Ofra Haza (Hebrew: עפרה חזה, Arabic: عوفرة حازة; November 19, 1957 – February 23, 2000) was an Israeli singer, actress and international recording artist. Her voice has been described as a “tender” mezzo-soprano.
Inspired by a love of her Yemenite and Hebrew culture, her music quickly spread to a wider Middle Eastern audience, somehow bridging the divide between Israel and the Arab countries. As her career progressed, Haza was able to switch between traditional and more commercial singing styles without jeopardizing her credibility. Her music fused elements of Eastern and Western instrumentation, orchestration and dance-beat. She became successful in Europe and the Americas; during her singing career, she earned many platinum and gold discs.
Her major international breakthrough came in the wake of the album Shirei Teiman (Yemenite songs), which she recorded in 1984. The album consisted of songs that Haza had heard in childhood, using arrangements that combined authentic Middle Eastern percussion with classical instruments. Further recognition came with the single “Im Nin’alu”, taken from the album Shaday (1988), which won the New Music Award for Best International Album of the Year. The song topped the Eurochart for two weeks in June that year and was on heavy rotation on MTV channels across the continent. In the annals of classical hip-hop this song would be extensively re-released, re-mixed and sampled, for example on Coldcut’s remix of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full”. The single made only a brief appearance in the UK top 40 singles chart, but became a dance floor favorite across Europe and the USA, topping the German charts for nine weeks. Subsequent singles were also given the dance-beat / MTV-style video treatment, most notably, Galbi, Daw Da Hiya and Mata Hari, but none quite matched the runaway success of her first hit. Im Nin’alu would go on to be featured on an in-game radio playlist of the video game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, released in 2005 and featured on Panjabi MC’s album “Indian Timing” in 2009.
Haza also received critical acclaim for the albums Fifty Gates of Wisdom (1988), Desert Wind (1989), Kirya (1992), Ofra Haza (1997) and for her collection of children’s songs, L’Yeladim (1982).
In 1992, Kirya (co-produced by Don Was) received a Grammy nomination.
In 1994, Haza released her first Hebrew album in seven years, Kol Haneshama (The Whole Soul). Though not an initial chart success, the album produced one of her biggest hits to date, Le’orech Hayam (Along The Sea). The song did not have any substantial chart success upon its release to radio but became an anthem after Haza performed it on the assembly in memorial to deceased Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a week after he was assassinated. Radio stations around the country started playing it and people took notice. Its lyrics became even more symbolic following Haza’s own death in 2000.
On 15 July 1997, Haza married businessman Doron Ashkenazi. They had no children together. Ashkenazi died of a suspected drug overdose after Haza’s death, on 7 April 2001, leaving a daughter from his previous marriage and a 14-year-old adopted son Shai Ashkenazi.
Ofra Haza’s grave in Yarkon Cemetery
Ofra Haza died on 23 February 2000 at the age of 42, of AIDS-related pneumonia. While the fact of her HIV infection is now generally acknowledged, the decision by the major Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz to report about it shortly after her death caused controversy in Israel.
After Haza’s death was announced, Israeli radio stations played non-stop retrospectives of her music and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak praised her work as a cultural emissary, commenting that she also represented the Israeli success story — “Ofra emerged from the Hatikvah slums to reach the peak of Israeli culture. She has left a mark on us all”.
The disclosure that Haza had died due to an AIDS-related illness added another layer to the public mourning. The fact that a star with a reputation for clean living could be stricken caused shock among fans, debate about the media’s potential invasion of her privacy, and speculation about how she had become infected. Immediately after her death, the media placed blame on her husband for giving her the disease. Haza’s manager Bezalel Aloni also claimed in his book that Haza’s infection occurred during sex with her husband. As reported indirectly some years later, her husband had said that she became infected due to a blood transfusion in a Turkish hospital following a miscarriage.
She is buried in the Artists section of Yarkon Cemetery in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv.