Nasreen Qadri sits behind the scenes of the wonderful entertainment program “Eyal Golan is Calling You,” on Music 24, the cable TV channel that broadcasts Israeli music videos. She is fully made-up, a purple shawl is draped across her shoulders, and she’s listening to a briefing of some sort. Already at this stage she knows she has made it to the final. It’s her breakthrough opportunity. Sitting next to her is Ta’ir Sadeh, 14 and a half years old, wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word “Olympia” over her dress, whose squiggly purple collar is visible. In the space between young Sadeh, who sings with efficient precision, and Qadri, lies the soul of Israeli music.
On the show, Eyal Golan, the wildly successful Mizrahi singer, sits on a well-padded sofa, like Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack which in this case includes retired soccer star Haim Revivo in the role of Joey Bishop. Nasreen is the queen of program after program. She sings Mizrahi the way Mizrahi is supposed to be. When it’s happy, as the happiest; when it’s sad, as the saddest.
She sings the quintessential love-you-to-death lyrics by the Russian-Israeli poet Alexander Penn as if the violent lover it describes is about to knock on her door (“Yes, thing weren’t good, they were gloriously bad, but remember how we met on one of those nights; if it happens again, let it be the same ... ”). Her quarter tones, which emanate as tiny universes between the notes, blend with an interpretation of the lyrics so powerful that the lowest apathetic nasalization and the most capacious one in the high notes sound like stories in themselves and then like twists in a love plot. Nasreen’s singing probes the depths; Her ability to express emotion in music is uncanny. She is both looking inward and projecting, aiming to reach every single person in the hall.
When Golan watches her in the studio, he is clearly enjoying himself. He sings with her. Her background (she is an Arab Israeli) invests every word she sings in Hebrew with heft and body. When she performed “When the Heart Cries” (“Shema Yisrael Eloki you who are omnipotent ... In my eye is a tear, the heart weeps in silence”), everyone burst into tears. Because, despite the perfect irony of this whole situation, Nasreen managed to stop short of embarrassment. She deconstructed the basic-to-the-point-of-being-meaningless cliche of this song. Yossi Gispan, who wrote the lyrics and was present in the studio, stunned, said that her cry of “Shema Yisrael” was a bridge of peace. The generosity of her performance made his song universal, despite itself. It was truly heartfelt.
When she playfully sang “Harramt Ahebbak” (“I’m Going to Stop Loving You”) by Warda, the Algerian-French-Egyptian diva, everyone on Golan’s sofa sang along with her in Arabic and enjoyed themselves to the depths of their being. On other programs, when she sang Ninet’s self-empowering rock tune “She knows” (in full, not the abridged version you get on Channel 2’s program “The Voice,” where they have very little music and a great deal of lighting), you could see how her self-confidence grew. With her new look (she had a mini-makeover to look her age, 25) and the song choice that links her story to that of Ninet Tayeb, Israel’s first TV-born musical star, she let loose with a trill at an unexpected moment. She inserted jins the building blocks of the Arabic maqam into the song, encapsulating a universe of musical ability. Of talent.
Now we have to wait and see whether this photograph shows the Israeli star Nasreen at the outset of her career, or portrays a woman who could have become a great Israeli star, but didn’t. Or, possibly, the star being born is the girl sitting next to her. There’s no way of knowing. We can only hope that things go well for Nasreen, and that Army Radio will play Nasreen singing Warda.