Singing the praises of a guiding light

Hallelujah! Legendary poet and lyricist Shimrit Or is honored for her dazzling contribution to Israeli music.

shimrit or 311 (photo credit: Eldad Refaeli)
shimrit or 311
(photo credit: Eldad Refaeli)
Shimrit Or has been writing poetry and song lyrics for almost as long as she cares to recall. “Forty-five years is a long time,” says the sexagenarian, “although it’s really longer than that.”
Or will be honored for her impressive lifework to date with a tribute evening at this year’s four-day Yemei Zemer Festival in Holon, which starts on March 31.
The seemingly cryptic observation is, it seems, based on chronological fact. Or says she wrote the lyrics to her first recorded song when she was only seven years old. “I wrote the lyrics for a song called ‘Savionim‚’ and Nava Bosni, who was two years older than me, wrote the music. It may come as some surprise to hear that the infants’ effort was recorded by diva Shoshana Damari but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Damari was Bosni’s mother. Then again, one presumes the iconic songstress would not have bothered to perform the number had it not had great musical and textual merit.
It must have been quite something to have her song played on the radio at the tender age of seven, especially back in the years when there were very few radio stations and, more or less, everyone heard the same broadcasts. However, early success had its downside, too. “The other kids in the class didn’t like it but I had to deal with the jealousy. Some of the kids said my dad had probably written the lyrics for me.”
“Dad,” by the way, was Israel Prize laureate poet Yaakov Orland. “It wasn’t easy being the daughter of such a well known personality,” adds Or, “but I think all ‘children of’ have had to deal with that.”
In fact, had it not been for Or’s physique she might have found a different path to artistic excellence. “When I was a kid I wanted to be a ballerina, but I was told I was too tall,” she recalls. She also took an active interest in thespian endeavor, which led to a fruitful and longstanding friendship and successful artistic liaison with Shalom Hanoch. “I went to [acting school] Beit Zvi. That’s where I met Shalom.” The fortuitous encounter came at just the right time. “The Shlosharim [pop group with Hanoch, Hanan Yovel and Benny Amudrsky] had just been established and Shalom was looking for songs for the group. I managed to write two songs for them – ‘Isidor‚’ and ‘Besorot Tovot’ [Good Tidings]. Shalom and I realized we worked well together.”
OVER THE years Or has provided many top singers and groups, including Boaz Sharabi, Doron Mazar, Yehudit Ravitz and Gali Atari, with lyrics for literally hundreds of hits. Famously Or also wrote the words for Atari’s 1979 Eurovision Song Contest winner “Hallelujah.”
“That was a great moment for me,” Or recalls. “I couldn’t believe we were going to win, especially as Israel had won the competition the year before. I thought I was going to burst with tension and then with joy.”
Although, after all this time, she could be excused for not keeping up with current trends, Or remains a highly relevant force in the contemporary music market, not least as a result of her teaching position at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon. Fittingly, the Yemei Zemer tribute show features artists from different generations, including Atari, Matti Caspi, Harel Skaat and Ben Artzi.
Mind you, there are still some things that Or feel have gone awry overthe years, and she does her best to maintain the high standards of heryouth. “People are different and the age is different now,” sheobserves, “so they sing about different things. But I am bothered bythe poor command of the Hebrew language many young artists have today.Today people don’t have command of synonyms, which allows you toexpress an idea in different ways. I insist that my students read theBible and songs and poetry from bygone years. I start the first lessonof every course with the first chapter of Genesis. We have to know theroots of Hebrew before we can use it properly.”

The Yemei Zemer festival will takeplace at the Holon Theater from March 31 to April 3. For moreinformation, call (03) 502-3001/2/3 or got to