Queens sing Queen

‘Don’t Stop Me Now: Women Sing Queen’ at the Holon Women’s Festival will star eight high-profile artists singing from the heart, or as one performer puts it, ‘from the womb.’

'Women Sing' band 521 (photo credit: Dan Peretz)
'Women Sing' band 521
(photo credit: Dan Peretz)
Anthropologist Ashley Montague famously said, “In all societies, women have played a much more important role than their menfolk are generally ready to admit.” An entire city, however, is about to spend four event-filled days not only admitting but celebrating the important and often leading roles that women play in virtually every aspect of society, both in Israel and throughout the world. Holon is in high gear as it prepares once again for its annual International Women’s Festival, slated to run February 22 to 25. Now in its 16th year, the festival is designed to showcase the talents of women across a broad spectrum of contemporary social and cultural life, including everything from painting to politics, from dance and drama to economics, from performance art to architecture, from music to medicine and even a healthy dose of good old rock ’n’ roll. The Women’s Festival, designed to coincide with International Women’s Day, was founded and is produced jointly by the Holon Municipality and the Holon Theater, which provides the venue for virtually all of the programs and events.
So why do we need a festival specifically about women? Guy Telem, CEO of the Holon Theater and general director of the festival, believes that the answer to that question can be drawn from the wide array of offerings and events.
“On the one hand we provide space for discussion panels on academic research, on things like the role of women in economy and society and so on. There’s a lot of very interesting talk going on. On the other hand, we provide the stage for the arts and let the arts speak for themselves.
I think it’s the best manifestation of the power of women, of female inspiration, in the arts and in all the works of life.”
Telem and the festival’s artistic director, Ori Egoz, are especially excited at having scored a major coup in getting American jazz singer Cassandra Wilson to headline this year’s slate of events. Born 56 years ago in Jackson, Mississippi, Wilson developed her style first in New Orleans and later in New York. She is best known for taking jazz to places it had never been before by fusing it with rock ’n’ roll, blues, funk, pop, world music, and even country-and-western.
In addition to exploring more traditional forms of jazz, Wilson has performed and recorded adaptations of songs as diverse as Joni Mitchell’s “Black Crow,” Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville.” She has won two Grammy awards, one in 1996 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance on her album Blue Moon Daughter and on in 2009 for “Loverly,” voted Best Jazz Vocal Album. Time magazine honored her in 2001 with the title of America’s Best Singer. Wilson has also won the Edison Music Award, a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail; and she played one of the leading parts in Wynton Marsalis’s three-and- a-half-hour jazz oratorio, “Blood on the Fields,” the first jazz work to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Music.
“We are talking about certainly one of the most prominent figures in the jazz scene during the past three decades or so,” says Telem. “She has the trademark of being one of the first people to fuse jazz and pop, and folk and country, into something new. She will be making very good music, with a first-rate, top-notch band. It’s going to be a performance at a standard not seen here in Israel regularly.
Although we have a lively jazz scene here in Israel, we don’t have musicians of this caliber visiting very often.”
Nor was it easy to get them here, according to Telem. “The thing with artists of the rank of Cassandra is that at the end of the day it’s all about business. She is much in demand, and she performs all the time and gets offers all the time. And for her to come all the way over to Israel and fly over her band and all their equipment, it’s not a good business prospect. So it took time to convince her to come here. There have been many initiatives, and other jazz festivals in Israel have been trying to bring her here for many years. It took us almost a year of negotiations, and finally we worked it out.”
TELEM AND Egoz had no trouble, however, getting the second major attraction of the festival to come to Israel, as the performers were already here. On Thursday, the Holon Theater’s Stage One will rock to the beat of Don’t Stop Me Now: Women Sing Queen, in which eight Israeli rock-and-roll stars will pay tribute to the music of Freddie Mercury and the iconic hard rock band Queen. The rock ’n’ roll queens are Dana Adini, Dana Berger, Yael Deckelbaum, Mei Finegold, Efrat Gosh, Orit Hillel, Lee Triffon and Reut Yehudai.
Wondering what kind of emotional undercurrents flow when eight big stars share one stage, I ask Finegold if there is any clash of egos. “Well, I have none,” she replies, with laughter that is almost musical. “So I’m getting into this experience totally clean. And actually, we all get along very well. We spent the day together taking photos for the press, and we got along very well. Most of the girls have been good friends of mine for a long time so I feel right at home. We’re all very happy to take part in this kind of show. So you can feel the good atmosphere in the air when we get together.”
