I wonder if you can introduce yourself to the readers of Berlin Bazzar.
My name is Shiran, and I am a singer and a songwriter. I’m from Israel. I have Yemeni roots and Iraqi roots.
How did you start your career as a singer?
I started to sing when I was very young. I was in all kinds of ensembles in high school and after that in the army. And after the army I went to music school. And I started to perform with my music; I started to create music with my husband, a musical producer named Ron Bakal, who I met in music school. I started performing my music in 2012. And then I started to discover my Yemenite roots. I started to sing in the Yemenite Arabic language, learning it by myself through the songs, because my grandmother; she is very old, so she didn’t talk. Growing up I didn’t hear the Yemenite language very much. So it wasn’t very familiar to my ear. But I listened to Arabic music my whole life; really fell in love with it. At some point, though, I felt that I had to rediscover myself and focus my first album, Shiran, which I released in 2018, on my Yemenite origins. I wrote songs following the stories of my grandmother and some others, whose life stories I had heard. And then, after I had performed with this, my latest,album, I cut this album, the acoustic album, Glsah Sanaanea with Shiran.
Apropos the new album, what’s the inspiration behind it?
First of all the album means, “A Musical Meeting with Shiran”. Like a few people gathering together in one place. It’s a Yemenite word. They are drinking and chewing khat, which is a plant that makes you feel excited, inspired, relaxed. In the meeting they are jamming Sanaanea music. This refers to Sanaa, which is a city in Yemen. And it describes the style of the music. Yemenite people can tell by the accent where you come from in Yemen. Although I am not from Yemen, people always ask me, “Where are you from in Yemen? Are you Sanaanea?” Because they are familiar with my accent. I chose folklore songs from the genre of Sanannea music. And together with Ron’s production, we created a new life for the old songs. New versions of ancient Yemeni music that takes the listeners on my journey to Yemen.
What’s your audience like in Israel? Who comes to your shows?
Usually, I can say people from 25-28 to 50 even. Here in Israel it’s not like mainstream music. There’s a lot to hear in Israel because it’s very small and a lot of artists are coming back to their roots. Not just Yemeni, but Persian, too. Like Dudu Tassa with the Kuwaitis. So that I can say that I believe that people who are spiritual and they like music, they are open to hear some new stuff. And I get a lot of compliments, mostly from those who are from Yemen; Jewish Yemen, who are here. Because I take their songs from Yemen, and here in Israel they are not familiar songs. So I respect their music.
Have you been to Yemen?
No, I can’t, because I have an Israeli passport, but I always get a lot of feedback. They write to me and they are very excited. I didn’t know it would be like this. I thought that maybe they would be angry that I was touching their music. They are very traditional. You know, I am a woman who is singing. There in Yemen women are not allowed to sing, it’s very hard to live as a woman. So it is amazing that I get a lot of good feedback from there. They always say that they want me to come and perform, but I can’t. So it’s my dream.
Where have you performed? In Europe? Maybe Turkey, as well?
Turkey no. It almost happened. But more in the UK, in London, Scotland…
What about Germany?
Germany not yet. I have someone in Germany, who lived in Israel, and she always said, “Your music should come to Germany because they will love it. My plan is to go there after everything goes back to normal.
Who comes to your shows in the UK?
I can tell you that Yemenites who live in London came to the shows. They knew that I was coming. And it was amazing. You know, it was an electronic show. Not like the acoustic album. You can see on Youtube all the live video clips are very intense. With a pronounced party vibe. And I have another version of Ya Banat Al Yemen on the acoustic album. You can see it on Youtube with electronic vibes. And when I sang that song I saw that all the Yemenites in the audience sang with me, which was very exciting. And a lot of young tourists, a lot of young people were there.
In Israel this Mizrahi music has been popular for a while, but can you remember a time when it was more difficult to put this stuff across?
This Mizrahi, you can put it in a lot of genres. You have the Mizrahi pop, like Eyal Golan. He’s very Mizrahi. A-WA and Yemen Blues – the niche, the place, that they belong, is very specific, very indie and underground, something new. And here, the audience, if it is a hit then you can break into the radio stations and you can fly with it. But the big radio stations that have an impact don’t play music that isn’t pop, so here it’s more difficult for artists who create world music to break through. And I belong to this world music category. What I do is not something that you can hear on the radio.
So you haven’t had a hit just yet.
There were two songs on the radio, but it is very hard here to break into the mainstream. I think the Israeli people are so warm and close-knit…It’s very small and hard to break because it’s so tight, you know what I mean? But when I get to perform I get a lot of love from the audience because they are proud of who I am and who I became and what I represent.
When you just chilling what music do you listen to?
I like Aziza Brahim. She is from the Sahara, was a refugee. I listen to a lot of Arabic music. I grew up with this music. My father used to listen to this. When I was a child in the nineties I listened to all the pop divas. So it’s made an impact on me throughout my life. I collect the inspiration of all the music that penetrated my ears. I took it and I designed myself from it. This is the combination of the electric with the Arab beat with hip-hop.
Hip-hop as well, yeah?
Yeah. And now I am working on the third album. It’s going to be a mixture of dancehall, hip-hop and the Arabic language.
Omar Souleyman. You mentioned in an interview that you liked him. He’s a little bit tricky. A lot of Syrian musicians rag on him. But he’s very popular in the West. Is he popular in Israel as well?
Yeah. But for people who are really openminded and listen to music not just on the radio, not just listening to the Israeli mainstream, very open to the world. So the kind of people here who love music. The people from Tel Aviv, the underground, hipsters – they are listening to this music.
Another name – Balkan Beat Box. What do you think of them?
Wow, I’ve been to their shows in Israel and they just blow me away. They are an inspiration insofar as they are fully dedicated to performing. I wanted to join them on the stage and to jump and sing with with them. They kick me. I get a kick out of them. And I wanted to create after I saw them. They are amazing.
As soon as this Corona thing blows over, do you have any plans to come to Europe?
Now I am working with a booking agency, trying to plan our way out of Israel, to perform in Switzerland, in Germany, France, UK. Because I can see that a lot of people in Europe respect the music, even the acoustic music. I didn’t know it would be like that. I wasn’t expecting the kind of feedback it got. I want to spread my music, and my original music as well. I can’t perform in Yemen, but I’ve got Yemenites in Europe, too. So Europe, or New York, is the next best thing to playing in Yemen.
Thank you for the interview.