Women and beyond

The Holon International Women’s Festival focuses on female performers who have pushed their artistic boundaries beyond anything they have experienced

Rita Antonopoulou 521 (photo credit: courtsey)
Rita Antonopoulou 521
(photo credit: courtsey)
Captain Kirk would no doubt have approved – gender switch permitting – of people going where no one has gone before. This year’s Holon International Women’s Festival, which will take place at the Holon Theater from February 27 to March 2, is based on the theme of “women who go all the way and beyond.” While Kirk and his starship Enterprise and the rest of the Star Trek crew made every effort to “boldly go where no man” went before, the four-day event in Holon focuses on female performers who have pushed their artistic boundaries beyond anything they previously experienced.
The festival kicks off with a tribute to one of the grandes dames of the Israeli entertainment business, Rivka Michaeli.
The 74-year-old Michaeli has worked in practically every sector of the industry, from presenting radio shows for housewives to participating in the groundbreaking TV satirical comedy show Nikui Rosh, anchoring a prime-time talk show and working with the likes of Yossi Banai in comic sketches that have become part of the national folklore.
The Ein La Rega Dal (“She Doesn’t Have a Dull Moment”) slot at the festival features some of the professionals Michaeli has worked with during her long career to date, such as Tiki Dayan, Yisrael Gurion and Mike Borstein, and will include old comic standards, as well as new material written especially for the production by Ephraim Sidon. Roni Weiss will preside over the musical side of the program.
There are also several foreign guests in the lineup, such as Greek singer Rita Antonopoulou, who covers a wide range of genres, from folk songs to ballads, while young Dutch actress Hiske Eriks will add some comedy to the proceedings, on February 28 and March 1, with her performance of two works – The Attendant and Mrs. Cruyff. The former is about the antics a bored artgallery attendant gets up to, while the title of the latter references 1970s Dutch soccer superstar Johan Cruyff and portrays the world of an up-and-coming female soccer player.
The foreign front liner this year is 30- year-old Ivory Coast-born French-resident singer Fatoumata Diwarra, who will perform a varied repertoire of songs that feed off diverse ethnic and stylistic sources, from material from the Wassoulou culture, which originates from a region that straddles the joint borders of Mali, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. Wassoulou music blends traditional and modern influences with strong female vocals and an instrumental accompaniment by a pentatonic hunter’s harp. Wassoulou music is one of the two forms of West African music that ethnomusicologists believe to be the origin of the American blues, which developed out of musical forms dating back to the American slave trade from West Africa. The best-known exponents of the genre from the region include Ramata Diakite, who died three years ago at the age of 33; Coumba Sidibe; and Grammy-winning Malian singer Oumou Sangare, whom Diwarra cites as one of her major inspirations.
In addition to the high-quality musical entertainment proffered, Diwarra and Sangare share a similar social and political vision and use their public profile to further women’s rights and to combat such issues as child marriage and polygamy. Although she is not exactly getting ready to run for political office, either in Mali or France, Diwarra is keen to communicate her beliefs and social agenda.
“I’m not a politician, so there is a clear distinction between the two [politics and social issues],” she declares. “It’s very important for me to convey social messages in my music.”
Born in the Ivory Coast to Malian parents, Diwarra relocated to France to pursue acting, appearing in Malian director Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s 1999 feature film La Genèse, and Burkina Faso director Dani Kouyaté’s 2001 Sia, le rêve du python. She also had a starring role in the internationally renowned street theater troupe Royal Deluxe. It was the latter berth that led to Diwarra’s finally opting to sing for her supper.
“I decided to become a professional musician when I left the Royal Deluxe theater company and began playing live,” she recalls.
Diwarra later took up the guitar and began composing her own material, writing songs that blend Wassalou traditions with various international influences.
She quickly gained a reputation for her “sensuous voice” and spread her musical wings across various musical sectors, performing and recording with Sangaré, taking part in stellar American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Red Earth: A Malian Journey project, and working with celebrated veteran Beninbased Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou ensemble.
Diwarra released her first EP, “Kanou,” in May 2011, and her debut album, Fatou, came out in September 2011. Last year she furthered her contribution to social activism by featuring in a campaign called 30 Songs/30 Days, which supports Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a multi-platform media project inspired by Pulitzer Prizewinning couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book about worldwide oppression of women.
Elsewhere in the Holon Theater lineup, there is an intriguing Israeli-Greek confluence between singers Tammuz Nissim and Martha Mavroidi, who will perform a program of Greek and Israeli numbers, with folk and jazzy coloring.
Meanwhile, Mashber Kvisa (Laundry Crisis), on the last evening of the festival, takes a sober look at the dramas that can arise in relationships. The show also goes by the subtitle of “Laundry, Sex and Rock and Roll.”
Vocalist-pianist Yael Keidar will deliver a varied repertoire of numbers that address such matters as motherhood, monogamy, day-to-day routine and love. The musical entertainment will be augmented by a dance spot courtesy of Amit Levy and Rotem Greenberg, with Efrat Cohen lending her thespian skills, and added instrumental accompaniment by guitarist Adam Ben-Amitai, drummer Karen Tepperberg and bassist Tzuk Devusek.
For further information and tickets: (03) 502-3001 and www.hth.co.il