Blending a psychedelic sensibility and a pan-Mediterranean sensuality, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and composer Basya Schechter will join Cantor Adam Davis and Rabbi A. Brian Stoller for a special Shabbat experience at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck on Friday, May 19, at 7 p.m.
The community is welcome to experience her unique music at the renewal Erev Shabbat service featuring the founder of acclaimed world-music band Pharaoh’s Daughter.
Schechter’s musical approach draws on the chants of her own Hasidic background, Mizrachi and Sephardi folk-rock, along with sounds collected through travels across the Middle East, Africa, Israel, Egypt, Central Africa, Turkey, Kurdistan and Greece. The hazan weaves a tapestry of musical traditions into a dazzling, swirling, spiritual experience.
Raised in the Hasidic community of Borough Park, Schechter left Orthodoxy after high school but maintained a love for the traditional Jewish music of her youth. Her own tunes often blend concepts from Jewish melodies with a variety of styles and sounds from Eastern Europe, the Arab world and Africa.
After leaving yeshiva in Israel following some rebellious behavior, Schechter spent time in Egypt learning Arabic music. She began retuning her guitar to sound like a cross between an Arabic oud and a Turkish saz, with harmonic minor melodies and odd time signatures. While studying at Barnard College, she formed Pharaoh’s Daughter—a play on her own first name, Basya, which means Daughter of God—infusing these Middle Eastern influences into her songwriting.
Schechter will appear as part of Temple Beth-El’s music program, spearheaded by Cantor Adam Davis, who first encountered her music not long after Pharaoh’s Daughter began touring. Prior to training as a cantor, Davis ran KFAR Jewish Arts Center, an organization promoting and presenting cutting-edge Jewish music and arts events in secular cultural spaces in Chicago. One of the first acts he booked was Schechter and Pharaoh’s Daughter.
“The first time I heard her music, I loved it,” said Davis. “She draws on such a rich knowledge of different traditions from across the globe. Her voice and soulful presence reflect that—and also transcend it. Though we’ve known each other for a long time, this is the first time we’ll perform together. Our journeys have run parallel, from being part of the new Jewish culture movement to both being cantors. We’re finally singing together, and I’m excited that our community can experience her gifts.”
Schechter has released several albums as a solo artist, with her band and as half of the spiritual hip-hop collaboration Darshan. She was a featured artist at B’nai Jeshurun synagogue; and upon graduating from the Jewish Renewal movement’s ALEPH Ordination Program, served as cantor and musical director for Romemu in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as for the Fire Island Synagogue.
Schechter has performed around the world, including at Central Park’s Summerstage, Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. She has been awarded grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, American Composers Forum and American Music Center.