Songstress Brought Greek Music Into Mainstream

Singer Aliza Azikri, who helped break the barriers between Hebrew song and Greek and Mizrahi song, died of cancer yesterday at 68.

Azikri developed her reputation as a singer in the 1960s, when two of her songs became major hits. She was born in Morocco in 1941 and immigrated to Israel with her mother when she was 10. Her mother died two years later, and she was sent to an orphanage. She met her future husband, actor Nissim Azikri, in the army, and they had a daughter, Fani.

Composer Nahum Hayman, who worked with Aliza Azikri in the early 1960s, recalled her beauty and her unmistakable voice. He went to the couple's penthouse apartment "and this astounding beauty opened the door," he said yesterday. "I quickly discovered that she's also a wonderful singer."

He said she was one of those singers whose voice you could identify within a fraction of a second: "There was no way you could mistake it."

Iconic Israeli song writer Naomi Shemer loved Azikri's singing, Hayman said.

Azikri was hired to sing at a Jaffa club partly managed by Greek singer and composer Aris San. "The first time I performed at Zorba I sang one of Nahtche Hayman's songs, without any movements, nada, nothing," Azikri recalled once, using the composer's nickname. "The club owner told Aris San, 'God, what have we brought here? The crowd's going to start throwing tomatoes at her.' But Aris told him, 'What are you worrying about? She'll learn two of my songs, and everything will be all right.'"

The two songs San composed and Azikri sang were "Bahayim Hakol Over,"which became one of the '60s hits that established her career, and "Yesh Ahava Ata Omer." When the crowd heard her singing those songs, they went wild. "Within a few days, without exaggeration, the line stretched from the club entrance to Clock Square," Azikri said in a movie about San.

The success of the second major hit, "Na'ara Mamash Otzar," which was also composed by San, presaged the transformation of Greek music into a legitimate and important part of Israeli pop. Azikri and San had an affair that led to the birth of a daughter, though San left her a few days after the birth. Azikri left for the United States at the end of the 1960s and did not return to Israel for good until 1983. Afterward, she kept her recording and performances to a minimum. Azikri said in the late 1990s she had no intention of returning to the stage. "I don't even have my own records at home," she said in an interview. "I did it, and it ended well, and that's it."