the sisterhood of song
JE Magazine 2008
Frum female artist Chanale opens hearts and industry doors
By Chaya Lurie
By Chaya Lurie
If she were not a recording artist, she’d probably be a teacher.
If she were not a recording artist, she’d probably be a teacher.
So posits Mrs. Chana Harrel, a.k.a. popular Jewish female vocalist/composer/producer/folk heroine Chanale. Over the phone, she opens a window to her spiritual world, a place where music is just one of mentorship’s many messengers. “I was always attracted to the spiritual growth of teens and pre-teens,” she elucidates. “If I wasn’t singing, I’d probably be directly involved with girls one-on-one. Music kills two birds with one stone.”
Since 2000’s Believer, her first of four CDs, Chanale has advanced to become a Torah- female answer to the Western pop idol. She shines before live audiences, smiling, entertaining and inspiring between and during songs delivered in a startlingly sweet soprano. Onstage, she is a beloved friend to her thousands of listeners, typified by the frum teen girl fans who can sing her lyrics from memory along with her, as happened recently at a Manhattan girls’ high school Shabbaton. Yet she stays true to her schoolgirl roots, modestly remaining behind her microphone without dancing or choreography. And offstage, where any secular similarities end, the real magic begins.
The recently-married Miami native formerly known as Chanale Fellig has painstakingly built an enduring relationship with every listener who reaches out to her—one phone call, e-mail, tear-filled talk or heartfelt hug at a time. When I ask, she tells me she is a singer who leads, but the phenomenon that has built around her paints a pronounced profile of a leader who sings. Most indicative of that is her career, which continues to be one of teaching, reinforcing, and living the Jewish woman’s deepest beliefs—with the concert hall as her classroom, her music as her whiteboard and her lovely voice as her pen.
In the process, Chanale has become something bigger than herself—and she knows it well.
Her official website, ChanaleSings.com, looks and feels like a kosher teen girls’ clubhouse. This writer felt at home there at once, though it brims with enough content to warrant visits on a regular basis. Daily advice and inspiration on creativity, self-esteem, and even weight loss share home-page space with links to a very active guest book and folksy write-ups on her three original albums. (A fourth album featuring handpicked protégés entitled Chanale and Friends has just been released.)
“Once I have them, they establish trust and know what kind of person I am, [then] they’re comfortable with connecting to me,” she confides. “I put the music out there and they talk to me. I want to be there for them. I have girls who write me such personal letters asking for advice. I’m like this person they know whom they can turn to.”
And turn to her they do, with the singer’s inbox receiving a dozen daily e-mails on average. But Chanale is not a singing advice columnist, though she once considered parlaying her popularity into a “Dear Abby” of sorts. How far, then, do her far-reaching relationships go?
“I am very careful, because I don’t want to be responsible for their decisions—parents get touchy, so I was discouraged to do it,” she explains, pointing out that she maximizes her unique position nevertheless. “I keep it light and positive: I don’t build them up and then drop them, I take them seriously. I do what I can to make girls feel good. I do think about them. I mean, if a girl writes me, I write back. I answer every e-mail. I know that they wait for their e-mails. I make sure that not one girl falls between the cracks.”
Besides her frum girl fans, Chanale has also built up a significant following among non-religious women with her many national Chabad appearances—for many, her CDs have become their only connection to Judaism. “One of my cousins was working in a summer day camp and met a non-frum older woman and told her her cousin was Chanale,” she recalls. “She was like, ‘Wow, your cousin is Chanale?! I listen to Aishes Chayil [from her 2nd album—Ed.] all the time; it’s in my car and it’s the only thing I listen to.’ ”
She is also a rigorous musical clinician with a demanding taste (she once returned a just-bought CD to the store for its poor-quality music), exacting professionalism, and equal facility at her home studio’s mixing board, piano keyboard and guitar fret board. She’s also become Jewish-music distributor Sameach’s top-selling female artist, she does a lot of studio work at home, and the top names in the industry respect her—Avraham Fried has tapped her seriousness and lyrical artistry for her ballad “Baby Shalhevet,” and others, including the iconic Michoel Streicher and new wonder Tzvi have sang her words.
It is this relentless earnestness, she explains, that keeps her career blooming where other female singers have risen and fallen in an oversaturated market where practicality too-often eclipses aspiration. “They don’t follow-up, so people forget. They don’t advertise. Mostly, they just don’t have the financial means to produce the quality of music—you know, to spend that time in the studio and invest financially a lot of time in their projects,” she pontificates. “It doesn’t pay. They’re stunted against their own will. I’ve been consistent. I’ve written a lot of songs. I work really hard, and I want to do this as long as I can.”
