Little Elf has a thing for an Ofra Haza album I found in a British Heart Foundation shop. Partly it’s the music, which she loves to dance to (I say ‘dance’ but I seem to do most of the work), and partly it’s the album cover which is understandably fascinating for any Disney Princess obsessed six year old.
Yesterday evening, everyone was back late from Cubs and Woodcraft Folk and I agreed she could sit up and listen to one song (“Oh, alright. Two.”) before going to bed.
Yemenite Songs is a curious beast. Ofra Haza was a Yemenite Jew and the album was promoted as a return to her roots. But the production is a sometimes harsh mix of early nineties digital beats and metallic clatter cut through with traditional string instruments and PCM synths. But Haza’s astonishing voice is at the centre of it, soaring, shimmering, weaving and winding…It’s a gorgeous, passionate set of performances, full of energy, tragedy and hope. I’m not surprised little elf picks it down from the record shelves so often.
This evening, she started asking some of her favourite questions.
“What country is she from?”
“Israel. She’s a Yemenite Jew.”
“Is she still alive?”
“No. She died quite young. It was very tragic.”
“How old was she when she died?”
Little elf contemplates this for a moment and snuggles a bit closer to me.
“So she was younger than you?”
“What did she die of?”
Ah. Complicated and yet not complicated at all. She died of complications brought on by her being infected with HIV*. How to explain AIDS to a six year old? Carefully?
“She was in hospital after a miscarriage…”
“What’s a miscarriage?”
“Well…Sometimes a mother loses her baby at a very early stage…I’m not really explaining this very well…”
Thankfully, little elf changes tack.
“Can I see pictures of her?”
So we get out my iPhone and look at pictures of wonderful, lovely, inspiring Ofra Haza then watch some film on YouTube of her performing at the Montreaux festival in 1990.
“She’s very beautiful,” little elf says.
“Yes,” I say. “She was.”
*There’s a good piece by Peter Paphides about this.