A girl recovers from a car crash with the power of prayer, a song is rescued from the Holocaust. These are some of the stories of faith on Ovadia Hamama's new CD which features many well-known Israeli musicians, both secular and religious.
After four CDs, Hamama shot out of obscurity with his 2006 hit Ana Bekoach. Based on a Jewish prayer recited during Kabalat Shabbat on Friday evening, the slow, moving song was a huge radio hit, spawning cover versions and even appearing as a cell phone ring tone. His follow up disc Keshehaneshama Meira features more of the same, with the help, once again, of some of the Israeli music scene's most well-known performers.
So who is this bald-headed, 40-something, secular singer whose song has wowed audiences both secular and religious? According to Hamama, his personal story isn't very important, only his song. In an interview with Israel National Radio's Ben Bresky, he stated, "I was only training for 20 years in order to deserve this moment of Ana Bekoach. You can work a lifetime for that moment that you dreamed of. When this moment arrived, I didn't feel like I missed anything. It just arrived at the right time in the right song."
Although Hamama has indeed finally gained popularity, that's not important for him. "I do believe in the power of music. That's what I felt even 20 years ago when I was only starting to make music. I thought music was something so big that being famous was not the important thing. My idea was to create music that speaks about my personal life, but not in a personal way."
So is Hamama religious? He says he is not and he does not wear a kippah, as can be seen on the CD covers. But he says, "I still believe in our Jewish roots and I believe that we have no other choice." He wears a kippah when he does what he calls "holy things," such as going to the synagogue and singing religious songs on stage.
For Hamama, religious standing is an evolution, not a revolution. "It's a personal question and I am not in a frozen position. I do hope that I'm in the right direction. This is the most important thing. Slowly, slowly I will find my place. I am still on the move."
But the musician isn't looking to fit into a box either. "I wonder if all people have to be the same. From my point of view, not all have to be the same or wear the same clothes or have the same positions on everything. That's what makes things interesting in life. Each person has to do teshuvah [repentance] on his life, on his behavior, on his music. My music is religious, and I do hope my character is religious, and by that I mean pure and from the soul and having good intentions."
The new CD features slow guitar-based pop songs with lush string arrangements. Groovy, mellow and dreamy, there is a hint of Sephardic influence. Popular religious singers join him such as Shuli Rand, who stars in the movie Ushpizin, Ehud Banai and Gad Elbaz, as well as secular stars such as Barry Sacharoff and Hemi Rodner. "I'm not the best singer," comments Hamama, "so I learned to turn disadvantages into advantages. I believe giving it to the best singers helps the music and the message. Also with two different people, we create depth."
Several songs of the new album are miracle stories. One is about a Holocaust survivor who rescued a Jewish melody. Another is Kel Na Refa Na La, inspired by the story of Rabbi David Batzri's granddaughter. The young Shoshana Batzri was seriously injured in a car crash and lay unconscious for several months. The rabbi, a well-known and influential religious leader, sat with his granddaughter and held her hand while reciting Kel Na Refa Na La (Please, G-d, heal her, please). The granddaughter recovered and now is fully functioning.
The story received news coverage and Hamama was so inspired by the story that he turned it into a song.
"This is a very optimistic message, that prayer can change." It's a message that Hamama imbues in all his songs. "I believe in the power of music. I believe it can work on your soul. It can make you feel better, and in that way it's a very holy instrument. It's not only to help you to be popular. For me, music can change the atmosphere and the energy of people and in that way, can even change the world."
Ben Bresky is the host of the Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast on Arutz Sheva - Israel National Radio.com.