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Jaffa Yarkoni

Jaffa Yarkoni
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3. About Yaffa Yarkoni za"l

By   Ben Shalev, Haaretz
 
"She may not have had a voice, but she was the voice of the country. My mother listened to Yaffa Yarkoni; my grandson listens to Yaffa Yarkoni; and she accompanied us, the members of my generation, all our lives," Koren said yesterday.
"At the age of four, we sang her children's songs; as teenagers, we danced to the sounds of her ballroom tunes. During the Six-Day War, she came to perform at outposts at which our friends fought. She was there all the time."Born Yaffa Abramov in Tel Aviv in 1925, to parents who immigrated to Israel from the Caucusus, Yarkoni spent her childhood with her mother and brothers in Givatayim, where her mother ran the Tslil cafe. Yarkoni danced with the Gertrude Kraus ballet company and appeared at the cafe.

"People used to say that, late at night, after sitting at the Kassit cafe, the bohemians would move on to the Tslil in Givatayim because there was a young singer there who sang very beautifully," recalls actor Shlomo Bar-Shavit. "We went to Givatayim to see what everyone was talking about, and that is where is saw Yaffa for the first time."

Bar-Shavit tells of Yarkoni's love affair with the microphone. "When Yaffa spoke, she had one voice, and when she sang, she had a different voice," he says. "The microphone really loved her. Her voice would seep into the microphone - it was a lovers' dialogue. They would become one. Her voice would caress the microphone and the microphone would return the love."

"She was a singer of microphones," agrees composer Gil Aldema. "People would say she didn't have a voice. She, too, would say, 'Shoshana Damari knows how to sing; I simply sing.' But in my opinion, she had a very pleasing voice. And it wasn't only the voice. She had feeling, and she knew how to express it. She also commanded the stage better than others. It's no wonder her songs were received so well."
 

More than anything else, Yarkoni is identified with nationalist songs, such as "Bab el-Wad," "Ha'amini Yom Yavo" and "Hen Efshar." However, during the late 1940s and 1950s, she also made a name for herself with so-called ballroom songs, with the rhythm of tango or swing beats.

"The general mood was very anti-ballroom," recalls Koren. "And Yaffa wasn't loved by the media. She wasn't a part of the consensus ... Yaffa was a singer of big bands and dance orchestras. But she was smart enough to make a switch. She made a record of the songs of Mordechai Zaira, sang 'Erev Shel Shoshanim,' made a record from the songs of the young Naomi Shemer, and slowly got herself and the listeners accustomed to the fact that she was going back to singing more nationalist songs. But in truth, deep in her heart, her true love was for swing and jazz and blues. That's what she used to listen to, too."

During the 1960s, Yarkoni performed abroad frequently, gracing some of the best-known stages in the world.

"With her charm and elegance, she was a fantastic ambassador for the State of Israel," says Bar-Shavit.

"While the Israel Defense Forces conquered enemy positions, she conquered the hearts of the soldiers. She was the nightingale of the IDF and the entire nation," President Shimon Peres said about Yarkoni yesterday.

 

 
Ms. Yarkoni's career largely echoed Israel's own history, and she became a symbol of the generation that built the state, her classic ballads harking back to a time Israelis remember as more heroic and less complicated.
 
 
One of her most beloved songs, Bab el Wad, is an ode to the Israeli fighters who died in ambushes while driving convoys to Jerusalem during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The lyrics were written by Haim Guri, who later became one of Israel's national poets.

Yitzhak Rabin, who went on to become prime minister, commanded the brigade that captured the area where the ambushes occurred. In a television interview shortly before his assassination in 1995, Mr. Rabin said Bab el Wad was one of his favorite songs.

That and other vintage songs sung by Ms. Yarkoni became anthems of Israeli memorial days.

Though she was renowned for performing for the troops on the front lines, Ms. Yarkoni told interviewers in her later years that she did not like being known as the songstress of the wars and that she was hurt by critics who said she had built a career on the back of military conflict.
 
 

 

She initially served as a wireless operator during the 1948 war, but soon joined an army entertainment unit.

As her career progressed, Ms. Yarkoni moved from singing mostly nationalistic songs to ballroom dance music, being a fan of swing, jazz and blues.


 
 





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