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Rita: An Israeli star singing Iranian songs

From Elise Labott, CNN
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Thu September 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rita is one of Israel's best-known singers; sang national anthem at Israel's jubilee celebrations
  • She moved from Tehran to Tel Aviv aged eight and rose to stardom singing in Hebrew
  • Goes back to her Iranian roots and sings classic Persian ballads in Farsi on latest album

Tel Aviv, Israel (CNN) -- One of Israel's best-known singers, Rita Jahanforuz -- known simply as Rita -- performed during her country's 50th anniversary celebrations and has met president Shimon Peres.

Now she is bridging a vast cultural gap, evoking her own Iranian roots and singing in Farsi.

Her latest album, "All My Joys," a compilation of classic Persian ballads, has topped the Israeli charts and made her a cultural ambassador between two sworn enemies.

Rita was born in Tehran in 1962 and moved to Israel with her family at the age of eight. She settled in a Tel Aviv suburb and rose to stardom in 1998 singing in Hebrew.

She was invited to sing the Israeli national anthem at the country's jubilee celebrations in 2010, and performed at a lunch hosted by President Peres for then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the same year.

Rita Johanfaruz
Rita Johanfaruz

"I felt something very special to (have been) a foreigner when you were a child and suddenly you were chosen from all of those amazing singers and artists of Israel to sing the anthem," Rita told CNN in an interview. "It was a big moment."

Last year, Rita decided to revisit the soundtrack of her childhood with the album "All My Joys."

"I was in the middle of making another Israeli Hebrew record, suddenly I felt like something is not matching, something in my stomach that started to burn," she said. "I felt that I want to make a record that is the music of childhood, my family."

Of her early childhood in Tehran, Rita said: "I remember the colors, the taste, the smell, the people, and especially, I think, I remember my mother singing all through my childhood, from the lullabies, singing for me those lullabies while she was cleaning the rice.

"The music was a very big part of my life."

I was in the middle of making another Israeli Hebrew record, suddenly I felt like something is not matching
Rita Jahanfarouz

Rita says she has known she wanted to be a singer since she was four years old: "We were at some celebration of my uncle, there were two violinists, and they put me on a chair -- I (sang), I think, some Persian song."

Also on Inside the Middle East: Fears for bubble burst after Ramallah boom

While most western-style music is banned in Iran, Rita is an underground hit among those who take the risk of downloading or buying bootleg copies. She says she receives emails and Facebook messages from Iranian fans.

"I want to show the real culture, the real, amazing culture of Iran," she said. She added that she gets emails from people in Iran telling her this makes them feel proud.

As an Israeli citizen, Rita can't go back to her homeland, but she hopes one day it will be possible. Israeli passport holders are denied entry to Iran.

I'm going to sing (in Iran). Let me dream, let me dream
Rita Jahanfarouz

"When there will be peace and I'm going to sing there. Let me dream, let me dream," she said.

Through her music, Rita hopes to be a bridge between her native Iran and her new homeland, Israel.

"We are not enemies at all, we don't have anything to be enemies. We live so far away from each other, it's only in the head," she added.

Also on Inside the Middle East: 'Birthplace of Christ' to be first Palestinian World Heritage site?

When visiting a Farsi language internet radio station in Tel Aviv, Rita received a message saying: "Your songs give an overwhelming feeling of closeness and love between the countries of Iran and Israel. Your music is connecting these two countries."

Follow the Inside the Middle East team on Twitter: Presenter Rima Maktabi: @rimamaktabi, producer Jon Jensen: @jonjensen, producer Schams Elwazer: @SchamsCNN, writer Catriona Davies: @catrionadavies and digital producer Mairi Mackay: @mairicnn

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