Vox Tablet

Basya Schechter Mixes Prayer Songs With Brass, Oud, and Radiohead

On a new album, the captivating leader of the band Pharaoh’s Daughter reclaims the music that dominated her religious childhood

September 29, 2014

Growing up in a Hasidic community, Basya Schechter heard music all around her—not rock music or even folk—but religious nigguns, or tunes. There were the zmirot–songs sung after Sabbath meals; the communal singing at Hanukkah; the prayers recited in unison in holiday liturgies. In her late teens, Schechter abandoned that world and its music. After college, she traveled extensively through the Middle East and North Africa and learned to play instruments from the region like the darbuka and oud. In 1998, Schechter formed the band Pharaoh’s Daughter, which ventured into all sorts of musical genres.

Now with Pharaoh’s Daughter Schechter returns to the religious songs that were her first introduction to music. On their new album Dumiyah, the band transforms prayers and religious poems usually sung on specific holidays into lush, epic music to relish any time. Basya Schechter was a Vox Tablet guest in 2011. She’s back again and speaks with host Sara Ivry about harmony as a form of self-expression for Ultra Orthodox Jewish girls, about her love of stadium rock, and about what she’s reclaiming, and rejecting, through her interpretations of sacred prayers.

Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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