Havazelet Damari … The Yemeni Woman Who Tried to Win The Hebrew Audience (Exotica) [Music History]

This goes under the umbrella of Exotica, where a lot of different music genres from around the world is collected. The thing they have in common is that they sing in their native tongue and that it’s usually specific for a smaller geographical place. Originally the world Exotica refered to a specific niche genre in the 1950-60’s, but today it’s mainly just exotic world music. The real or should I say correct genre for Havazelet Damari is Yemenite Jewish.

Havazelet’s story is both fascinating and mysterious. She was born in Aden, Yemen, in 1936 as Havazelet Damari, she immigrated to Israel when she was 8 years old and grew up in the disadvantaged Ezra neighborhood, in south Tel Aviv. Havazelet discovered her love for singing when she was a teen, when she would sing at feasts and family events. At one of these events she was discovered by an impresario who decided to take her under his wing. He asked her to change her family name from Damari to Ron, as there was already a young singer called Shoshana Damari in Israel, who was becoming quite popular. 

In March 1960 Havazelet Ron’s only Israeli album, “The Music of the Desert” was released, produced by the “Makolit” label, featuring Yemenite folk songs. Both songs on this 7″ are from that album. The identity of the promoter, the album’s recording date and location, and the identity of the musicians, could not be found.The album was ahead of its time in that it introduced an innovative sound, comprised of drums, electric guitar and an organ, making it one of the first albums in Israel to record this type of composition. However, it confused the Israeli audience of the time: The vocals were in Yemeni-Arabic, preventing it from being played on the radio, which mainly played Hebrew music, moreover, it was too innovative and far from traditional music for the Yemenite scene. The album fell between the cracks and her big breakthrough to mainstream did not happen. 

Following the album’s failure, Havazelet left Israel in 1963 and went to Germany, where she performed in festivals, TV shows and recorded several more albums. All of this was made possible by her unique singing talent in five languages – Hebrew, Yemeni-Arabic, German, English and Yiddish, her impressive appearance and remarkable stage charisma. The European audience enjoyed the original music she produced and her Yemenite-style cover versions of Hebrew songs. In 1968 Havazelet married and a year later retired from the music scene. In 1980 she returned to Israel but she left again four years later, this time to Los Angeles, where she worked as a kindergarten teacher. 

Havazelet Ron passed away in Los Angeles, in 2013, after a long battle with cancer.