On her current tour — which includes a concert at Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 3 — Rita, Israel’s most popular pop icon, sings songs from throughout her career, in Hebrew, and from “My Joys” (HaSmachot Shelanu), her most recent hit album, which includes lyrics in Farsi.
Middle Eastern flavor and gypsy rhythms have become surprise dance hits in Israel, as well as in Iran, where, although not permitted, her songs have found underground success — achieving a musical bridge between two peoples that is a peaceful counterpoint to their countries’ respective leaders beating drums of war.
Rita (her full name is Rita Yahan-Farouz) recently spoke by phone from Israel about her life, career and her upcoming concerts. The following is an edited version of that conversation.
Tom Teicholz: What brought your parents to Israel in 1970, at a time when life for Iranian Jews under the shah was relatively good?
Rita Yahan-Farouz: Actually, at that time we lived in Tehran in the same neighborhood as many of the Iranian army’s generals. Our parents told us not to tell anyone there that we were Jews.
TT: So you experienced discrimination then?
Rita: It was not so bad, but that was something they told us when we were little. We went to a Muslim school, and every morning they would say the Muslim prayers in class. One day, the teacher asked my sister, who was 14, to do the Muslim prayers, and she said she can’t do that. She was so embarrassed. When she came back home, she said that all the other girls in the class had looked at her like she fell out of the sky, because she didn’t know the prayers. She was crying. When my father came home after work at night, he asked what happened, and she told him. And he said, “Well, I think this is a good time to leave to Israel.”
Rita performs 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at Dinkelspiel Theater, 471 Lagunita Drive, Stanford. $10-$60. www.jewishfed.org/event/rita-concert-stanford