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By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B.

Basya Schechter, who was born into an ultra-orthodox family of seven children in Borough Park, Brookyln taught herself how to play guitar when she was 19 years old.

“I was never taught to read or write music, and I still can’t,” says Schechter, but this hasn’t  stopped  her from pursuing her passion and talent of  making music, that is rich, innovative and highly original.

Today, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist performs  a unique blend of world music fusing Middle Eastern and Jewish Hasidic sounds with a hip modern edge in her  band Pharoah’s Daughter,  which she formed in the mid-nineties.

This past winter, Schechter performed for the first time in Canada at a sold out concert of the  Israeli Concert Series  presented by the Rady Jewish Community Centre in Winnipeg.

As a child, Schechter  grew up  singing zmirot at the Shabbat table with her family and was surrounded by Hebrew music that her father played at home.  She went to an all girls Yeshiva,  and there  spent her time inventing six-part harmonies with her friends.  The prayer filled cadences of those childhood years are unquestionably weaved into her music which is layered and complex, and quite frequently  has a chanting quality to it.

In explaining the roots of her music, Shechter says, “As children in Yeshiva we translated texts from Hebrew to Yiddish, from one language that we didn’t know into another language we didn’t know.  Even though I didn’t really understand what I was doing, I liked it.  I liked the chanting, and it has never left me.”

Schechter eventually widened her horizons on a teen tour to Israel, which spanned into  a tour of  Africa and Turkey with her guitar in hand. She  honed her music sensibilities  through her travels in Egypt, Central Africa, Kurdistan and Greece.  The rhythms of  her inspirational journeys  resonate in her music and her extensive travels have produced music with a scintillating world beat vibe.

 In Pharoah’s Daughter,  Schechter plays oud ( a Middle East string instrument), guitar and percussion. She is joined by a pianist, who also plays accordion and keyboards, a drummer , and several additional musicians , including a flute player, a bassist, violinist, various electronica and others.

The name Pharoah’s Daughter is an English translation of  Schechter’s first name, Basya. 

“Basya  means daughter of  God, and is the name that was given to Pharoah’s daughter in the Bible when she rescued Moses as a baby in the river in Egypt,” she says.

The title of  Schechter’s newest album, her fifth, is “Haran,” a location she visited in Turkey.  “Haran is where Abraham first started his journey in the Bible, and that’s why I was drawn to the name,” she says.

In Haran, Schechter sings in  biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Yiddish, and the influence of her Sephardic Hasidic upbringing is evident in many of her selections. 

Fr example, her soulful rendition of “Kah Ribon” sang in Aramaic is in  fact a prayer entitled “Ya Ribon” (Master of the Universe) written by a  Sephardic Rabbi that later  became a popular “ zmira” sung around the Shabbat table.

In another innovative selection she uses passages from  Shir Hashirim, which Schechter says she chose “because both the male and female appear to be equal.” At other times, the words in her music appear to be  a collage of Hebrew and Aramaic texts.

One of  Schechter’s own personal favourites from the Haran album is the Hebrew Yonati,  “ I like it because it feels round. I feel like I can float on the music.  It’s new and it’s different.”

In earlier album, entitled “Exile,” the songs Schechter wrote are sung in English.  The title track of  album is about giving birth, and has a particularly beautiful melody, that sounds  like  folk music  mixed with “dye, dye, dye” sounds that are typical of Hasidic niguns.

Pharoah’s Daughter  has performed at Central Park’s Summer Stage Series, at Lincoln Center, at London’s prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hall, and this past December the band toured Israel and was featured at the Sephardic Music Festival.
Schechter expects to be back performing in Israel this summer. “All of  my siblings live in Yerushalayim , and my parents are also making aliya,” she says. She considers herself the “rebel”  in the family, in that she is not orthodox,  and prefers to live in the heart of the New York music scene than Jerusalem. But, she says, “my family listens to my music.”

When she’s not touring or performing, Schechter plays darbuka, riq and frame drum as part of the B’nai Jeshurun music ensemble that accompanies Friday night services in New York.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.