Haya Samir ... her father encouraged her to promote fraternity and peace
April 23, 2015 - Independence Day. Lenore (my lovely wife) and I were invited to hear an amazing singer at Mediterranean Towers in Kfar Saba - Haya Samir. She was accompanied by an equally talented guitar player and a drummer. For an hour and a half, Haya belted out familiar Israeli songs and had the full-house audience singing and swinging along. When I heard Haya sing, I thought I was listening to the famous Peruvian exotica artist Yma Sumac, (whose range was 4 1/2 octaves), reincarnated.
Lenore and I spoke with Haya afterwards. I wanted to buy her CDs, but she did not have any. Instead, she invited us to her home in Sde Hemed for dinner and to listen to some of her music. We met her beautiful and charming 15-year old daughter and Haya's boyfriend, Itzik. Haya’s 19-year old son is currently serving in the Israeli army. She is divorced from her Israeli husband. P.S. Haya is a very good cook.
Who is Haya Samir?
Speaking with her and researching various sources, I came up with the following. She is an Egyptian-Israeli musician and her compositions are in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Just as an aside, we also heard Haya sing a Spanish number perfectly at Med Towers, “Adios Muchachos”. Haya has performed her music with maestro Zubin Mehta several times. You can hear and watch Haya on YouTube performing with star artists such as Baldi Olier and Yermi Kaplan, or see her dance and sing in the Hebrew version of “Peter Pan”. Her mixed identity is reflected in her music and has inspired some of the best musicians in Israel.
Haya's father, Nabih Sarhan, was an Egyptian poet and humanist who ran afoul of the Egyptian government and had to flee along with his wife. He arrived in Israel in 1968 as a political refugee. Haya was born in Jerusalem shortly thereafter. Her family story was revealed here in the press when she and her father met the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, in 1977. He had come to sign the peace treaty with Israel. Both men had known each other previously. Haya was eight years old and got a kiss from the president. That scene was shown on television and reported in the newspapers. Haya caught lots of grief from her schoolmates the next day. That was the first she learned about her Egyptian and non-Jewish background. Nevertheless, Haya had been raised as an Israeli and continues to live her life as an Israeli.
Haya’s father encouraged her to promote fraternity and peace in her own life’s work. She has participated in events that have supported these values, which include the airways route between Jordan and Israel.
Haya Samir’s performing career began when she was six-years old and she sang with her father’s Egyptian folklore group. At the age of fourteen she sang as a soloist with the folk band “Horah Jerusalem”. They performed in various countries around the globe playing Hasidic, Yemenite and Bedouin music. Haya is a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
One of the highlights in Haya’s career was performing in Dov Seltzer’s “Lament To Yitzhak”, which was premiered by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta at the Mann Auditorium in April 1999. It was performed at the Lincoln Center Festival in July 1999, by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Kurt Masur. “Lament To Yitzhak” featured, among others, Haya Samir. She sang solo in Arabic and played the Arabic drum. The New York Times review said, “The folk singer Haya Samir seemed deeply engaged and sang with fervor.”
Lenore and I were smitten with that same feeling when we heard her sing at Med Towers.