Picks and Pans Review: Shaday

updated 02/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Ofra Haza

Ah, those were the days, when Grace Jones could shock crowds with her rabid alien act or when Madonna could turn heads with her fringed black corset. But alas, fickle dance music fans always crave something new. So here comes Ofra Haza, a 30-year-old Israeli singer. Basic training haircut? Nope. Sexy lingerie? Nah. Haza prefers the traditional Yemenite garb that covers all but her eyes, nose and hands in her album jacket photo. Seductive lyrics? Not unless there's some secret message hidden in the words, which Haza sings partly in Hebrew; some lines come straight from the Old Testament's Song of Solomon. As for the music, Haza sometimes chants in a style that dates back to the 16th century, which is hardly everyone's idea of commercial. But at a time when the nouveau hip are beginning to discover ethnic music—or at least give it a name, i.e., World Beat—Haza has hopped right on to the U.S. dance charts by combining her unique Middle Eastern qualities with some very mundane pop accessories. After racking up 16 gold and platinum records around the world, Haza met American audiences when the band M/A/R/R/S excerpted one of her chants in their 1987 hit song Pump Up the Volume. This is her U.S. major-label debut, however. Its title means "the Almighty" in Hebrew, and the record relies on a standard disco beat and the same synthesizer gimmicks that have echoed through clubs for years. Haza's lyrics, which she adapts from traditional songs or writes herself, won't exactly challenge Talmudic scholars—biblical excerpts notwithstanding. "You know I love you like no other/like no other," goes the refrain to her biggest U.S. hit, I'm Nin'alu, which means "If the gates of heaven closed." It's too bad Haza doesn't rise above musical clichés more often because her sparkly clear voice, sometimes resembling Barbra Streisand's, seems able to handle something more challenging. Even so, Haza's music sets a few minds on a new track. At home, her songs blare on both sides of Arab and Israeli borders, an accomplishment that should make UN negotiators jealous. In the U.S., Haza performs another amazing feat: Those Jewish kids who goofed off in Hebrew school because they knew that they'd never hear the language outside the synagogue have to admit they were wrong. (Sire)

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