It is the mix of cultures where she ‘finds’ herself. It is amid languages that she discovers what rhythms can do — first with awe and then, with gratitude.
The magic of cultural dialogue for Israeli singer-songwriter, actor and musician, who performs songs in Hebrew, French and Arabic stuck her quite late by her admission.
“And then, it (cultural dialogue) is not only my story but that of an entire generation and the traditions they carried,” says Israeli singer Riff Cohen, who sings in Hebrew, Arabic and French.
The artiste, who has a major fan base not just in Israel but across the Arab world, feels that coming in contact with people from different cultures acquaints one with multiple ways of seeing the world.
“Music opened my mind, it is such an apt way to find a language in and beyond words to express differently. The art forms facilitate imagination in me, it helps me emote in ways I never thought possible.”
Assimilation of different cultures in her work also has to do with the fact that her parents came from entirely different social realities. While her Algerian father came from a tough neighbourhood, Cohen’s mother was raised in Nice, France.
“One always tends to observe their parents closely. They both struggled a lot in different ways. However, I grew up different — with virtually no problems or stress,” says the artist, who was in India to perform at Jodhpur RIFF this year.
Cohen, who moved to France on an international scholarship in 2008, after studying musicology at Tel Aviv University released a single ‘A Paris’ in 2012 that garnered 4 million hits on YouTube and made everyone take notice of her.
“Interestingly, the French are open to everything international. When I was younger, I remember going to Israeli radio, and it just would not work out. ‘A Paris’ became such a huge song and it started playing everywhere,” says the singer, who has consistently given hits like ‘Helas’, ‘Marrakech’, ‘Malach’, ‘Elecha’ and ‘Boi agale lach’.
Cohen, who defines her music as a mix of Middle Eastern Urban Rock, North African folk, and Rai, and is influenced by Amazigh music, gnaoua and rai smiles that she does not want to sell her music by “being beautiful or her looks” — “I grew up in the nineties and I saw a lot of music on television. A lot of new concepts and ideas. I play with that and I see many different things. Also, power is tiring — why do you want to show you’re stronger than anyone? Show the vulnerability…”
Considering the region she comes from, it’s tough not to ask about the politics in her art.
“But I do not think there is any in my music… Maybe because I sing in Arabic…My father’s side of the family lived on a small island for almost 2000 years with people of different nationalities. So, yes, I am Arabic — this is my ‘genetic culture’. But everything comes together in a universal whole when I sing — including relationships and collaborations with others. I am really not into politics. I have deep love and respect for people in Israel.”
In India, she ‘sees’ music as more spiritual than anything else.
“Out here, everything has a different melody and a distinct dimension. When you’re in a divine situation, you experience something different. I can feel the harmony and vibrations in India.”
(Sukant Deepak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)