Facebook page.

[RITA-Ahed]Rita Jahanforuz

“These days, people only know the language of war and violence and hatred,” said Rita, referring to Israelis’ view of the Persian language, during a recent interview in Tel Aviv. After she started receiving emails from Iranian fans, she realized music can “puncture the wall” of tension.

Rita’s family immigrated to Israel in 1970. She grew up in a suburb near Tel Aviv listening to her mother sing melodies from their homeland as she cooked in the kitchen.

Her singing career kicked off when Rita joined a band in the Israeli army in the 1980s. She rose to stardom quickly, singing solo and mostly in Hebrew or English, packing concert halls and performing for Israeli officials and foreign delegates.

A year ago, she decided to revisit what she tells audiences is the “soundtrack of my childhood” by adapting Persian classics that most Iranians know by heart. Her 2011 single “Shaneh” is based on a traditional song that Iranian grandmothers are known to whisper to their grandchildren as they comb their hair. An homage to a lover, it includes lines such as, “Oh, love, don’t comb your hair because my heart rests in its waves.” Rita reworked the song, staying true to the lyrics but giving it a more modern sound, somewhere between pop and Jewish gypsy music.

Iranian fans responded overwhelmingly, bombarding her with emails and messages online. “Rita, I want one of these concerts in Iran. You have an amazing voice and you are another pride for Iran,” wrote an Iranian fan on one of her videos on YouTube.

In September, when Rita visited Radio Ran, a Persian-language Internet radio station based in a Tel Aviv suburb, the studio was flooded with calls from Iranians around the world.

In an Israeli television interview, speaking of her Iranian fans, she joked that if she ever traveled to Iran, she would like to sing a duet with Mr. Ahmadinejad, “Maybe I can soften him with my feminine charm,” she said.

Iran’s government has taken notice. Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards Corps, wrote last July that Rita is Israel’s “latest plot in a soft war” to gain access to the hearts and minds of Iranians.

Iranian hard-line websites and blogs expressed particular displeasure at Rita for sending a message to Iranians this past March for the Norouz New Year, via a video posted on the Persian website of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Norouz messages are considered highly political and usually a tactic used by politicians like President Barack Obama and Iran’s opposition leaders.

“I hope that we all live alongside each other by dancing and singing because this is what will last,” Rita said in her Norouz message.

In May, Rita performed a sold-out concert in the city of Ashkelon, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast, singing mostly Persian songs. Fans crowded the stage and danced the aisles.

After the show, concert goers said they were swept away. “Listen, I’m not Persian,” said Meir Kanto, a 72-year-old farmer. “But the culture is so colorful and so beautiful, from my perspective, let them conquer us. It wouldn’t hurt.”

In Tehran, guests at a recent engagement party jumped to their feet shimmying their hips and shoulders when Rita’s voice echoed from the speakers, mixing the rhythms of an old and uniquely southern Iranian song to techno dance beats. Even middle-age couples joined in.

“She is singing from her heart. So what if she is from Israel?” said Manijeh, a 43-year-old relative of the bride who asked that her surname not be published. “We love her.”

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NOWRUZ IS THE PERSIAN NEW YEAR – the Persian day of rebirth in spring. Today, the festival of Nowruz is celebrated in many countries including Israel.

Nowruz with different spelling shows up in official calendars in 11 countries –  Iran,  Azerbaijan, Tajikistan,  Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Autonomous Region of Kurdistan (part of Iraq), Albania, and Georgia.

There are more than 187 million people celeberating Nowruz nationally (total population of the eleven countries). Today, more people celebrate outside than inside Iran – a country of 75 Million people.

Further – while not a national holiday, there are many more countries or regions that celebrate Persian New Year, such as Crimea, India, France, Republic of Tatarstan (part of Russian federation), United States,  United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, Israel, Germany,  Lebanon, China, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Pakistan, Sweden…

——————

UN Secretary-General’s Message on the International Day of Nowruz – 21 March 2012:

For three thousand years of world history and for three hundred million people today, Nowruz unites regions and nationalities, religions and languages to share in the renewal of life on the first day of Spring.

Nowruz is a day for family and friends, for festive meals, for dancing and singing. It is a day to celebrate the value of mutual respect and the aspiration for harmony held by all societies. It is a moment for cleansing and rebirth, an opportunity to renew wishes of peace and goodwill.

Each Nowruz showcases the world’s diversity and offers an opportunity for deepening the ties that bind us all together. This is why Nowruz was recently added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The shared effort behind that step also led the United Nations General Assembly to declare 21 March as the International Day of Nowruz.

At a time of global change and uncertainty, including in many regions where Nowruz is celebrated, the message of peace that lies at the core of this observance is especially important. My thoughts are with those communities observing Nowruz under difficult circumstances. This holiday is a reminder that we share a common fate and must work for a better future for all.

Let us join forces to celebrate the rebirth of life and express our commitment to building a safer, more peaceful and just global community. This is the promise of Nowruz — and our task together throughout the year.

Ban Ki-moon


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