A different way to sing the alphabet
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A different way to sing the alphabet

Israeli vocal artist Victoria Hanna reaches new audiences with first single

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Victoria Hanna in 'Aleph-Bet' (YouTube screenshot)
Victoria Hanna in 'Aleph-Bet' (YouTube screenshot)

Israeli vocal artist Victoria Hanna has been performing for years, but it was only a week ago that she put out her first official video single. The video, “Aleph-Bet,” has already garnered more than 68,000 views, signaling that her unique, experimental sound is perhaps going more mainstream.

Hanna is known for mesmerizing interpretations of traditional Jewish texts (both Hebrew and Aramaic) that combine traditional Middle Eastern sounds with contemporary genres, such as rap and hip-hop. Among her religious literary inspirations are the biblical Song of Songs and the Kabbalistic “Sefer Yetzirah” (The Book of Creation). In “Aleph-Bet,” she focuses on one of her favorite subjects: the letters of the Hebrew alphabet and their various vowel sounds. The video opens with the alphabet and then moves in to the prayer for rain from the Hoshanot (Hosanna) service in the Sukkot liturgy.

“The mouth is a tool of creation and every letter is a specific tool,” Hanna told The Times of Israel in a recent conversation at a café in Jerusalem’s German Colony neighborhood.

“When you say all the letters in order, you create something in the world,” she said.

At the beginning of the video (in which she appears as both a teacher and a student in a religious girls’ school), Hanna is seen doing hand motions as she recites the aleph-bet. According to Hanna, she developed this choreography according to Kabbalistic teachings that connect each letter with a different part of the human body.

In a videotaped interview with Israeli journalist Dov Alfon, Hanna spoke of her desire to “eat” the words of the sacred texts that surrounded her when she was growing up in Jerusalem as the daughter of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi from Egypt and a mother from Iran. As a girl, Hanna would wrap her mouth around the liturgy by moving her lips in silent prayer every day, and when other children would tease her about her stutter (whose traces remain today), she would go off and sing to God, asking Him to cure her of her speech impediment.

All these formative experiences led Hanna to her chosen creative field, which has taken her all over the world for study, performances, and collaborations with other artists, including the renowned American vocalist and conductor Bobby McFerrin. Hanna has so far found her greatest success in New York, where she has performed at the Manhattan JCC’s Israel Non-Stop Festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Joe’s Pub, among other venues.

Having been brought up in a religious household and having been educated in religious schools, Hanna still harbors some discomfort, at least on a subconscious level, about performing in front of gender-mixed audiences.

“I sing in front of men, but even today I question if I am okay. I do it, but inside I am not completely at ease with it,” she said.

Victoria Hanna in "Aleph-Bet." (Courtesy)
Victoria Hanna in “Aleph-Bet.” (Courtesy)

The “Aleph-Bet” single, produced by Balkan Beat Box’s Tamir Muskat and directed by Asaf Korman (whose debut feature film, “Next to Her,” is in theaters now) announces Hanna’s work on her first full-fledged album, which she expects to complete soon.

Hanna, who declines to divulge her age or last name — Victoria Hanna is a stage name made up of her first and middle names — said it was time for her to focus more on documenting her music than on performing it live.

“I have three small kids now, so I am not as free to travel as I used to be,” she said.

Hanna intends for her debut album to showcase her unique vocal vision and to boil her work over the years down to its essence.

As Hanna enters this new stage of her career, she looks to American artists Laurie Anderson and Meredith Monk and the Icelandic Bjork as role models.

“I am interested in hearing voices of creative women,” she said, pleased that so many people hearing her for the first time, thanks to social media, appreciate her own creativity.

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