Pharaoh’s Daughter’s Basya Schechter Talks about the Songs on Haran
1. By Way of Haran. This is one of two cover songs on the record. The composer is named Ismet Siral, but Karl Berger rearranged it. I did a concert with Karl Berger. The A part is Ismet and Karl, the B and C parts are mine. Haran is where I went after I was in _____ where I started to learn to pay the saz. I heard the names of these ancient cities throughout my whole childhood. I hitchhiked to eastern Turkey by myself. I came to these places and felt the deep history. Haran is where Abraham started his spiritual journey to Canaan, to Israel. It was an important part of the caravan route. It represents the beginning of a journey, a crossroads between East and West, the beginning of the Jewish religion, the beginning of monotheism.
The song starts with a traditional Turkish sound and Karl put a weird cool bass line and brought it to me. Then I take it somewhere else. We’re also incorporating a lot of The Doors’ element of classic rock; some very psychedelic elements. The Doors and Pink Floyd were my first Western music exposure. That got in there. And the words are nigun—wordless syllables: nai nai nai.
2. Ka Ribon. This is my own melody. The words are in the Aramaic language. There is a lot of poetry in Aramaic. The whole Babylonian Talmud is in Aramaic. It was the spoken language before 700 CE. The writer was a Kaballist. The text feels very mystical to me. I love to bring that texture of mysticism into my music. Because it makes me feel connected to a larger world and to a deeper side of my heritage. As somebody who has always had connections forced on me, a sense of connection has always been problematic. In melody I am deeply connecting to who I am now and what I want to be and what I want to express.
Music was the ray of hope in the Hasidic community: the pure joy of singing together. That was the joyous part. But there is an element of rebelling against a lot of the restrictions on dress, where you can and can’t go, what you can can’t listen to. I needed to find something else in the outside world and bring it back. I wanted to feel that I was part of a bigger world. And the mystical texts like this one do that for me.
3. Samai. The samai is an Arabic music form. It was used by the composers of Oum Kalthoum. She sang a lot of songs like this in 10 with accents on one, six, and seven. Samai is a whole musical form but I only borrowed the rhythm part, not melodic aspect. The melody has more of a pentatonic Sudanese influence. The text is words that came to me, just made up syllables.
4. Hagar. This text is Biblical from the book of Genesis. Hagar was hired to be the concubine of Abraham. Sarah gets jealous when Hagar gets pregnant. Hagar taunts Sarah about this. This led Hagar to run away from the family and go to the desert. She goes to a well and has conversation with an angel of God. The angel says she has to go back to the house and resubmit herself under Sara and have this child, which is going to be called Yishmael, which means “God is listening.” This is the beginning of everything; this is the family where Christianity, Islam, and Judaism came from. This is the first time an angel of God has ever spoken to anyone. And it is to Hagar, the mother of Yishamel, the father of the Muslim nation.
What is interesting to me is that this is possibly the only text in the Jewish tradition that is not Hebraic. This is not a story that we focused on in school. You don’t get the sense that the voice of the Arabic nation is given respect or attention in the Bible or by commentators. Hagar’s voice is very underrepresented in Jewish music. So I am giving her voice.
5. Enpesare. After I wrote this melody, I felt like the text should be in Ladino. Since this is the era of Open Source, I did an internet search. That’s the way of writing and finding things in the modern world. What you find in that moment influences what direction you take. This is the oldest existing Ladino poem. It’s the story of Joseph through poetry. The poet was from 15th century Spain. It’s very dramatic and fit well with music. It’s the most Gypsy-like song on the album. Along with some intense electronic aspects.
6. Ven Hermosa. This is the other cover song. It comes from traditional Ladino folk texts. It’s about men and women in somewhat seductive situations. This kid of a jeweler says to a woman, “If you marry me, you’ll get fancy ring.” The kid of a tailor offers her a fancy dress. The text is not that deep. But the music comes from Abdelli, the Algerian musician, who is one of my favorite world music artists. I just married his melody to this Ladino folk text.
7. Lev Tahor. This means “Pure Heart.” The text comes from Psalms. It’s about having a pure heart and devotion to god. Musically this is the closest to how I grew up melodically. It’s quieter than the other songs. I give credit to our past bass player who made an arrangement from another Pharaoh’s Daughter song, and when writing this song, his riff fit really well for this song, so I used it.
8. Yona. This comes from the zmirot tradition. The words are from poet Yahuda Helivi, an 11th century poet. He was deeply grappling with East and West issues. It is about being in the West, but his heart is in the East. Yona refers to the dove that Noah sent out after the flood went down. If the dove did not return, it meant it found a place to rest, and it would be time for Noah to leave the ark. The dove came back with an olive’s leave. The words makes the comparison to Sabbath for rest and how much strength you get from resting. I think Sabbath is a brilliant concept.
I’m inspired by a lot of West African music melodically. This is in a slow-groove rhythm of five. Nothing I do is purist. But I also want each piece to sound unified, rather than have you listening for separate elements.
9. Hashomer. Another part of the zmirot tradition. This is from a 13th century Talmudist who speaks of the rewards of keeping Sabbath. Maybe all these songs about resting are telling me, “Rest!” This tune is more rocking.
10. Askinu. This one definitely has a West African feel with the kora. It’s a collaboration with my producer playing on guitar.
The text is by Rabbi Isaac Luria who is one of the foremost Kabbalists from the 16th century. He was part of a group in Sefat, in the northern part of Israel, that really brought Kabbalistic texts to a different level. He is considered the founder of modern Kabbalah. I like the way these words sound on my mouth.
You sing this right before Sabbath is over.
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