Defying a news cycle that perpetuates the animosity in the seemingly endless Middle East conflict, mainstream Israeli audiences have embraced an Arab singer and branded her a reality TV star in her adopted land.
Nasrin Kadry, born to a Muslim family and raised in Haifa and Lod, two Israeli cities where Jews and Arabs co-exist peacefully, has gradually climbed her way to the top of the pop-artist ladder in Israel.
The 32-year old singer, who had been doing small bar gigs since her late teens, gained commercial success only recently with her modern interpretation of classical Arab melodies in the more commonly known Israeli genre called Mizrahi (“Eastern” in Hebrew). Contemporary Mizrahi music today is considered more pop with an “Arab flair” (instruments, way of singing) but it is mostly sung by non-Arabs. So she stood out as being an authentic Arab artist with a natural approach. Her deep voice and Arabic accent when she sings in Hebrew make it more powerful and authentic.
Kadry’s exposure accompanied a spiritual awakening that made headlines in 2017 when she decided to convert to Judaism. The process initially began during her 12-year relationship with Aviezer Ben-Moha, a Jewish-Israeli musician who accompanied her as a drummer.
Despite ending the romance, Kadry carried on with her conversion, maintaining “it was never because of him” that she found herself in the Jewish faith.
“I converted by choice,” Kadry tells Billboard. “I felt all along that I belong in the Jewish faith and it has nothing to do with my creative process of making music.”
While Kadry’s conversion led her to be shunned by some family members, sharing her religious revelation further endeared her to Israeli fans, she says.
“My journey is very personal, and because I went with heart my fan base kept supporting me,” she says. “I see Jews, Arabs, Russians and Ethiopians at every concert.” Her family’s acceptance, however, is still a work in progress. ” There is a lot of love still between my family and I, they’ve been supportive and it’s a process that’s still going on. It starts and continues with mutual respect.”
Having completed her conversion last September under the supervision of a private Rabbi (a process ultimately not recognized by the state Rabbinate), Kadry felt reborn and chose to add the Hebrew name Bracha (“blessing”).
Her career began to take off in 2012 after she won the Mizrahi-Pop singing reality show “Eyal Golan Is Calling You,” where singing star Eyal Golan crowned her as his next protégé and signed her to his label. With three albums under her belt, she has been celebrated by Mizrahi music fans that fully rejoice in Arab culture but otherwise historically lean right politically, denouncing any dialogue with Palestinians.
“The majority of Mizrahi fans have Jewish-Arab heritage and separate their political views from their love of music,” says music journalist Gal Uchovsky. “Giving Nasrin this platform makes sense and it works.”
Kadry has also cultivated musical alliances with internationally prolific artists from Israel, including singer-songwriter Dudu Tasa and his band The Kuwaitis, which led them all to go on tour with Radiohead.
Through Tasa’s longtime friendship with Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood, his band was invited to serve as the warm-up act for the British group’s US tour in the spring of 2017, with Kadry featured in their lineup. The month-long engagement culminated in a show at the 2017 Coachella Festival.
“Radiohead welcomed us and gave us their huge stage and large crowds who listened to us sing in Arabic,” she says.
Kadry says she consciously avoids wading into the Middle East’s thorny politics.
“My position is bringing people together in love and understanding,” she says. “Even the US has ongoing conflicts, there’s always something. I simply want to put a smile on your face, nothing more.”
This summer Kadry’s reality TV notoriety came full circle when she joined Israel’s version of The Voice, currently in its fifth season on Reshet 13, as a new coach, standing out with her sass and fashion.
She says her new role has given her a chance to expose Israelis to classic Arab musicians like Umm Kulthum, Abdel Wahab and Farid al-Atrash — even as she names Beyoncé and Lady Gaga as her personal inspirations. The three are classical-Egyptian music artists who peaked in the 1950’s-60’s and considered trailblazers in authentic Arab melodies.
“It’s not just my throat when I’m performing, my entire body works the stage and the crowd feels the joy or pain in my songs,” she says. “If you’re coming to see Nasrin, prepare to see her laugh her heart out and break down in tears. I’m see-through, especially when I’m on stage, where I wear my heart on my sleeve with pride.”