By Josh Hasten/JNS.org
In time for Purim 2014, popular Israeli-Canadian singer and composer Naftali Kalfa seeks to give everyday relevance to the Jewish holiday’s age-old story with his recently released single “Miracles.”
Written by Kalfa, and recorded alongside well-known Israeli singer Gad Elbaz and Jewish reggae singer-songwriter Ari Lesser, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, “Miracles” is a song thanking God for saving the Jewish people living in ancient Persia who were slated for annihilation at the hands of the King Ahasuerus’s second in command, Haman the Agagite.
The story of the miraculous salvation of Persian Jewry is recorded in the biblical book of Esther and is customarily read by Jews all over the world on Purim in commemoration of those events.
In an interview with JNS.org, Kalfa explains that the song—which includes sections in both Hebrew and English—not only focuses on Purim and other miracles throughout Jewish history that are detailed in the Bible, but also seeks to “inspire us to think about the small miracles that happen in this world every single day.”
“How many people wake up in the morning and mean it when they recite the ‘Modeh Ani’ prayer, thanking God for returning our souls back to us?” Kalfa asks.
The lyrics of Kalfa’s song express his strong sentiment that Jews shouldn’t take “small miracles” for granted, whether it’s waking up in the morning, having a properly functioning body, or being able to earn a livelihood. He says that these everyday activities and others all warrant an expression of thanks to God.
The new single comes on the heels of the release of Kalfa’s latest album, a double CD titled “The Naftali Kalfa Project,” featuring 28 original compositions and orchestrated songs alongside some of most established and well-known names in the world of Jewish music today.
Musical collaborations feature artists including Shlomo Katz, Yossi Piamenta, Yehuda Glantz, Gad Elbaz, Yosef Chaim Shwekey, Lenny Solomon, Benny Elbaz, Yehuda Solomon, Shyne, and many others.
“These songs are part of me, like my children—and many of them were inspired by my children” says Kalfa, a native of Toronto who splits his time between Canada and Israel and is a father of five.
With styles spanning numerous genres, from cantorial music to rock, Kalfa drew inspiration for the music on his new album from the Book Psalms and prayers, with songs like “This Time Next Year,” taken from the Passover Haggadah, and the Yom Kippur-derived “Adon Haselichot” (“Master of Forgiveness”). But he also focused on the strong Jewish spirit to persevere, with songs like “Refaenu” (“Heal Us”), “Ten Li Koach” (“Give Me Strength”), “Bridges,” and “I Will Be.”
“The uniqueness of this album is that it welcomes the talents of a diverse collection of artists while being inspired by an underlying love for music and connection to Hashem that is at the heart of everything we do as singers and composers,” Kalfa says. “It’s been a real honor to bring together so many people for this project, and I’m confident that listeners will feel that sense of passion within each and every song.”
Kalfa, 33, whose debut album titled “Yihyu Liratzon” was recorded in collaboration with the Piamenta brothers, says that his passion for music started as a young child.
“I was always the guy in the synagogue standing next to the chazan (cantor), or at weddings trying to understand what the band was doing,” he says.
Kalfa says he has had a wide array of influences on his career, from Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, and The Rolling Stones to some of the most well-known names in the world of Jewish music, such as Avraham Fried and Mordechai Ben David. His first recorded composition was a cover of the popular Simon and Garfunkel classic “The Sound of Silence,” titled V’ani Tefilati (“I Am My Prayer”), which he says came to him on a road trip with friends in the U.S.
The singer adds that at least half of the songs on the new album “were composed during Friday afternoon pre-Shabbat ‘jam-sessions,’” which he attends regularly with a group of musically talented friends in his community of Ma’ale Adumim.
While Kalfa does some live-performance touring, appearing at concerts and other events in Israel and abroad, he says that he performs live “as little as possible,” preferring to spontaneously compose. But he admits that some of the most fulfilling moments in his career have included playing live—whether in front of Israel Defense Forces soldiers at the Gaza border [during 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense], “trying to give them the joy of music, as they waited to go into battle,” at a high school for troubled teenage girls, or at an old-age home in front of his grandmother and the other residents.
“Visiting my grandmother, while singing and bringing in the guitar to the old-age home, to me, that means more than playing in front of 5,000 fans, or even in Madison Square Garden,” he says. Referring to his visit with the soldiers during Pillar of Defense, Kalfa says, “That experience really touched my neshama (soul).”
Kalfa admits that the world of Jewish music is a difficult business and that “only the guys at the very top are the ones able to make a good living.” To compensate, he is involved in other business ventures. Yet he hopes that one day, he can dedicate all of his time to his music, and says that it’s really not about the money.
“All the music I make is for my neshama and comes from the neshama,” Kalfa says.
“I’m just an imperfect Jew who aspires to improve and to work towards being the best person I can be,” he says. “I hope that my music can inspire.”
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