I first learned about Pharaoh’s Daughter from a high school friend of mine, who had a huge crush on Basya Schechter. Something in the presence of beautiful, soulful figures would set her off to fall foolishly, hopelessly in crush.
So she was totally obsessed with bringing friends to Pharaoh’s Daughter shows, just so we’d understand and realize that she was not crazy. And proved her point she did, when we went to catch a show that PD was doing by some JCCish type place.
And they were amazing.
I get to hang out with a lot of musicians. Some master virtuosity, become really skilled at particular instruments. Some master soul, have something they want to give over, and just play their hearts out. Basya/ PD did both, and do both, marrying a masterful and throughly organized concert to a sublime and soul-caressing voice.
I’d heard a little about Pharaoh’s Daughter before, from different indie music magazines I was reading, and before going to see/hear them. And I wondered: why did my gentile friend connect to this music so strongly? Because, you know, the language barrier; the songs being sung in a variety of obscure judaic tongues, Yiddish and Ladino, Aramaic and Africanized Hebrew.
But religious people and tweenyboppers sing songs all the time, earnestly as can be, without understanding nessesarily much of what they “really” mean. So, when I first started listening to what I identified as a devotional music, not just klemerishe wedding tantses and the like, but Shalos Shudis Niggunim, new ones indifferentiable from ancient ones , in a secular context, I had to wonder: what are they thinking about? What do words like “Shabbos” or “Moshiach Ben Duvid” mean to such a person. Where’s Basya Shechter coming from here?
So, recently, in light of a new album, Haran, that Pharaoh’s Daughter is finally putting out this coming Monday, I finally called and asked her.
What does Shabbos mean to you?
“My happiest memories from when I was kid were singing around the table, singing shabbos songs with my family. We’d be banging on the tables, hitting our spoons against the plates…
My father was very into harmony, into getting us all harmonized. He was a professional singer, doing these kind of Barbershop quartet pieces mostly. He loved getting us together to make music around the Shabbos table. That was my introduction to music, and to ecstatic joy, basically.
I mean, shabbos is like an oasis of peace in a whole chaotic world, I love it so much. I don’t always get to keep it so perfectly… but I appreciate it so much.”
Shabbos comes up a lot on this album, one that refines a lot of the elements from her first huge, world changing break out: “Out From The Reeds”, an album that brought once forgotten tunes like “Shnirle Perle” and “Hamavdil” back into existence and changed the standard for shabbos table music forever, along with introduced amazing new tunes to old words.
This new album one ups the psyche-delicious ante, with the sweetest and most classic 60’s style rock organ coming in to introduce the arab niggun that sets the album off, and then, from then on it’s a masterful resurrection of versions of classic shabbos zmiros songs, or should i say, pre-classic shabbos zmiros songs, haunting versions of secret tunes hidden away from common familiarity by time and context, gently blown open and supported with the most sublime “world music” sounds I may have ever heard, along with brilliant and hypnotic new tunes, sewn to the shadows of old Jewish poetries from all around the exile.
“I love the idea of the Diaspora, the way a culture can spread and grow and change and seed, in all these different places, and take so much along with it, and keep coming back around and still be familiar from so far away. Do you know what I mean?”
Thanks to you I do.
It’s an awesome album, sure to change your life as it has mine, if not just your shabbos. It awakens and arouses the soul without irritating or even de-calming, without losing it’s sweet, sweet groove, even as Hebrew turns into Aramaic into Ladino.
“For a long time, i’d be doing something, like majoring in dance in college, and just in the background, playing guitar all the time. Or then deciding “no!” i wanna major in something else”, and all the while playing guitar all the time. So finally, a friend said, “why don’t you just start doing the music professionally.” And I got really into it. INTO IT into it”, she said, musically rolling her eyes and her whole self with her arm and fist triumphantly pounded into her other open hand.
Mamish a Rebbe, doing something both new and authentic, beyond what even the most impressive trans KlezmerI tend not to assimilate new songs so fast, but Pharaoh’s Daughter’s Kah Ribon is already a staple of my Shabbos day. Here, give it a listen:
And come check out the release party at the brand spanking new Highline Ballroom, this monday night. A copy of the album comes free with admission, as if the music wasn’t awesome enough.