It is difficult these days to find any genre of music that has not been colored and seasoned by other musical styles and species. In that sense at the least, Nuriya is a definitive artist.
Twenty-something Jewish vocalist Nuriya, who will give five shows here next week as part of the Hot Jazz series, was born in Mexico but was influenced by all manner of musical sensibilities. That will come through in the repertoire she will perform in Jerusalem, Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Haifa in her Tanita program of Latin music, jazz and flamenco, with a considerable amount of Middle Eastern grooves thrown into her highenergy musical cauldron.
Mind you, having a peripatetic childhood and cross-cultural antecedents can help push one in all sorts of directions.
“My maternal grandfather came from Iraq, and I have grandparents on my mother’s and my father’s side who came from Syria,” says the singer.
“You could say I am very Middle Eastern.”
She also spent time between Mexico, New York and Los Angeles.
“My grandfather used to play records by people like [Egyptian diva] Oum Koulthum and [Egyptian-Syrian singer-oud player] Farid Al-Atrash,” she recalls. “My mother was a music major, so she introduced me to Latin music like [Argentinean singer] Mercedes Sosa and Cuban music and traditional Mexican music. But I am also very moved by cantorial music, which I heard in temple as a child.”
Nuriya’s early eclectic musical education came in handy over the last year when she lived in Spain. She went there primarily to study flamenco singing but found it was very much a multi-way street.
“All the influences of North Africa and the Middle East are so present in the melodies of the music from Spain, and the music from Spain influenced the music of Latin America,” explains Nuriya. “If you look, for example, at traditional Cuban music, you have a thing that’s called biana, which is totally Middle Eastern,” she says, illustrating her intent with a meandering vocal line that sounds similar to elongated ululation.
Working with material that appears to have so many different sources allows more room to maneuver.
“There are parts of the music that I leave open for improvisation,” she says, adding that it is a burgeoning aspect in her work. “Before, I felt that there had to be sections in my music that were open to improvisation.
Now, after having been in Spain and having studied flamenco, I feel there is more of a common thread in the way I approach my music and the way I sing. I feel there is more improvisation within the more structured elements of my songs. The more I compose, the more I notice that it is an element that is important for me. Maybe it’s a matter of becoming more mature and more confident in what I’m doing, that I can allow more freedom in my work.”
Over the years, Nuriya augmented the Latin-Middle Eastern mix of her childhood home with other, often disparate, areas of music. She studied jazz at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York and also gained an education in opera. While she appreciated the breadth the latter added to her vocal prowess, ultimately she wanted to steer her own path through the musical maze.
“I loved what I got from opera, but I stopped singing it because I didn’t want to spend my whole life singing other people’s music,” she declares.
Still, that doesn’t mean Nuriya is a control freak. She says that when she finds the right mindset, she is happy to use other people’s material.
“I think it’s a matter of finding the right chemistry with others. I got a call to work with a group in France, [10-piece ska and reggae outfit] Babylon Circus, and that worked really well. Today, I write about half of the material I use.”
Some of the latter found its way into her debut album Tanita, which will be showcased at Nuriya’s concerts here next week, along with flamenco works she picked up during her time in Spain.
Besides her vocal skills, Nuriya is also a very demonstrative performer, and there is a strong physical element to her shows.
“I studied belly dancing a few years ago, and my teacher connected me with the sensual side of the dancing,” she says. “The physical side is an important part of what I do.”
Nuriya’s shows here should be a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
Nuriya will perform with five local instrumentalists, including bassist Asaf Hakimi, guitarist Yoav Yinon and drummer Danny Benedikt, at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem (July 16 at 9 p.m.); Herzliya Zappa Club (July 17, doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.); the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (July 19 at 9 p.m. and July 20 at 9:30 p.m.) and Abba Hushi House in Haifa (July 21 at 9 p.m.).