To mark the first international day commemorating the exodus of Jews from Arab countries, singer Sari Alfi is coming with her father, the celebrity storyteller Yossi Alfi, to London as guest stars in Harif's Soiree Orientale on 17 February. But the singer was not always as fascinated by her eastern roots as she is now, she tells The Jerusalem Post:
"I joined the family business. Show business, that is.”
As the daughter of storyteller and poet Yossi Alfi and sister of
renowned comedian Guri Alfi, performing runs in musician Sari Alfi’s
blood. With a multicultural background, Alfi intertwines her ethnic
roots to create her art.
“I once asked my daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up. She
answered, ‘Iraqi,’” says Alfi. “Coming from my family, that does not
surprise me. We are all artists who come from different places. My
father is Iraqi, my mother is British, my husband is Australian, and we
live in Israel. Let’s face it, we are mutts.”
In her new album, Yamim Hamim, produced by Roy Sela, Alfi
blends authentic Babylonian melodies with contemporary Western music.
She writes and composes all her own music and lyrics.
Her album includes guest performances by traditional Iraqi musicians,
such as singers Ismail Fadel and (Ehsan) Iman and violinist Yair Dalal. By
using more traditional musicians, she gives Iraqi culture a modern
twist with edgy electronic beats.
In her younger years, Alfi identified more with her mother’s British
background. As she matured, she began to embrace her Iraqi roots. The
turning point occurred at her wedding. She surprised her father by
singing an Iraqi melody. That song ignited a lifelong love affair with
“When I was a kid, I hated Iraqi music. I thought it just sounded like moaning,” says Alfi.
“The second I stepped on stage and started singing at my wedding, I had
a movie moment. I sang ‘Fog El Nahal,’ one of the most traditional
Iraqi songs. I realized the beauty and complexity of the music and
wanted to learn more.”
By discovering Iraqi music, Alfi’s bond with her father increased
immensely. As she began to study Iraqi musicians and styles, she delved
into her family roots. In 1949, Alfi’s father escaped from Iraq as
part of the Jewish exodus to Israel. He came as a three-year old, but
he always stayed true to his Iraqi roots. As a storyteller, he
incorporates stories from his family history into his show.
“The older I get, the more I learn about my family’s history,” says
Alfi. “I’m named after my great-grandmother, Rima. I used to hate my
middle name. I said, ‘The day I turn 18, I’m changing my name.’ Then I
heard my father’s story about how she never learned to read or write.
She used to sign her name with a handprint. When I got my bachelor’s
degree, I wrote out my name as ‘Sari Rima Alfi.’ Now I’m proud to be
named after Rima,” she asserts.
On February 17, Yossi and Sari Alfi will share the stage to mark the
first international day commemorating the Jewish exodus from Arab
Sponsored by HARIF, a UK organization promoting the heritage of Jews of
the Middle East and North Africa, the concert will be held in their
Central London venue.
“I can’t believe my dad and I will perform together in my mom’s
country,” says Alfi. “My family comes full circle. My only wish is that
my grandparents could be there. I want my Iraqi grandparents to see us
embrace our culture. I want my British grandparents to see me perform
in the middle of their home. Not having them here is bittersweet for
As a parent herself, Alfi wants to pass down her Iraqi culture to her
children. Her family observes many Iraqi-Jewish traditions. From
singing Shabbat prayers with Arabic tunes to cooking traditional Iraqi
dishes, Alfi wants to expose her two daughters, Liri and Yahli, to their
“When my family originally came to Israel, many of them were
embarrassed by their Iraqi roots,” says Alfi. “Now my father is sharing
stories, my brother is telling jokes, and I am singing with traditional
Iraqi rhythms. We share the stage together as one big Iraqi family. We
have even performed for President Shimon Peres. We have proven that
Iraqi culture should be celebrated, not hidden.”
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To book your place at Harif's Soiree Orientale on 17 February in London, click here.