“Dramatic Diva with a Haunting Voice and Stunning Stage Presence”
Mor Karbasi burst onto the global world music scene in 2008 with the release of her first album, and has continued to capture audiences internationally with her gorgeous, exceptional voice and looks to match. She was born April 23, 1986 in Jerusalem, to a mother from Nazareth of Moroccan descent and a father from Jerusalem of Persian (Iranian) ancestry. Mor is a young woman whose music is influenced by several cultures, though mainly by her Jewish heritage. A child with parents like hers no doubt carries a great deal of cultural richness. As already mentioned, with Jewish influences, but also Persian, Moroccan, Spanish and of course Israeli. All of which is discernable in her outward appearance, but also in her lovely, effervescent music and many stories. Mor’s biography might very well read like a novel by Isabel Allende where history, magic, joy and hard reality are all interwoven. A story that is told by her music, in which you are taken on a journey around the Mediterranean, to Morocco and her native Israel, to an age and civilization that is long gone, and yet still in the here and now. Mor’s first album ‘Beauty and the Sea’ received rave reviews. She was immediately ranked alongside such globally renowned singers as Mariza and Estrella Morente- A splendid comparison, but one that does not describe her unique style of singing and compositions that breathe new life into an ancient language. Karbasi has already performed in several countries: Italy, Great Britain, Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic, Spain, France, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Turkey and Morocco as well as the United States and South America, always to great popular acclaim.
All her influences come together in her predominately Sephardic Jewish repertoire: from traditional Jewish songs, to her own contemporary compositions.
Jews were forced to leave Spain in the 15th century, as a result of the Catholic unification of the two main Spanish Kingdoms, and defeat and expulsion of the Moors.
“Spain lost something great when they expelled the Jews and Muslims. They lost culture, wisdom, knowledge, joy, and life. I feel that with the departure of those people, Spain has changed forever and can never be whole again- it’s a bit haunted. That feeling was especially apparent when I visited Toledo. It is such a beautiful place that it took my breath away. But there was an empty feeling – there was a magnificent Jewish community in Toledo. That is why the absence of those people felt so present to me”
The Jews that left Spain spread out all over the world, taking the Spanish language of the time, and continued to speak it in their closed communities. This interspersed with some Hebrew, and words of various Mediterranean languages created a Judeo-Spanish tongue called Ladino. This language has almost died out… yet Mor sings for a wide audience in Ladino, Hebrew and Spanish. She says “to me Ladino is the most beautiful, melodic and magical language I can imagine. I hope to bring its richness to many people. I feel it is my mission to convey the power of those 500 year old melodies and lyrics. Ladino is a language full of vitality – and as far as I’m concerned – It is a perfect vehicle to express every aspect of being a woman.”
Karbasi was exposed to music at an early age, by her mother. She would sing Moroccan piyuttim (Jewish holy poems written in Hebrew, composed to Arabian scales and melodies) and Jewish ballads from Andalusia as lullabies. Mor was literally fed these magical songs and melodies with her mother’s milk, in keeping with the centuries old tradition of orally transmitting these songs from mother to daughter. Her mother Shoshana remains a constant source of inspiration for her to this day, and contributes her stories and poems to the albums. Mor’s great grandmother was a ‘mekonenet’, a woman chosen by the congregation to sing laments to mourn the dead during funeral ceremonies, and her great grandfather was known in Morocco as prominent rabbi, a very wise man, with a great knowledge of the Torah and of the Kabbalah. He blessed and helped many people in his day.
“We always joke in the family of how I am as if the son my grandfather never had. I was the only one who took interest in piyuttim, his Moroccan heritage”.
He is enormously proud of his granddaughter. “He too is one of my greatest sources of inspiration: he hums all day long – ever since I can remember – old poems and melodies. I always sang duets with my granddad, and the bond connecting the generations grew ever stronger. The moment I started singing Piyuttim and exploring more and more of the Sephardi repertoire, everything fell into place – my love for and deep connection with the Jewish faith and my love for Spain and Morocco. I feel a profound connection to my roots.”
In Mor’s music you can hear the unmistakable influences of both flamenco and fado.
Musical influences include such great talents as Um Kulthum, Amalia Rodrigues, Madre Deus, and Mercedes Sosa, and legendary flamenco singers such as Manuel Vallejo, Pepe Marchena, Juanito Valderrama and Niña de los Peines, and many others.
Mor started writing her own material, in the spirit of the Sephardi repertoire in order to revive it and as a way to search for her own voice.
The catalyst for this creative process was a chance meeting with a special young guitarist called Joe Taylor, in a small town where the desert meets the red sea – Dahab in the Sinai.
About meeting Joe she says: “I was walking along by the sea one evening when suddenly I heard the sound of a guitar. This was quite unusual in a place like Dahab so of course I wanted to see where it was coming from… and there was an English boy attached to the guitar! I sat there, in a candle lit cafe by the water and sang along to what he played, and from that moment our special musical connection began.”
They continued to keep in touch and eventually decided to be together.
By the time Mor actually moved to London to be with Joe, they had written several songs together, Many of them were written over the phone.
Apart from being musically connected, they are also partners in life.
“It is a great story to tell the grandchildren”, she laughs!
Where is home?
Mor was born in Jerusalem. “If God was to have a house, then that house would be in Jerusalem.”
I believe without my home city’s colours, diversity of cultures, its scents and climate I would have grown to be a different person. Something magical hangs in the air during Shabbat. I didn’t realize how much I would miss it, but I really do.” That longing can be heard in a number of her songs.
Once she had taken the step of leaving her home and settling in London, her musical ambitions blossomed and her past became her future.
London gave Mor the opportunity to meet and collaborate with some extraordinary musicians, (particularly Jorge Bravo and Fred Thomas) develop songs, and set up a group. She recorded 2 albums, first being “The Beauty and the Sea” and the latest one being “Daughter of the Spring” (released worldwide April 2011 on Harmonia Mundi).
In early 2012 she left london and settled in seville, Andalucia, Spain. And this is where she has been based in the last 4 years
” I wanted to be where it all began” she says.
Spain is the home for these songs. I can feel it strongly.
” I find that i know the streets of Andalucia, like i can not get lost here, even though i have never been here before…maybe i have… maybe the soul remembers”.
Living in seville has opened other exciting doors for her.
She has already collaborated with the finest flamenco artists in the scene:
Andres Marin Flamenco dancer, Concha vargas, Jesus mendez, Tomatito (guitar).
Her intense studies and interest in flamenco music has also led her to collaborate with Salvador gutierrez (flamenco guitarist ) on her last album La tsadika on a couple of the tracks/
Her latest album ”la tsadika” represents many of the influences that mor and joe have absorbed in the last few years and has led to some fantastic collaboration
Produced by multi talented Joe Taylor who also plays the guitars, and by Tom Cohen-conductor and MD for the israeli Andalus orchestra
guests on the album: salvador gutierrez, avishai cohen (trumpet), Mark Eliyahu (Kemanche), Itamar Doari percussion, davide mantovani (bass) and many more
“La tsadika” has already received rave reviews by prestigious papers , and radio stations such as bbc, Financial times UK, Songlines mazazine (UK), Mondomix (france) etc
Karbasi already toured this album in top festivals and theatres in : france, belgium, holland, uk, israel, spain, and more