Chava's Daughters

A tribute to troubadour Chava Alberstein tonight will feature unconventional interpretations of her songs

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the tribute project to Chava Alberstein, "Bnot Chava," to be performed tonight at the Tzavta theater as part of the first Tel Aviv Music Festival. Eighteen women artists-creators were invited by the musical producer Yonatan Halevy, and each will perform one song by Alberstein, whose complex character the Israeli audience has yet to figure out.

It is doubtful whether the mystery will be unraveled at the concert. Alberstein, who for a long time has not been performing, also gives interviews infrequently. The pleasant feeling her music inspires is in constant dissonance with the often blunt and convention-breaking lyrics she sings. Something in her individuality has not been completely digested by the Israeli music scene.

This tension, which it may be said characterizes the public's attitude toward Alberstein, is present also in the performers' interpretations. Four of them - Roni Alter, Tamar Afek, Lee Trifon and Aya Zahavi Feiglin (whose group, "Kol Hahatikhim Etzli," accompanies the entire concert) - say they are not ardent admirers. None of them contacted Alberstein after agreeing to participate in the tribute. All were a little surprised to discover the numerous layers in her work.

If they maintain this approach on stage as well, the unresolved mystery can turn into an interesting investigative journey. "It's not an evening that you have to attend to hear Chava Alberstein's songs," says Halevy. "It's more interesting to look for the charisma of each singer within Chava's songs. It never comes out better than the original. If you try to look for the kind of image the singer has, it's more interesting in my opinion."

"The singers in this concert do not come from the mainstream," says Trifon. "Being on the margins means that each one has something stylized of her own, very personal, that cannot be adapted to the general taste. It can, however, be suited to certain niches. Each one is niche-oriented by choice, uncompromisingly."

Trifon agreed to perform "Shir Nolad." She says that when she watched a YouTube clip of Alberstein singing the song, she saw something subversive in Alberstein's singing, as opposed to her period costume and props. "She has a psychic look in her eyes," she says. "The mimics of her look like something that was completely unacceptable then. I think she always brought something of herself into the songs."

Afek chose to sing "Had Gadya"; she attributes the choice of this song, whose vicious cycle is read as a critique of the first intifada, not necessarily to its political content. "The political question is not the reason I chose the song as much as the reason it was written. It is a song that opposes fashion and the mainstream."

Afek reads Alberstein's history as someone who actively moved herself to an alternative niche. "The song has meaning beyond its lyrics. The meaning is that a known artist is now choosing to create in a different way, that broadens the public discourse."

"Her songs are classics, always relevant," Zahavi Feiglin continues for her. "They don't get out of date because they are not trendy or chic. 'London,' which I will sing, is a hit, but it is huge not just because of that, but because it has a lot in it."

Alter does accept this analysis, but distances herself slightly from the aura surrounding Alberstein's work. "I'm not one of Chava's fans, so through this project I was exposed to new songs of hers that I wasn't familiar with. I don't sense the weightiness of this tribute."

Afek chooses to see these cover versions as performances intended not to imitate but indeed cover - that is cover the original performance to some extent. "It's not meant to sound like Chava Alberstein," she says.