(JTA) — Two popular Israeli singers — one the “Madonna of the East,” the other the “king” of Mizrahi music as well as a convicted rapist — have teamed up on a new song in honor of their country’s 75th birthday.
The twist: Both Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov have been dead for decades.
Their collaboration, “Here Forever,” wasn’t unearthed in a dusty archive. Instead, the song and its accompanying video are essentially deepfakes, created using artificial intelligence that mined recordings from when they were alive to fabricate a lifelike performance of a song composed long after their deaths.
Their families signed off on the song, a soulful duet about Israel’s bygone past that has caught on among Israeli listeners. But some in the country are asking why Argov, who died in prison while facing another rape charge, should be a centerpiece of Israel’s Independence Day celebrations.
Meanwhile, others who were close to the artists, including Haza’s longtime manager Bezalel Aloni, have panned the song.
“The song does not resemble the tone of her divine voice,” Aloni told Israeli news outlet N12. “She broke through thanks to her artistry, and none of that is reflected in this piece. ֿI want to cry for her.”
An Argov impersonator who was part of the team that created the song also slammed it in the press, calling it “shameful” for not accurately reproducing Argov’s voice.
The song is part of a growing trend of using AI to create new tracks with pop stars’ voices. Fresh, but fake, songs or covers have been published using the vocals of artists like Drake and Rihanna, raising ethical questions as to who owns an artist’s voice or likeness.
The new song’s popularity — the video has racked up 200,000 views since launching last week, and the song is the 16th-most-requested in Israel on Shazam, a music app — also suggests that Israelis are embracing nostalgia for a shared Israeli past at a time when the country is occupied with social strife and political upheaval.
“Not to be too cliched, but with everything that’s been happening in the last three months, that offered a lot of inspiration,” Oudi Antebi, CEO and co-founder of Session 42, the Israeli music production company spearheading the AI music project, told the Times of Israel.
The video for “Here Forever” uses archival footage of the singers to make them look like they’re singing the song, combined with grainy scenes from Israel during earlier eras of its history.
Both Haza and Argov played a role in shaping that history through their music, which earned them distinctive nicknames. Haza, who died in 2000, was dubbed the “Madonna” of Israel, and is perhaps best known to American audiences for her singing on the soundtrack of the 1998 animated musical film “The Prince of Egypt.” Her musical style blended Mizrahi influences and pop.
Argov was called, simply, the “king” of Mizrahi music, and he helped mainstream the genre that is rooted in the songs and poetry of Jews from across the Middle East and North Africa. But his life and legacy have been tainted by a conviction for rape as well as other criminal charges. He died by suicide in a prison cell in 1987 while facing his second rape charge, nearly 10 years after the conviction. Even so, in the decades since his death, his music has become ever more popular. He is one of the most-played artists on Israeli radio, even after growing awareness of sexual abuse in the years since the beginning of the #MeToo movement.
“I had hoped, but it’s hard to say I expected” that attitudes toward Argov would change, Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, told the Times of Israel last year in an article exploring Argov’s legacy. “Until there is societal shaming, sexual violence will continue all over the place,” she said. “There have to be people pushing for it … the only way to make change is through activism.”
In a column last week, Israeli music journalist Avi Sasson suggested that Argov’s rape conviction should have been grounds for excluding him from “Here Forever.”
“What about this pairing?” Sasson wrote in the Israeli publication Ynet. “After all, Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov worked in parallel in the ’70s and ’80s, and when they could have collaborated, they chose not to. Moreover, did anyone stop to think about the fact that, had Ofra Haza been alive today, in the #MeToo era, perhaps she wouldn’t have opted to record a duet with Argov, a person who was convicted of rape and later ended his life in a jail cell?”
For his part, Aloni said that Haza “vehemently refused to collaborate with Zohar Argov,” but the manager did not attribute that refusal to Argov’s rape conviction. Rather, although Haza is widely described as a Mizrahi singer and was of Yemeni Jewish descent, Aloni said Haza did not consider her musical genre to be Mizrahi.
Antebi said that after conducting a poll to see which artists best represented Israel, the vast majority voted for Haza and Argov.
Antebi told the Times of Israel that the track is “a love song for the nation.” Its chorus seems to allude not only to Israeli resilience but also to the technological innovation that made the song possible — and that has placed new words in Argov and Haza’s mouths long after their passing.
“I’ll stay here always, I’ve missed you,” the lyrics read. “Even if you can’t see it, we are here forever.”
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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