With the release of Chanale and Friends, Mrs. Harrel has done for promising female vocalists what her career has done for her: open doors of opportunity. The several young teens, all Chanale fans whom the singer encouraged to come out of their shells, populate the album with original selections recorded and engineered in their mentor’s home studio. “Some of them will [eventually] be doing their own CDs,” says Rafael Harrel, the singer’s husband and production assistant. He’s obviously biased, and for the best reasons, but he’s correct when he points out that Chanale “has started a phenomenon.”
I ask one last question: “What is Chanale’s message?” I can hear her smiling. “Three things: “One, if you’re talented, go for it—sing, write, perform. Girls need an outlet, and if it’s a tznius thing, I’m all for it. If you can get that satisfaction and still be frum, you should get a dose of it. Two—and I don’t think I’m a feminist, but—I believe that it’s up to the women to keep Yiddishkeit strong, to focus on being a strong frum woman; I want people to know there is true satisfaction to doing everything 100%. They’ll see that to be a woman and be frum is worth their time. And three,”—and here her passion comes through the very phone, suddenly giving me a pretty good idea of why people love Chanale—“Moshiach is going to come!”
Singer, Composer, Role model…
Interviewed by Bracha Goykadosh
What inspired you to become a singer?
Music was always very much a part of my life. I started experimenting with home-recording equipment, and composing my own songs. That’s really when the idea of performing my music for a live audience was born.
What was the motivating force behind your success?
The reaction from the listeners!
What would you consider the turning point of your career?
My music career really launched after I sang publicly for the first time at an all-women's concert my cousin had organized in
Did you sing when you were younger? Were you considered a child prodigy?
Ever since I was little I always sang and appreciated beautiful music. As a pre-teen I wrote songs for school and camp, but I never gave it too much thought. I liked creative writing and read a lot. Writing songs just came naturally. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was a prodigy, though!
Do you have any interesting anecdotes that took place during your singing career?
I’ve had so many amazing experiences over the years. My favorite story is when I went for a Bas Mitzvah performance in
Another great story happened recently when I was living in Tel Aviv,
Do you write all your own songs?
Pretty much. I write the majority of my songs, but there are a few that I co-wrote and a few that are re-makes of the originals. My favorites are the ones I wrote myself.
Do you ever get nervous when you perform in front of large audiences?
Totally not. My only concern is that the sound system should work well and there shouldn't be any technical problems chas v’shalom!
Do you ever listen to your own CDs for entertainment?
Interesting question. By the time I'm done recording my CDs I'm pretty tired of listening to my own songs. Once in a while I do pop my CD into my CD player and try to listen objectively so I can see what can be improved for the next cd.
What type of music do you enjoy?
I love music that is moving and soulful. I appreciate a good production, of course, but the quality of the content is more important to me than the radio-friendly pop music most people aim to produce.
Is there anyone who impacted your singing career?
There have been a lot of people who supported and encouraged me along the way. The list would be too long to include here.
How does it feel to be considered a Jewish “superstar?”
Most people don't recognize me or know who I am, but once in a while someone approaches me and is excited to meet me. I do get flattered by that. I worked hard to get where I am. Most people don’t realize how much sweat and tears go into producing an album and what courage it takes to get onstage in front of 1,000 women and perform. I understand why entertainers charge a lot of money. It’s a business that you have to invest heart, mind, and soul, and not everyone can do it.
Who is your role model?
My role models are people who respect one another and express hakaras hatov to one another. I always appreciate and look up to people with good Middos.
What are your hobbies besides singing?
I'm a pretty simple girl. I like cooking, reading a good book, decorating, and, of course, shopping!
What do you do in your free time?
In my free time I write of course. It seems there’s always an errand to run when you’re married, so I get a lot of things done during the day when Rafael is at work. I have five sisters kn’yh, and I try to spend time with them whenever I can. I’m a very productive person and try to make the most of my time every day. I love the internet too and get a lot of work done networking online.
Do you have any advice or a favorite motto that you would like to share?
My advice to all the girls out there is to follow your HEART and don’t let anyone sway you to do anything you don’t feel is right for YOU and for YOUR personal growth. We all deserve a chance to be who we want to be and to express ourselves the way we want. As long as it is in a tzniusdike way—remember that!
Reprinted from Shoshanim, a Magazine for Teenage Girls, Issue #19. For more information or to subscribe, visit www.shoshanim.net or call 1-800-601-4238.