Subversive diplomacy: Israeli singer and actress Liraz Charhi has recorded her latest album in a secret collaboration with Iranian artists.
Officially there's supposed to be no contact between Iranians and Israelis, but Liraz Charhi took a risk and carried out an extraordinary act of subversive diplomacy.
Charhi's parents are Sephardic Jews from Iran who emigrated to Israel when they were teenagers.
The singer and actress born in 1978 has always kept a connection to her Persian roots, but most of her previous recordings have been in Hebrew. This album, Zan (Women), is her second one in Persian.
Via Youtube she has grown a following inside Iran. She was inspired to see her Iranian fans uploading videos of themselves dancing to her songs — in Iran, public dancing by women is forbidden.
While living in Los Angeles to pursue her acting career, she connected and bonded with the Iranian community there. On her return to Israel she took a suitcase full of pre-revolution Iranian pop music, which became the musical inspiration for her latest album.
Charhi told DW that actually making the album was an emotional experience: "Emotionally it was pretty challenging because both Israel and Iran are very complex countries… but we do love each other very, very much," she said.
The album was challenging to make technically, as different parts were recorded secretly in Iran and the files sent to Israel. There, Charhi assembled and mixed the final work. But it was also dangerous for the Iranian artists who participated, and they had to be credited under assumed names to avoid repercussions from Tehran's intelligence and security networks.
"It's very difficult for us to understand that we cannot speak freely or we cannot create an album freely. And we did it, in a very naive way, but there was a very challenging point that we got lots of bad messages telling us that we're doing something wrong, and we should not do what we're doing," she said. "I was really afraid for the lives of the people from Iran that I have been working with."
While Charhi's Iranian fans have responded ecstatically to the album, her family and her Israeli fans took a little while to warm to the idea. But, she says, that once they listened to the music and came to the shows, the inhibitions fell away.
"At first it was strange to them, but immediately they came to my shows and danced with their Iranian moves, and it was very natural for the fans here in Israel and they love Persian music," she said.
Under the current political situation, Liraz Charhi will never be able to openly travel to Iran and perform for her fans. Ironically her most recent television role is in the Israeli spy series Tehran, as a Mossad agent who has to be dropped into Tehran undercover.
Correction, December 9, 2020: The term "Farsi" was replaced by "Persian."