Israel's queen of the Underground

London may be home for expat folk/pop singer Hadar Manor, but like her native land, her borders are undefined.

Hadar Manor 88 248 (photo credit: Adam Tiernan Thomas)
Hadar Manor 88 248
(photo credit: Adam Tiernan Thomas)
Grinding spices for homemade chai at 4 a.m., Hadar Manor got sudden inspiration for one of the tracks on her newly released Crossing London CD. "I'm gonna chop his cute bum cheeks off and pop 'em in a sauce of stroganoff," she sweetly croons on "Cook a Man." Yet just a few tracks later, Manor offers her traditional rendition of the 10th-century Shabbat hymn "Dror Yikra" (He Will Proclaim Freedom). To this self-described urban gypsy, both songs express an aspect of her identity. "I was never one to stick with a single genre, because I'm not one-sided," the folk/pop artist tells ISRAEL21c. "The album is supposed to be a journey, showing all sides of me." At 16, young Hadar (whose name translates as "splendor") left her Israeli village of Ginaton to test the musical waters of Amsterdam, Belgium, and France. With no formal musical training, she relied on her voice and a secondhand guitar. Two years later, she returned to carry out her army service as a training officer for medics. Flying off to Europe again at 21, she began making a name for herself by "busking" - a surprisingly selective and organized system for promising musicians to earn tips and notoriety in London's Underground. Over the next seven years, she earned gigs at a variety of nightclubs and music festivals. Last year, after garnering the "Queen of the Underground" crown in a popular contest, Manor popped up on the official London scene, even accepting an invitation to 10 Downing Street. She and her photographer husband Adam Tiernan Thomas enjoy a typically British life that includes a resident fox in their garden. Manor says that her roots - as well as her parents and sister - remain in Israel. She feels a kinship to singers such as the late Ehud Banai, an Israel Prize laureate who also busked in London early in his career. Middle-Eastern music and mores left an unmistakable mark on her personal style. "Israel is such a unique place, a place of searching," she explains. "Growing up there always makes you question yourself more deeply because... it's the only country whose borders are not yet defined, so there are constant questions, and that influences [the music] I write." However, Manor is very much a child of the world. "London is my home now, but I won't stay here forever," she says. "When I left Israel, it wasn't about not staying; it was about going. I wanted to travel, to try a new culture." Hence her identification as a gypsy. "Gypsies are always on the outside looking in, and I feel like an observer." Manor describes her music as "bit of folk, bit of blues, bit of ska, bit of London, bit of New York, bit of life, bit of sugar, bit of milk." Her acoustic-tinged pop ballads, in the plaintive vein of Richard Thompson, also evoke British Grammy nominee Imogen Heap. Most of Manor's recording is done live, with a retinue of friends in the studio. "It's quite important to capture a moment instead of trying to fake a moment," she says. Now working on her second extended-play disc (EP), she is gearing up for a fall tour to France, Belgium, Germany and Holland in support of Crossing London. But first, she's coming to visit her family in Israel - a trip that always requires some cultural recalibrations. "It took me a while to get used to it here in London, and when I go back it takes me a while to get used to it in Israel," she says. "The way people communicate is very different. Israelis are open and direct and that has a good side to it, because you know where you stand with them. But on the other hand," she adds with a laugh, "sometimes you don't want to know that."