Queen of the Underground

A moshavnik living in London wins commuters' hearts with her renditions of songs by Israeli artists.

Hadar Manor 88 248 (photo credit: Adam Tiernan Thomas)
Hadar Manor 88 248
(photo credit: Adam Tiernan Thomas)
The Underground in London is not known for its warm and friendly atmosphere. Commuters stare at their feet, desperate not to make eye contact, as they shuffle down long, winding tunnels on their way to anywhere else but here. But every so often, a ray of Mediterranean sunshine brightens up the dark, dismal subway. That ray of sunshine is otherwise known as Hadar Manor, a young busker who has introduced London Transport's passengers to the likes of Mashina and other Israeli artists. But the 28-year-old moshavnik is not just a pretty face. She sings and plays the guitar and harmonica. And as well as a carefully selected set of cover versions, she has an extensive repertoire of her own melodic folk tunes. Manor lists Billy Holiday, Martha Wainwright, Bob Dylan, Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov among her influences. Yet her music is uniquely hers. She describes her sound 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..." She has proved so popular with passengers that they officially crowned her queen of the Underground last year. She emerged as the winner of the Ear to the Underground competition, which was jointly run by a leading London newspaper and radio station. More than 30,000 people voted her the capital's best busker, out of 170 entrants. The songstress won £5,000 and the chance to support KT Tunstall on a major British date. She has been a finalist in a host of other contests and was even invited for a visit to 10 Downing Street. Manor, the daughter of a Yemenite father and Transylvanian mother, left Israel two weeks after finishing her service as a lieutenant in the IDF and headed for Amsterdam. There she encountered some fellow travelers, who changed her life forever. "I met these really sweet people who had been traveling around Europe and busking," she says. "I didn't really know anyone and so I joined them and we had a laugh. You can go anywhere in the world and play music on the streets. Being a bit of a gypsy, I thought it was quite nice." Manor, who hails from Moshav Ginaton near Ben-Shemen, later returned to Tel Aviv, but her stay was short-lived. "I loved it, but I just couldn't find inspiration there. There's great music in Israel now, but back then it felt like there was nothing to hang on to. Most of the people I met in Amsterdam were English and I had always liked British music. I used to listen to the Voice of Peace radio station all the time when I was a teenager. I fell in love with everything that came from here and thought I have to give it a chance." She booked into a youth hostel and then armed with nothing but a guitar, she headed straight for Leicester Square, in central London, but was repeatedly moved on by police. It didn't take time, however, for opportunity to come knocking at her door. "If you're lonely, busking is a brilliant way of meeting people, of letting people come to you," says Manor. Through the grapevine, she learned of a plan to introduce licensed busking on the Underground. "I had never really played on the Underground before as I felt like there was a bit of a busking mafia down there. I didn't really feel like getting involved. I had my spot on the South Bank [of the River Thames] and I was happy. But when I heard about the plan to introduce a license, I decided to go along to the audition. The organizers were very nice and enthusiastic and I got my license quickly and started busking on the Underground." It was this process that led to Manor's initial brush with fame. During the audition process, she and three others were selected to appear on ITV's South Bank Show, a television arts magazine program. The episode, which aired in 2004, was dedicated to following the four buskers as they entertained their way around the capital. London has since fallen in love with Manor - and the feeling is mutual. "About one in three people actually thanks me, even if they don't give me any money. People even leave me little notes, some of which are stuck up on my fridge. Commuters are quite grateful because it's so dull down there, so if you hear someone who treats it as if they are playing a show, it can really brighten things up. "In London, even if you're really well off, you use the tube to get to the other side of town. Everyone uses it here, so I've had the chance to meet lots of interesting people." Manor's music is currently only available on-line. Her new album, Crossing London, will be launched on March 24 and available to buy from her Myspace page. Some was recorded in a studio, some in her kitchen and one track was even recorded on the Underground itself. One of her catchiest numbers is the aptly named "Queen of the Underground." She especially enjoys doing Ehud Banai tracks, and says: "I know him personally and he has been very supportive of what I do. He was a busker, too. He told me he came here 30 years ago and started busking on Tottenham Court Road, at the exact spot where I stand sometimes. "I like to play "Ir Miklat" and it's quite nice to be playing it there. It gets a great reception." She also does a version of "The Israelites" and "Money, Money" by Abba. "Because my mum says if you don't ask, you don't get," says Hadar, who refuses to be drawn on just how much she earns busking. "It's an unwritten rule that you don't really talk about it. You can pay the bills and it can be a decent living if you do it full time." Married to a British photographer, Manor considers herself pretty settled in London. And yet she still misses Israeli food, the sunshine and her family and friends. "My family is very supportive of what I do and they just want to see me happy. I go back about once a year and they come here too." As her star continues to rise, she is spending less and less time underground and more in the studio and playing gigs. "I enjoy it when I go out and busk, but I'm getting busier and busier. If I'm getting other paid work and I don't need to go, then that's good. The whole experience here in London has been quite magical as every day has brought new things. It's been great. I've achieved quite a lot and am grateful for that. "People seem to really like my music and that makes me happy. When people recognize me for the work I do, that's the main thing. I don't want fame for fame's sake." For more information about Hadar Manor and her album, visit: www.myspace.com/hadarmanor.