Israeli Arab Winner of Televised Singing Contest Is More Than a Symbol

Nasreen Qadri isn’t just an Arab woman who sings in Hebrew. She also put out a high-quality debut album (the first half at least).

Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
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Nasreen Qadri. Establishing herself as a singer with a presence on the Mediterranean pop scene.
Nasreen Qadri. Establishing herself as a singer with a presence on the Mediterranean pop scene.Credit: Tom Marshak
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

She is an Arab performer who sings mainly in Hebrew, an Israeli woman taking her first steps in a musical genre dominated almost entirely by men, and a reality show winner who is expected to prove that she can succeed in the real world too.

Others may see Nasreen Qadri as a symbol, a lens through which to ask penetrating questions about Israeli society. But for all her other qualities, the singer discovered three years ago on “Eyal Golan Is Calling You” — who has just come out with a self-titled debut album — is worth focusing on for the best reason of all: her music.

Though it’s hard to think of any other Israeli musician who stands at so many crossroads of conflict, Qadri’s primary desire seems to be to make as many people as happy as possible, while moving them as much as she can. She doesn’t want to make anyone angry. She doesn’t sing about politics.

What she does do is sing very well. Qadri’s voice is hers alone, an excellent combination of the freshness of youth tinged by a slight roughness and depth that are not typical of women her age. It is a pleasure to listen to her when she sings a good song, and even to hear how she turns a less successful song into a little more than what it is. It seems she is establishing herself as a singer with a presence on the Mediterranean pop scene, which can be particularly cruel to women.

One might have expected that Qadri’s first album would introduce the Hebrew-speaking population to several contemporary Arabic-language songs. But of the album’s 12 songs, only two have Arabic verses, and even then, the Arabic is limited to part of the refrain. Did Eyal Golan’s Liam Productions, or perhaps Qadri’s managers, make the decision here,or was this Qadri’s choice? I don’t know. Setting aside the question of whether the decision will increase her popularity with Jewish listeners or disappoint Arab ones, this does not seem like the best move from the perspective of the music itself.

Nasreen Qadri.Credit: Tom Marshak

I don’t mean she should sing more in Arabic because of some abstract principle of authenticity, a statement that a Jewish critic like me arguably doesn’t even have the right to make. But music critics do retain the right to compare the quality of singing in different languages. When Qadri sings in Hebrew, the result is uneven; Qadri singing in Arabic is Qadri singing at her best.

Qadri dives into the rhythmic songs happily, the darbuka and the Arabic organ driving the songs forward. Even if her diction is hesitant and her expression is not open enough, her singing still moves forward by means of her rhythm and vocal charm. The problem begins when the rhythm declines a little, or a lot. The two ballads in which Qadri sings a refrain in Arabic (“Ana Bahibak” and “Hayati”) are very beautiful, thanks in large part to the Arabic refrain. But when she tackles Hebrew ballads, Qadri sounds like she is out of her element.

The first half of the album, which includes “Ana Bahibak,” “Hayati” and rhythmic songs, is good. I started having some reservations about the album only in the second half, at which point the Arabic disappears entirely and the romantic themes become tiresome. But especially in the age of the pop song ringtones, a good half-album is not a bad achievement.

Since Nasreen Qadri seems like a marathon runner rather than a sprinter, the quality that typified the second half of the album can be fine-tuned down the road. With a little more Arabic in the mix and a less homogeneous cadre of writers, my bet is that Qadri will continue to improve.



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