For Finegold, who began her career as a finalist on the 2009 season of Kochav Nolad (A Star is Born), it’s all about the music and performing. She says, “I love the stage, and when I come to the stage I do what I love. And I know what I love to see from other people when I go to shows. I love to see people lose themselves on stage, to completely lose themselves in the music and start dancing and performing. I think it’s about entertainment. We’re in the entertainment business. So when I’m onstage, I try to entertain. In this show, it’s songs by Queen, so it’s very easy to lose myself in the music, to dance and entertain and have fun with it. It’s very light and very happy.”
And what’s so special about women performers? Do women bring an attitude or sensibility to the music that is somehow different from those of male performers? “Wow, that’s a good question,” she replies, with evident amusement. “I’m not sure if it’s us being women more than us being a certain kind of women. We come from rock ’n’ roll and we’re very strong, very powerful, very independent women. So that’s the kind of energy we bring to the show. It’s not necessarily about us being women and not men. You know what I mean?”
But not everyone agrees. Says Yehudai, who will sing a solo number as well as a duet with Finegold, “I think we have our own feminine style. At last year’s festival we had a ‘Women Sing Elvis’ show. I sang ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight.’ When I sing that song, I think of a boy that’s talking to me, that is singing the song to me. When I sing it, I think to myself how it would sound if a boy was singing it to me. It’s different. Because when a boy sings it, it sounds different. Of course, the feminine voice is different, but also the attitude is more feminine, softer. It comes from a different part of the body. I think we sing more from the stomach and from the womb. And we think and see things differently. We see love from a different point of view.”
Festival director Telem agrees with Yehudai. “What you get on stage is the important thing,” he says. “I really can’t put into words what the difference is between a ‘feminine’ performance and a ‘masculine’ one. I don’t think anyone can, really. We’ve got a format that we’ve had going on for the past four or five years. We call it ‘Women Sing.’ Last year it was ‘Women Sing Elvis’ and this year it’s ‘Women Sing Queen.’ And in both cases we dealt with music that symbolizes masculinity to its utmost and we let leading women performers deal with it. We show how music that is associated with masculinity can be effectively inspired by women. What you get on stage, which can’t really be described in words, is the best answer.”
According to Yehudai, the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen has the added value of being “women-friendly.”
“With Queen, it’s easier. Last year, when we did the first rehearsal for the Elvis show, we had to change scales because Elvis sang very low. But here, with Freddie Mercury, we just sing his own scale. We don’t have to change it because he sang so high, like a woman. So it’s easier for us to get along with the song. I especially relate to the passion. They had so much passion in their songs. And the arrangements of the vocals are very complicated and deep.”
In addition to the two major attractions – one imported and the other domestic – the four-day festival will include experimental and documentary films; dance and theater productions; onstage interviews with leading female figures in the arts, sciences and public affairs; art exhibitions; a painting workshop; lectures and panel discussions; and even a story-telling session. Of particular interest are a “marathon” series of comic and dramatic monologues by recent female graduates of theater and acting schools throughout Israel, an architectural conference featuring a panel of international and Israeli women architects, a series of lectures to raise cancer awareness among women and Happy Ending, described as a “musical fantasy” staged and performed by local actresses.
Established 16 years ago as the brainchild of Holon general manager Hana Hertzman, the International Women’s Festival has become a late winter fixture in Israel’s cultural events calendar. Asked about the direction the festival will take in future, director Telem replies, “Well, first and foremost I am interested in the arts, so I’m focused on what we can do in the arts. I think what we should focus on is creating new traditions, and I think we’ve started to do that this year. We have several events in which we provide a stage for contemporary young artists in the performing arts. One event will feature new graduates of acting schools around Israel and will showcase their abilities through monologues and such. Another event will be dedicated to young contemporary women choreographers who will present their works on stage. And the third event is dedicated to young Israeli contemporary music composers. So I think what we really want to do in the coming years is to create and evolve new traditions, to create new concepts that will become traditions.”
Don’t Stop Me Now: Women Sing Queen will be performed on Thursday, February 23. Cassandra Wilson will perform on Friday, February 24 and on Saturday, February 25. All performances are at the Holon Theater, 11 Kugel Boulevard, Holon.

Call (03) 502-3000 for further information and for tickets to all festival events.