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May 16, 2010

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Tenor draws on his roots

ISRAELI singer David D'Or has adapted ancient hymns to modern arrangements, earning him the sobriquet "Voice from Heaven," Tan Weiyun reports.David D'Or is a counter tenor with a vocal range of more than four octaves. He is celebrated, with conductor Zubin Mehta, as one of the most influential musicians in the Jewish world. His long list of fans includes people such as Israeli President Shimon Peres, Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Pope, the King and Queen of Sweden and Nelson Mandela, among others.

A singer, composer and songwriter, D'Or is revered as "Israel's most acclaimed modern singer" for his unique voice and dedication to combing ancient holy songs with world classic music.

Early this month, the 45-year-old Jewish artist sang at the Israel Pavilion Day at World Expo, the first time he has performed in Shanghai.

"The people I sing for are all the same to me, be it the Mr Bigs or just ordinary people - they are all my VIPs," D'Or said. "I believe music is a message of love and a language of the heart, which can directly reach into people's souls."

Born into a family of Libyan Jewish cantors with ancient roots in Spanish Andalusia, D'Or fell in love with singing at a young age, although his parents wanted him to be a lawyer or doctor.

"I was soaked in music from childhood. For me, singing or listening to music is my way to getting closer to God," he said.

"From the moment when I first stood in the synagogue with my father and listened to those holy songs, I knew from my heart that I could not live without music."

D'Or's fame grew quickly because of his amazing four octave range that can easily reach G5 and is described by music critics as the "voice from heaven."

In 1992, D'Or released his first album "David D'Or," which included the hit song "Yad Anuga," also known as "Yad Agunah" ("Tender Hand"), and reached No. 3 in the music charts in Great Britain.

His subsequent albums were also enthusiastically received.

In 1995, D'Or became the first Israeli to sing in Hebrew for a Pope when he was invited by the Vatican to perform for John Paul II. His concert was broadcast worldwide and received enthusiastic reviews.

His attraction at an early age to the religious songs of the synagogue left such a strong mark that the young Israeli singer declined, as his new-found fame was growing, a tempting offer from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He decided instead to go in search of his roots.

"My quest helped me discover and uncover a unique treasure, which led back to chanting at the Holy Temple," he said.

He discovered that his great-grandfather was one of the most important Rabbis in Libya, originating from a family of Jews who were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition.

He approached Rabbis from the Libyan community in search of the source of the beautiful prayer songs he heard as a child in his home and in the synagogue. Those magical holy songs were orally passed from father to son and are related back to the prayer songs which were sung by the Levites at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Nowadays, the songs are used by the Libyan Jewish community in prayers on Yom Kippur and other Holy Days.

By collecting these holy songs, ancient chants, Yemenite Jewish songs of prayer, Sabbath songs such as "Lecha Dodi" (with a melody that he had discovered in an ancient synagogue), D'Or and his band of young virtuoso musicians from North Africa, Middle East and Balkan, have created their own music style, full of emotion and energy.

At the same time, the Israeli musician, during the past several years, has been dedicated to blending these ancient holy songs into perfect harmony with classical music.

"Jewish people are spreading throughout the world in different countries and Israel is a country of fusion," the singer said. "When I was just a kid, I heard modern pop songs from this neighbor and ancient music or African drumming from that neighbor, so I've been exposed to many kinds of music."

He uses a variety of traditional instruments such as the gumbush (Turkish Banjo-like instrument), accordion, Duduk, clarinet, violin, Middle-Eastern percussion and even Shofar (the traditional ram's horn which is blown on Jewish holy days in the synagogue and is known "to open the sky for prayers and wishes").

"Holy songs are unique because they've had a great power to purify people's souls for centuries," he said.

"One has to know his roots. It's just like a big tree that thrives on its deep roots for nutrition and energy. Only by knowing our past well can we create a better future," he added. "One has to know his roots. It's just like a big tree that thrives on its deep roots for nutrition and energy. Only by knowing our past well can we create a better future."


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