Karolina
Karolina Photo by Asaf Einy
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Karolina's new album

The bottom line is that Karolina is a wonderful singer. For some reason it seems that this important bit of information is discussed less than her Afro hairdo. Not only is she one of the best Israeli female vocalists around, she also fills an important and insufficiently populated niche.

The outstanding Israeli female singers from the generations following Chava Alberstein and Yehudit Ravitz are divided into two main camps. On the one hand, we have what Gal Uchovsky calls the “world of shofars” (singers with strong voices and a bombastic presentation); in other words, Miri Mesika, Shiri Maimon, Orit Shahaf and their sisters with similarly emotional, steel vocal cords. On the other hand, there are the more restrained singers, who for the most part are limited in their range and abilities, but compensate for this with personality and intelligence. They include Rona Kenan, Ruth Dolores Weiss, Efrat Gosh, Daniela Spector.

Between these two extremes is a large and fertile creative space, which should be populated by singers who take the best of both camps: artists with a strong and beautiful voice and outstanding vocal ability, who also know the power of restraint and the beauty of moderation. Amal Murkus is such a singer, but when did you last hear a song in Arabic on Israeli radio? Etti Ankri is another singer of this kind, but she has long since withdrawn from the mainstream. Ninet Tayeb also belongs to this group in terms of her abilities, but she prefers to distort her voice, to let loud guitars accompany it rather than expressing its natural quality.

So who’s left? Sarit Hadad, of course, who’s always a pleasure to listen to, even when the material she sings is not the best. And who else? Karolina.

If Hadad represents the trilled expression of strong, beautiful and natural female singing, Karolina (born Keren Karolina Avratz) embodies the continuation of the golden voices of old-time Israeli pop: Shula Chen, Ruti Navon, Ilanit. She has a defect of her own, a kind of childish-squeaky quality that sometimes rears its head, but basically she belongs to that tradition, and people who miss the singers with the special voices whose singing was full-throated but natural, who didn’t try to force emotion on the audience − will greatly enjoy the contemporary encounter with her voice and her new album, “Zohar.”

Karolina also sang well on her previous album, “What Will I Do Now?”, from about two years ago, but apparently the nature of that album − soft retro-soul that melts in your mouth, with some crackling reggae − did not reveal all the beauty of her voice and her presentation. The stylized sound concocted by producers Sabbo and Ophir “Kutiman” Kutiel was no less prominent than Karolina’s voice, and she may have been unable to produce her best as a singer against the backdrop of American-style sound.

Whatever the case, the new album, produced by Uri Brauner Kinrot (who also wrote most of the songs, together with the singer), provides an ideal background for Karolina’s singing: It has no innovative edge, but neither does it have a retro atmosphere, and Karolina and Brauner Kinrot’s lovely melodies are colored with a wonderful Mizrahi-style hue − more like Greek singer Aris San than anything else, to tell the truth − without making an issue of this not entirely necessary development. One can almost imagine a television interview with the singer, in which the interviewer says: “But Karolina, you’re not a Mizrahi singer,” and Karolina smiles at him and says, “Forget definitions. It simply felt so right.”

She’s right. And the nicest thing about it all − even nicer than Karolina’s presumed healthy attitude to the false polarity between “Mizrahi” and “not Mizrahi” − is that in musical terms, the curves of the Mizrahi-Greek melodies create a dynamic on which Karolina’s voice surfs and slides with a light, beautiful and natural movement. This architecture is evident mainly in the two best songs on the album: “Meshagea Oti” (Driving Me Crazy), which flows into a wonderful dramatic pause before the last word of the chorus, and “Al Te’aher” (Don’t Be Late), with a wonderful guitar intro by Brauner Kinrot.

Karolina, as we know, is a daughter of the universe, and her cosmic naivete dominates her texts (although it is joined by a slight note of sweet melancholy). An album that opens with the sentence “Give me room to be, the courage to live in a bubble of innocence,” and also includes a dirge about Lebanon without any politics (“Chanson for Lebanon”), should flash a warning light in music lovers who are suspicious of anything “shanti”. But the power of Karolina’s voice caused my own personal fears to dissipate.

Simple logic: Karolina’s fundamental characteristic as a creative artist is her tendency to see the beauty and unity in the world. She expresses these entities in her voice. That’s the source of its power. She also expresses these entities in her texts. That’s why they’re naive. In other words, the naivete cannot be severed from the wonderful singing. They are intertwined. What makes Karolina an outstanding singer also makes her a naive writer, and if so it is positive naivete, which comes from a source that is right and good and receives lovely musical support. Try it for yourselves and see.