Exclusive Interview: Rita Farouz, Israeli Icon With Iranian Roots
by David Caspi
With her musical career spanning three decades, Rita has managed to become the biggest female artist in Israel and one of its most iconic cultural figures. Adoring fans, an immense following and a vocal signature like no other have all kept her on top ever since her breakout album in 1986. To some it may come as a surprise that at this stage in her prolific professional life, Rita has chosen to devote her new album “My Joys” entirely to her native language of Farsi. That is surprising, but not to her.
“Starting with my very first debut album, I have always insisted of including one Farsi track”, she says in an exclusive interview. “When I went ahead with my musical training, the roots of the music I got at home was always a part of me”.
Was Farsi music a big part of your life?
“My mother used to go from room to room in our house and simply sing for us all throughout my childhood and whenever an album came out, she used to play it at home on our gramophone and that music was the one I grew up listening to. At the end of every Friday night dinner she used to take the tonbak drum and we were all singing together. Her voice was the soundtrack of all our family gatherings. That entire Persian atmosphere was ultimately implemented in my career as a singer”.
What brought along the urge to dedicate “My Joys” entirely to Farsi?
“You go through an emotional process in your life, which makes you a lot more precise in your body of work, reminiscent of familiar aspects of your life. A year and a half ago I collaborated with a local Israeli rock band, who are very much in touch with their Moroccan heritage. That connection actually made me more curious about myself regarding my heart’s true passion”.
How does this album fit into the cultural mix of different ethnicities in Israel?
“This generation, as a consequence of growing up with a variety of cultures, is a blend of different influences. My album is not the classic tunes coming out of Iran back in the day. And the crowd goes wild for it. After one month the album has already been certified gold and to think it was just a personal project I owed to myself. Now people from different ethnical backgrounds come up to me and say that I brought them back to their roots. I never imagined that this would be the outcome. I take it as a great gift”.
Rita Yahan-Farouz was given the gift of her amazing voice. Born in Tehran, her Jewish family immigrated to Israel in 1970. Upon graduating from high school a decade after, Rita followed her passion and served in the Israeli army as a singer in the musical troupes. She soon caught the eyes and hears of music executives and was signed to one the country’s leading record companies. Her first single “Betrayal” was an instant radio hit and she has remained one of the top Israeli artists ever since, known as a larger than life performer, and a strikingly beautiful woman at that.
Before her debut album came out when she was just 24, Rita has also managed to complete her acting studies at the prestigious “BeitTzvi” school of arts. She starred in such on-stage productions as “My Fair Lady”, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Chicago”, and also on screen. Just this past fall she won the ‘Jury Special Recognition for Acting’ award at the San Francisco International Festival of Short Films, for portrayinga mother trying to save her family from her growingly insane eldest son in “Ben is back”.
“While in Israel the Persian immigrants have become almost natives, Iranians living in the US have much more preserved the cultural basis and are intertwined with one another”, she tells of her interactions abroad, “I’ve been fortunate to meet an enchanting community in the west coast, for example”.
What was your impression of the Iranian community in Los Angeles?
“I used to just visit family, but over the last couple of times I opened myself to performing for different organizations that relate to Iranians and Israelis in North America. It is a thrill diving into this whole new experience with the Persian culture”.
How would you say the Persian culture is more apparent?
“Though I’m not too familiar with all the customs, with Persians you’ll never get a ‘no’. It’s what we call “pish’kesh”. My mother once took off a ring off her finger to give it to someone who flattered her on it. I’ve never seen anything like it in other homes”.
Within a short time Rita became a household name in Israel. The media couldn’t get enough of her and were followed her personal life as well. Early on, shegrew close to musical partner, singer songwriter Rami Kleinstein. The couple married in 1988 and welcomed two daughters in the coming years. After 20 years of marriage they have since divorced, but music has remained at the heart of the family. “Meshi my eldest (20) is into the more western music, she is a tremendous singer and so full of admirable courage”, she shares, “while my 11 year old Noam has really grown to love the new album and knows all the lyrics without understanding the meaning”.
Do you feel this project is groundbreaking in its reach?
“The most beautiful thing that came out of “My Joys” was derived from the singles and my online videos. I keep receiving letters and emails from all over the world, but most of all from people in Iran. That is such an incredible thing to see how music breaks through barriers. It is so captivating to hear how moved they are by an Israeli singer and how much they wish they can attend my shows”.
So music serves a higher purpose.
“I believe that it’s up to us, the simple folks, to do all we can to break through barriers. I know the people of Iran, I grew up there. They are the most human-loving people there are, so modest and family oriented. It makes me want to show the world the ‘other’ Iran – It’s there. The extreme regime is not the people at all. People kept asking what made me sing in the language of Ahmadinejad, and I answered that his role is so minimal in such an astonishing culture and rich history, he’s just passing through”.
Do you dream of going back to Iran?
“First off I want to introduce Persian music to the world. But in terms of Iran, what I really dream of is going there to perform. If one day that dark cloud will disappear, maybe I will be able to put on a show, like they used to do back when I was a child. And if you wish hard enough, dreams come true”.
The interview was originally published on the May/June issue of Zan Magazine.
For more about Rita and her new album “My Joys”, visit http//www.rita.co.il/en/.