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by Damhnait Doyle

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Blending the Mediterranean strains of Flamenco with sensual Arabic harmonies, Ishtar Alabina has been making its mark on both sides of the Atlantic as a million copy seller of a highly charming musical blend one might call ’the Rumba from the Desert’, and it’s singer ‘the Queen of the Middle East’.

Born in Israel, Ishtar Alabina was raised by an Egyptian mother and a Moroccan father with Spanish roots. She and her two sisters spoke both Arabic and Hebrew and were surrounded by music from an early age. Ishtar appeared to have inherited her family’s musical talent. She got her stage name from her grandmother after the ancient Persian goddess of fertility whose headless statue is designed to make one’s dream about the perfect woman.

When Ishtar Alabina began performing professionally in her country, she was only 14. At the age of 20, she visited a number of countries including Australia and boosted her traveling funds by performing in local clubs. Ishtar’s vocal talent and passion for music, not to mention her stage charisma and beauty, made her an instant hit with audiences worldwide. “As the world gets smaller, it’s easy to imagine the kind of international artist, whose music has no borders, is unchallenged by exotic idioms and unfazed by foreign dances. My music is the music of the past, updated for the present and future.”

On her return trip to Israel Ishtar stopped off to visit a friend in France. This visit proved to be a turning-point in her personal life and career, for Ishtar fell in love with France and decided to make it her home. The singer wasted no time in getting her music career up and running abroad, working as a backing singer for a host of well-known artists including the group Kaoma (famous for launching the “Lambada” craze), Tonton David and Julien Clerc.

But Ishtar’s big breakthrough came when producer Charles Ibgui came to see her in concert. Impressed by Ishtars extraordinary voice, he introduced her to a group of Gypsy, Los Niños de Sara, who had honed their musical talent playing with several major. Ishtar became the group’s frontwoman and, under the name Alabina, the fivesome went on to create a catchy multi-cultural fusion sound mixing Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew, French and Gypsy music with lyrics in Arabic, Spanish, English, Hebrew and French. Alabina’s multi-cultural fusion sound was laid over electro beats which gave the group’s music a strong dance feel and won them instant popularity on the international music scene. Needless to say, Alabina’s ‘Oriental pop’ was soon crossing linguistic and geographical borders and shooting up charts around the world.

The singles, ‘Alabina’, ‘Ole y Ola’ and ‘Habibi de Mis Amores’ encountered a hudge success. Alabina’s dance-influenced covers of traditional Arab classics seemed to appeal to music fans across the board. Indeed, the group appeared to have hit upon a successful formula for crossing cultural and religious divides. Alabina owed much of their multi-cultural success to their charismatic frontwoman, who remained something of a mystery. Enthusiastic and exuberant on stage, Ishtar established an excellent reputation on the live scene. Within the six months of the release of their debut album, they performed in numerous famous French and American theaters, including :

  • New Morning, Olympia and Palais des Congrès in Paris, France;
  • Hammerstein, Beacon and Summerstage Central Park in New York;
  • Greek Theater and Universal Theater in Los Angeles;
  • Wolf Trap in Whashington;
  • Alladin and Caesar’s in Las Vegas.

    They performed in numerous countries worldwide (Spain, Russia, Italy, Israel, Armenia, Australia, Sweden, Africa, Greece, India, Mexico, Panama, Roumania, Poland UK and Brazil). Alabina performed for hundreds of thousands fans throughout the world . They also played the opening of the concert tour of Carlos Santana in France.

    Alabina were soon back in the studio putting the finishing touches to their second album, ‘Sahara’, released in October ’98. The album quickly echoed the success of the first, making an impact on the charts in more than 20 different countries and reaching number 8 in Billboard's ‘Top World Music’ chart. ‘Sahara’ featured 11 tracks equally catchy.

    Meanwhile, Alabina’s records continued to sell like hotcakes on the international music scene, different versions of their classics being made available in different countries. Their official album count has gone beyond two these days as variants of their original albums now exist (‘Sahara’ becoming ‘The Album II’ in several countries).

    Then followed the release of Alabina’s compilation album, ‘L’Essentiel’ (which included a cover of the Jean-Jacques Goldman classic ‘Comme toi’ – and was featured in the compilation ‘Buddha Bar’)

    In 2000 Ishtar released a new album, featuring her usual catchy mix of ‘Oriental pop’ and dance beats. She also continued in the multi-cultural vein, performing songs written by a host of famous French songwriters, Jacques Veneruso (who also produced the album), as well as Didier Barbelivien, Lionel Florence, and the Tunisian songwriter Hedi Jouini, On December 2nd and 3rd Ishtar triumphed in Paris once again, hundreds of fans flocking to see her perform two special festive concerts at the Olympia. She then hit the road again for an international tour that took her around the world.

    In 2002, Ishtar released a new album, ‘Truly’, where she combined for the first time her both native languages (Arabic and Hebrew) as an expression of her desire to believe in peace.

    In 2004, Ishtar recorded her fifth album in Paris, New-York and Turkey, which was released in mid 2005. In this album, Ishtar adapted Arabic music from her childhood with various strains of Spanish and Western Pop music.

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