Singing from close quarters

The Museum of Islamic Art concert series showcases Nissren Kadry, a Muslim who is no stranger to Jewish society.

Singer Nissren Kadry (photo credit: Courtesy)
Singer Nissren Kadry
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nadim Shiban, director of the Museum of Islamic Art, makes no bones about having an “ulterior motive” to overseeing the Jerusalem institution. In addition to endeavoring to present the public with fine and often thought-provoking works of art, as well as specimens of cultural heritage, Shiban would like the museum to promote the idea that we can all live together in peace, while respecting each other’s religious and cultural baggage.
That ethos certainly comes across in the current series of concerts that have female vocalists at the front of the stage. All the artists lined up for the fourslot program have one foot in each of the Jewish and Arab spheres. The series opened yesterday with a stirring show by stellar Christian Arab singer Mira Awad, who represented the country at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, alongside Noa (Achinoam Nini). Next week’s Thursday evening entertainment will be provided by Rotem Shefy, who generally goes by the stage name of Shefita, and made quite a splash a couple of years ago when her Middle Eastern- seasoned cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” became a viral hit. Shefy will be followed by veteran performer Lubneh Salameh.
Last up in the program, on December 24 (at 10 p.m.), is 29-year-old Nissren Kadry who, it would appear, is a perfect choice for the series. She knows more than most Muslims about Judaism and Jewish society. A few years back she was in a long-term relationship with a Jewish man and was actually in the process of converting. However, the relationship eventually ended and Kadry decided to stick with her familial roots.
“I was really into it,” she says. “I kept Shabbat and fasted on Yom Kippur. But I am not sorry I experienced all of that. I am not sorry about anything I have experienced in my life.”
That sounds like a consummately positive approach to adopt and one which has stood Kadry in good stead over the past decade or so since she started her career. In fact, it was clear from the outset that Haifa- born Kadry was going to earn her crust as a singer.
“I have always wanted to sing,” she says. “When I was in kindergarten, one day, I got on the table and gave the teachers no rest until they agreed to let me sing. I was always a handful as a child.”
She may have been unruly, but Kadry was always ready to help out at home. “My first gig was at a small place in Jaffa when I was 17½,” she recalls. “I made NIS 300 from the show and I was elated that I could earn money from something I loved. I also worked during the day, because the financial situation at home was not too good. We all helped out.”
Kadry continued making decent money from shows and performing at clubs, bar mitzva celebrations, weddings and other social gatherings. “I performed all over the place – Beersheba, Dimona, Ashdod, everywhere,” she says. “I began to learn the ropes, and how to present myself on and off the stage.”
Things changed radically – for the better – around five years ago, when Kadry appeared on Eyal Golan’s Eyal Golan Koreh Lecha (“Eyal Golan Is Calling You”) TV reality talent show.
“That was a challenging situation for me,” she says.
“I had never sung in Hebrew before. I didn’t know anything about the kind of music they had on the show. So it was a learning experience for me. Everything changed for me after that.”
In addition to starting to come to grips with the dominant musical culture in Israel, Kadry’s success on Golan’s show generated a host of new career opportunities. “Instead of all the poky little venues I’d appeared at before the show, I started working at much bigger, and more creditable places,” she recounts. They included some of the most glittering places in the country. “I played at Caesarea and at the President’s Residence, and I sang at the event for the 20th anniversary of [prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin’s assassination, and I released my debut album [Khayati]. I did loads of things that I didn’t do before the TV show.”
A second album is in the works, and Kadry continues to perform at major locations, and with front grid acts such as the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra, but she is not letting success get to her. “I have both feet on the ground,” she declares, “and I never forget where I come from. I take things slowly, and I am careful about how I develop professionally.”
Kadry says she is delighted to be part of the Museum of Islamic Art series, and to have the opportunity to perform there, both in Arabic and Hebrew. “I come from a culture that has a wonderful language, and great food and cultural riches, like the Jewish culture.” The singer is also keenly aware of the power of music to bridge cultural and other gaps.
“The language of Arab music can bring people together. It can change pain into joy. That is very important these days. It may be a small thing but it so important. That’s what we need now.”
The singer notes that she is always on the lookout for opportunities to spread some positive vibes. “It is important to get the good message across, that there are good things and we are not all the same. We need to get to know each other, and understand each other. I think my show can help with that.”
The museum concert repertoire takes in a suitably wide-ranging swath of materials, from Arabic classics to Hebrew pop and songs made famous by late iconic singer Zohar Argov, as well as some numbers from Kadry’s first album. “It will be a little bit of everything, in the same language, the language of music.
For Kadry, the language of the lyrics is also an important aspect. “There are more and more singers, today, who perform material in both Hebrew and Arabic,” she says. “That wasn’t always the case and, to my mind, that indicates that we are all getting closer that we ever were before, the present troubles notwithstanding. Music can do that.”
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