Sounds from beyond

AI brings 2 distinctly Israeli voices to life for Israel’s 75th

The sounds of Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov, both deceased, come together in Session 42’s latest musical creation

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

'Here Forever,' the song created by AI using the voices of Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov for Israel's 75th (Courtesy Session 42)
'Here Forever,' the song created by AI using the voices of Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov for Israel's 75th (Courtesy Session 42)

Ofra Haza died 23 years ago and Zohar Argov has been dead for 36 years. Now the two singers, beloved voices in the Israeli musical pantheon, are being brought back to life. Sort of.

A team of Israeli producers created a duet, “Here Forever,” (“Kan Le’Olam”) for Haza and Argov, using artificial intelligence.

Released for Israel’s 75th Independence Day, the song and accompanying video uses Israeli musical AI software to create Haza and Argov’s performances.

“The idea was to mix technology and creativity,” said Oudi Antebi, CEO and co-founder of Session 42, an Israeli music production company using technology and data analysis to create songs. “The technology had to break all the borders, to be as wild and crazy as we could be and fulfill fantasies. This song is a great example of that.”

Session 42 has been working on other projects as well, such as Noa Kirel’s upcoming Eurovision song, “Unicorn,” produced and arranged by Yinon Yahel at Session 42, and an upcoming 3D project that Antebi isn’t ready to talk about just yet.

“It’s about saying this world is changing and we’ll use it to make songs, that’s our DNA,” said Antebi.

But back to Haza and Argov, two headliners who never actually sang together during their careers, although they were just two years apart in age and came into the spotlight in the 1980s to change the way Israelis thought about Mizrahi music.

Bat-Sheva Ofra Haza, the youngest of eight in a Yemenite family, was known as the Madonna of the East for her mezzo-soprano voice. She died at 42 from complications of AIDS, a discovery that created much controversy at the time.

Argov, also from a Yemenite family, was known as the king of Mizrahi music with a distinctively sharp, nasal voice. He grappled with the law and his own demons throughout his life. A drug abuser, he died at 32 in prison by apparent suicide, having already served time 10 years earlier for a rape conviction.

Antebi and his Session 42 co-founders considered Argov’s history when deciding which artists to use for the AI project, but after conducting a poll to see which artists best represented Israel, the vast majority mentioned Haza and Argov.

They also obtained consent from the Argov and Haza families for the project. Antebi said they asked the families to try and imagine what Argov and Haza themselves would have thought of the idea.

“It’s a duet, it’s not just one of them,” said Antebi. “There are all kinds of questions, and in the end, the families really embraced it. ”

There were other singers mentioned, said Antebi, including Arik Einstein, who died in 2013, but “it was a no-brainer to use them.”

Argov “is played on the radio dozens of times a day,” said Antebi. “De facto, he is inside the consensus. There is no wedding that doesn’t play his songs, so we decided that we would not try to be holier than the pope.”

Oudi Antebi, CEO and co-founder of Session 42, the musical technology company that used AI to create a duet for the voices of Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov for Israel’s 75th (Courtesy Eran Levi)

But there were other hurdles to jump through, said Antebi.

Session 42 had to obtain rights to the voices from the Israeli Broadcasting Corporations archive and recordings owned by the Reuveni Brothers music company, which had worked closely with both singers.

“We needed those blessings,” said Antebi in order to create an acapella version of their voices, without instruments, requiring the technologies of two additional Israeli music startups.

The songwriting team included Tal Forer (part of the Netta Barzilai Eurovision 2019 winning team), Roy Machluf and Ron Biton, who wanted to write a love song, but “really a love song for the nation,” said Antebi. “Not to be too cliched, but with everything that’s been happening in the last three months, that offered a lot of inspiration.”

It’s a song that’s about Israel at 75, about the startup nation, technology and innovation as well as a lot of nostalgia, said Antebi.

Here Forever

Look, how the years went by for them
Thousands of songs have already been written
These are not the same times anymore

True, a few years have already passed
Over time things change
There is no black or white, the truth is she has a thousand faces

All the sunsets I’ve seen
Not equal to your beauty
All the prayers I asked for
Let’s get closer, don’t go

How, I moved away from you a little, I missed you
I have a place for you, don’t change your face
I will stay here forever, I missed you
Even if you don’t see, we are here forever

“At the very end, it’s a black box, you just have to see what comes out,” said Antebi. “And then you hear it and you say, ‘wow,’ it sounds like them.”

Haza and Argov’s families had the right to veto the final song, said Antebi, but thankfully loved it.

“You say to yourself, ‘we did something huge,'” he said. “You look at the reactions that people make, the comments on YouTube, and it makes you feel like we are one nation, that music can do such great things.”

Most Popular
read more: