Iranian-born Israeli diva Rita performed before UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other international dignitaries Tuesday at the UN General Assembly Hall in a first-of-its-kind event organized by the Israeli Mission to the UN.
Rita and her nine-piece band performed in Hebrew, English and Persian before a full house that included President of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremic, ambassadors, diplomats, and leaders of the US Jewish and Iranian communities.
The concert featured songs based on Jewish scripture, Iranian poetry and Rita’s own compositions. Many of them appear on her latest album, “My Joys.”
“My mother taught me the love for music while she was cooking in the kitchen,” said the Tehran-born singer. “Two years ago I was urged to record the Persian songs that were the soundtrack of my life.”
“During the whole recording process, I couldn’t stop smiling because I came to realize I was celebrating my life. I was celebrating being both Iranian and Israeli that found expression in music. Tonight, I invite you to celebrate it with me,” she said.
“The music of this room isn’t always harmonious — our mission tonight is to change that,” said Israel’s envoy to the UN Ron Prosor. “Our goal is to weave a tapestry of music as rich and diverse as the UN itself.”
Prosor joked that it was a lifetime dream of his to one day be a warm-up act for Rita at a major New York venue. The ambassador disclosed his own love for music, saying he used to be part of a chorus and claiming that people sometimes mistake him for opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. “These days, however, I spend much more time composing speeches for the Security Council than music,” he joked. “Tonight I encourage you to get on your feet and sing along.”
Rita Jahan-Foruz was born in Tehran, Iran, 50 years ago. In 1970, at the age of eight, she migrated with her family to Israel, where she grew up listening to her mother sing melodies in her native Farsi.
Fifteen years later, Rita burst onto the Israeli music scene as a one-named wonder — Israel’s Madonna, or Cher, if you will — and has gone on to become one of the country’s top recording artists and most recognized celebrities.
She was chosen to sing the national anthem in 1998 at the country’s main jubilee celebration, answering a personal plea from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ten years later, as Israel marked its 60th anniversary, she was chosen as Israel’s top female singer ever.
Still, she stayed close to her Iranian roots. Some 250,000 Israelis are of Iranian descent. Rita is perhaps the most famous of all.
In Iran, fans are exposed to her music mostly through foreign-based Farsi-language satellite TV. During a recent tour of eight music dealers in Tehran, an AP correspondent found two selling a Rita single, “Gole Sangam,” a remake of a famous Iranian song about yearning for a missing loved one.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born analyst who teaches at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, said Rita’s popularity is hard to gauge, but it’s possible that her Israeli identity has helped lure listeners fed up with the hard-line Iranian government. “Whatever popularity she might have could be related to artistic capabilities. It could also be related to the backlash we see in Iran against the government,” he said.
AP contributed to this report