Sunday, May 1, 2011

Holy Chant and Prayer with Your Hostess Ofra Haza (Cl-15)

Thine Spawn of Endra didst say:

Pardon the absence, but Carter was working away at the A-Z Challenge, and I'm trying to write a dissertation. Which is more painful? Who knows. (Actually Carter has done both, so he could tell you.)

In this process of being torn apart intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically -- popularly known as "writing a dissertation" -- I've been finding myself susceptible to being moved by certain pieces of music. Though I'm not a theist, sometimes I feel these are spiritual experiences ... as if the beauty of the music itself is evidence of the possibility that compassion and mercy do exist in the universe, whether its source is a sentient being or not. So it went a few weeks ago, when I was listening to the Secret Agent station of SOMA.FM while trying to write, and a tune came on called Im Nin'alu, a remix by DJ Cheb I Sabbah of what I soon learned was a classic Yemenite Jewish song popularized by Ofra Haza in the 80s. (She was known as the "Madonna of the East", according to Wikipedia).
Ofra Haza - Level 15 Cleric
Having heard a club remix of this song and not knowing Hebrew, I had no idea that it was a religious poem written by Rabbi Shalem Shabbazi in the 17th C. in Yemen and set to music. Here's a YouTube version of it from 1978 (pre-nose job) on an Israeli TV show:
The striking melody line at 0:29 comprises two words stretched out over 3 or 4 bars: El Chai, translated as "The Living God" or "God is Alive". This early version has a sort of kibbutz campfire-song feel to it, but for some reason I find that line inordinately beautiful. The rest of the lyrics talk about the mercy of God (translation found here):

If there be no mercy left in the world,
The doors of heaven will never be barred.
The Creator reigns supreme, and is higher
than the angels
All, in His spirit, will rise

By His nearness, His life-giving breath
flows through them.
And they glory in His name
From the moment of genesis,
His creations grow,
Captivating and more beautiful.

The wheel in his circle thunders
Acclaiming His Holy name
Clothed in the glory of His radiance,
The six-winged cherubs surround Him,
Whirling in His honor
And with their free wings sweetly sing,
Together, in unison

This is the kind of thing I might expect a cleric to be invoking when s/he is casting spells like Holy Chant or Prayer. If Ofra Haza the Cleric was in there invoking the name (one of the names, actually) of her deity like that while the party engages the hobgoblin army, they are going to be inspired even if they don't know what's being said or who's being prayed to.

Well maybe she's a Bard, some of you are saying. No. She's a cleric. She went through compulsory military training in the Israeli Defense Force in 1979. So she'd be in there kicking ass, gouging eyes out with krav maga and all that stuff. And since she sings rather than playing a lute, she's got both hands free for a mace and holy symbol! Look out fools!

Plus, she's not a generic default Christian crusader-type cleric that many people envision (see comments to Matt Finch's post). Here we have a more dance-oriented arrangement from Yemenite Songs (1984) where she's got an awesome dungeoneering head-dress just perfect for scaring the shit out of undead and dishing out holy wrath. The iteration that has been sampled and remixed most heavily up until today is this one from 1988, which definitely has that late 80s VH1 'world music' studio production value to it:

But it shows three important things: 1) Ofra Haza can ride a horse, which is a good adventuring skill; 2) she's got a boss cleric's outfit with gold scale mail and nary a cross in sight; and 3) Holy Chant or Prayer are more powerful when you add reverb. I'd like to see a MU/Illusionist spell like Audible Glamer but that mimicked effects like reverb, echo, distortion, phaser, etc.

It's interesting that by this time the song was stripped down lyrically to the point where it's mostly a repetition of El Chai. Outside of all the production trappings, the thing that appeals to people (including DJs) about this song for the last 20 years is a woman holy-chanting "The Living God" over and over again. How many millions of people have danced while drunk or high to her invoking a name of the Hebrew God in clubs all over the world, while getting +1 on attacks, damage and saving throws, and their enemies also got -1 penalties? How would the Discotheque Wars have gone without her? We will never know.

So, here we end an Old School tribute to the late Ofra Haza (d. 2000). How Old School is she, REALLY?, I hear a few of you rotten bastards say. She covered Kashmir, okay? That's how Old School she is. You've covered LedZep in your campaign (your 'storied' Battle of Meverore, or whatever crappy anagram you came up with) so don't try to get coy. Show some respect.

Sincere thanks to the incomparable Ofra Haza for leaving something beautiful in this horrid world for me.


  1. I totally love this concept -- maybe you could stat out Ofra Haza for us in a future post?

  2. Yes, maybe I will. So far I've determined she has a CHA of 18.

  3. Ofra Haza. That takes me back to my dance club days.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  4. It's never too late to Get Down, Mr. Paladin! Or as I once put it:

    "Like the minnow in the kingfisher's maw, you must shake your ass before you die."

  5. She also did that track with the Sisters of Mercy, which is pretty much the gothic Stairway to Heaven.