“Annihilating” seems to be the right word. Better than “unsettling.” Not that “Hanesher Hashahor” doesn’t shake you up. It does, but also freezes you in your tracks. It excites you and paralyzes you at the same time; it simultaneously conveys profound darkness and tremendous warmth. When was the last time we felt this way upon hearing a new Israeli song? It’s hard to remember.
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Yes, “Hanesher Hashahor” (The Black Eagle) is really a Hebrew update of an old song, “L’Aigle noir,” written and recorded by the French singer Barbara 50 years ago. And yet, Talya Eliav, who translated and performs the song on her new album, dedicated entirely to Barbara’s songs, has produced a great artistic achievement – with this song in particular and with the album as a whole.
Who is this black eagle that is spied in the sky and then dives down, coming very close to Barbara-Eliav with some kind of undefined erotic intimacy? What does it symbolize? In a recent interview, Eliav noted that the eagle was a Nazi symbol. “Barbara lived through the Holocaust as a young Jewish girl and was deeply scarred by it,” she said. “This song is essentially about sleeping with the enemy. Like Stockholm syndrome – falling in love with the enemy, letting the enemy enter so deep inside you. It’s hardcore.”
It’s staggering to think about the emotional boldness and unfettered imagination of Barbara, who died 20 years ago. But one needn’t be aware of her life story or of the Nazi symbolism to feel the full power of the song. That’s because the eagle, before it represents anything, is so utterly present in the song – a black bird of prey, thoroughly real and thoroughly magical, totally clear and totally unknowable.
On the verge of breathlessness
This incredible presence and Barbara’s brilliant writing both pose a big challenge for Eliav. Her translation and performance have to meet very high standards. And they do.
I’m not in a position to judge the translation as a whole, but there is certainly much beauty in the transition from the male eagle of the start of the song, to addressing it as a bird, in the feminine, right after the merging takes place, and back to the male at the end of the song.
Eliav is one of the only singers on the Israeli indie scene whose singing is so deeply expressive, and in “Hanesher Hashahor” her changing vocal nuances perfectly suit the song’s development. Toward the end, when the bird is carrying the woman toward her childhood dreams, Eliav’s voice reaches the verge of breathlessness. It sounds ecstatic, dying. Then the eagle takes flight and disappears. When the song ends, we check our watch and see that just three and a half minutes have passed, but we feel like we’ve been away for a long time.
“Hanesher Hashahor” is the second to last song on the album “Talya Eliav Chante Barbara” (Kamea Records). And by the time you get to it, you’re ready, more or less, to take on the annihilating emotion, because the whole album conveys this kind of feeling, mostly because of the unabashed proximity between childhood and death in Barbara’s songs. These are the two kingdoms the songs traverse, and unexpectedly, nothing separates them. There is childhood and then there is death. That is, there is adulthood, too, but that’s really just a blank screen upon which longings for childhood are projected, as death approaches. Sounds bleak? It is. But it is also exhilarating. For alongside the heightened sense of death in these songs is a heightened sense of life. And fortunately, neither has been lost in translation.