Like Ambitious Lovers before it, Ofra Haza’s Shaday was an album I intended to buy when it was released in 1988, but it never managed to leap ahead of other priorities.
At the time, critical consensus about Haza seemed mixed. Some writers weren’t too keen on the commercial direction her international albums were taking, while the listening public buoyed them to the top of the world music charts.
I picked up on that ambivalence. I had my hands full getting into college rock and modern classical music. Shaday sounded like something that fit into my burgeoning interests, but without a way to preview it, I couldn’t be sure. So my curiosity was diverted and wasn’t rekindled until I ran across a cheap copy on vinyl 27 years later.
The precocious but unschooled teenager I was probably would have dug the novelty of an Israeli pop album for a spell, then moved on to something more fashionable. As an adult, I find the primitiveness of the analog synthesizers comforting, especially that robotic bass so emblematic of the late ’80s.
But I’ve also had a chance to be exposed to other international pop music in the time since I first encountered Shaday, and I’d say the album is on par with what Molotov or Värttinä do when mixing American popular music with their home culture. A clueless gringo such as myself can latch onto the backbeat while a local can appreciate the music’s core.
I don’t need to know a lick of Hebrew to appreciate Haza’s voice, and like the best J-pop artists, she throws in a few English phrases as punctuation.