Ilana Eliya
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Ilana Eliya

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The best kept secret in music


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Jabalaio - 1992
Ilana Eliya - 1996
Aram - 2007


Feeling a bit camera shy


Ilana Eliya is a unique voice. Born in Israel, of Kurdish descent, Eliya feeds
off both her own extensive cultural heritage as well as the rich tapestry of ethnic sounds, smells and spirits emanating from the Middle East.

Fueled by her cultural and familial roots – her father was a cantor who performed an extensive range of religious Jewish material as well as putting together a priceless collection of songs from the rural areas of Kurdistan – Elya stormed onto the Israeli and, subsequently, the world scene with a rare gift.

It is said that a true artist must have something to say, in addition to mastering the technical intricacies of his or her instrument. Ilana Elya is a vocalist and storyteller par excellence. Whether singing songs from the classical Arabic songbook or performing multicultural and cross-cultural material from Andalusia Elya takes her audiences on an enchanted voyage through the mysteries of the cultures she addresses.

Since her first recording, Jabalio released in 1993, Eliya has performed all over the world with an oeuvre that continues to expand and cover ever-increasing musical and ethnic territory. Audiences in the United States, Europe and Israel have been introduced not only to relatively unknown Kurdish works, but also to classical Arabic pieces originally performed by legendary Egyptian singer Oum Koulthum ,new Israeli and Palestinian poetry and a wide range of religious and secular songs from the Ladino, Andalusian, Moroccan and Spanish cultures.

But, above all, it is Elya’s vocal prowess that reaches out to her audiences across the globe. It is a mark of her skill as a raconteur, and ability to communicate her artistic message, that listeners are able to appreciate the musical tales she relates in her concerts and albums, despite not understanding the language of the lyrics. Her delivery combines a highly emotive approach with an intensity and power of expression that conveys high emotion and a myriad colors.

Jabalio saw Elya join forces with four exceptional instrumentalists – Moroccan-born multi-instrumentalist (string instruments - oud, saz and jimbush) composer and arranger Armand Sabakh, cellist Rali Margalit, Yugoslav-born woodwind specialist Tibi Golan and percussionist Oren Fried. A subsequent self-titled release, completed in 1997, finds Elya delving into all her roots, combining biblical material with traditional Kurdish music.

It is not by chance that all the members of the Jabalio Ensemble have imbibed influences from a wide cross-section of cultural sources, from Middle Eastern to European classical, and from flamenco to jazz. It is this ability to seamlessly accommodate and incorporate rhythms and textures from around the world that enriches Eliya’s output and interpretations.

Eliya’s repertoire includes plaintive works of unrequited love and longing, laments, lullabies, religious and secular compositions, and songs that relate simple tales of rural life in the mountains of Kurdistan. She conveys her message uncomplicatedly and with rare honesty and frankness. She has always proudly and steadfastly followed her own path, despite pressures to adhere to “a more socially acceptable” philosophy. She also supports the teaching of eastern musical traditions in schools, along with western music, as a means of exposing children to the wonders and riches of both worlds, and of creating a new powerful synergy.

Living in Jerusalem, where so many western and eastern societies have left – and still leave – legacies to their heritage, places Eliya at the epicenter of some of the world’s richest and oldest cultures. For Eliya, her music is an ongoing work-in-progress that reaches out to all people regardless of their ethnic, social or religious backgrounds.

Seeing Eilya perform and listening to her records is an experience that leaves in indelible impression and opens up new vistas and possibilities for all. She has a precious talent to embrace and communicate a world of music to the whole world.