“To travel to so many places in the world and to communicate through my music, this is one of the greatest things I could imagine,” Israeli singer-songwriter Victoria Hanna said.
As a child, Hanna could barely communicate. She suffered from a severe stutter. “The other kids were very cruel,” she said in a phone interview. “They were laughing at me. I wasn’t like the normal child. When you are a little bit different, it’s not always easy to accept your surroundings.”
Creativity provided the answer. “For most artists,” Hanna said, “if they would grow in a society where art would be out of the picture, they would be very different. They would be unaccepted. And they would be very miserable.”
Music proved to be Hanna’s salvation. “Whenever I was singing, the stuttering would disappear. I feel the most comfortable when I’m singing, when I’m creating a new world and when I’m performing. Everyday life was so tense that it was full of stuttering. But when I was singing or in an imaginary world I invented, everything was OK.”
Hanna has invented wondrous, diverse music, impossible to categorize. She will perform at Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall Studio Cabaret on Wednesday, Nov. 29,
showcasing material from her debut album, “Victoria Hanna.” It was recently released in Israel, will hit Europe in the spring and is offered on her website. Hanna will have copies available at the concert.
Her original songs are inspired by ancient Hebrew text and traditional melodies, but incorporate rap, hip-hop, rock and pop influences. Some are very melodic, some more rhythmic.
Victoria Hanna is the combination of her first and middle names. She was named after her two grandmothers.
One part of the album reflects the personality of Victoria, the other Hanna. Victoria was from Egypt, Hanna from Iran. “They were both married against their will, when they were very young. This was the way they did it in the places where they came from. Each one of them took the situation to a very different reality,” the singer-songwriter said.
“Victoria was married at 16. She was rebellious and did exactly what she liked, not what people expected from her. Hanna was opposite. She surrendered. She accepted everything. She went very much inside herself.
“Even the name Victoria is not a Hebrew name. So for me, she represents this place of the deconstruction, the way I work with ancient Hebrew texts to deconstruct them. It becomes something else. And Hanna, the songs that I chose for her, they’re not percussive. They’re more about yearning and have to do with the power of the voice.”
Hanna sings in Hebrew and Aramaic. Audience members who don’t speak those languages have told Hanna that they are nonetheless moved by her songs. They respond to her mesmerizing, penetrating, beautiful voice and her unique songs. She performs internationally, having toured in Mongolia, Poland, Mexico, Japan and Australia.
“I treat the language as a sound, so you don’t necessarily need to understand the language in order to feel the music and to enjoy the music.”
Even Israelis don’t always understand what she’s singing. “The ancient Hebrew is sometimes very different from the everyday way they speak Hebrew in Israel,” Hanna said.
“Languages can be something completely different from what we are used to. It’s not only a way to convey information. It’s much more than that. It’s like an entity. It’s sound. Sound is a vibration. So it’s the physical aspect of the language — how you can really feel the language in the body.”
She’s in the midst of a six-month stay in the Bay Area, where she’s teaching a class on the missing link between music and language at UC-Berkeley. She brought her family with her from Jerusalem — her husband, a theater director, and their three children, ages 8, 6 and 4.
Hanna was invited to the university by Professor Francesco Spagnolo, through the Israel Institute. Spagnolo is curator of the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.
Hanna is creating scores for ancient Hebrew amulets in the Magnes collection. Many of the artifacts were said to have mystical properties. She is performing segments of the works in progress on Tuesday nights, through Dec. 5, at Berkeley’s Magnes Museum. When the project is completed, a larger presentation will take place.
She’s familiar with the nature of these amulets, because she grew up with these types of sacred relics. Her father was an ultra-Orthodox rabbi. Because of her family’s religious beliefs, even after Hanna discovered how singing miraculously defused the stuttering problem, she couldn’t perform unfettered.
“In Orthodox Judaism, it’s not recommended for a woman to sing out loud in front of men,” Hanna said. “It’s not very modest. So you can imagine that it wasn’t an easy journey.”
But Hanna felt compelled to sing. “It’s a big gift to be able to express myself as an artist, because when I look at my grandmothers, even if they had wanted to do this, they would have looked at them like they were crazy. They just needed to be in the kitchen and to raise the children. So I’m very lucky to be born in a reality where expression was accepted. Not only accepted, but honored.”
Her family was reticent to acknowledge Hanna’s need to perform. “In the beginning, they completely didn’t like it. But after a while, they understood and accepted it, even though they would still not go to my shows.”
Her audience grew larger when, in 2015, Hanna released a video for her song “Aleph-Bet.” It went viral. It celebrates the Hebrew alphabet. In Kaballah teaching, God created the world by speaking the 22 holy letters of that alphabet. “The letters are like the DNA of the world,” Hanna said.
Her subsequent videos display imaginative, arresting visuals. Some have a disarming, charming strangeness. All feature her distinctively enchanting vocals.
She approaches the voice as an instrument and recognizes a shamanic element within singing. “You treat yourself as a channel, let the voice go through it and then a lot of very interesting things can happen,” Hanna said. “Sound is the primal thing. When we use sound, it connects us as human beings immediately. It’s the universal language.”
She said that sometimes people around the globe associate Jerusalem primarily with political friction. “Our existence is not only politics. Politics can be very bad and very hard. If we see the world only through the perspective of politicians and politics, then it’s very depressing. But there’s another way to live in this world. You can make art. You can connect with sounds. You can show the beauty of things.”
Email Paul Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who: Victoria Hanna
Where: Bing Concert Hall Studio Cabaret, 327 Lasuen St., Stanford
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017
Tickets: $10-$30; www.live.stanford.edu or 650-724-2464