Four years ago, I wrote a piece on Aliza Hava for another publication. It’s not often that I seek out an artist twice, anxious to give that person more ink. But that certainly would be the case with someone like Hava, who is so freakin’ astonishing in every way. For those who don’t know her work, let’s cut right to the chase: This chick is a powerhouse. Her voice is dynamic, commanding. Her guitar playing is passionate. She’s spiritual yet grounded, emphatic yet gentle. She’s what you’d call a sister, like Ani DiFranco or Julia Butterfly Hill. Though some of her songs are politically charged, she doesn’t wish to be trapped in that box. Recently, she’s gotten some notice because of her association with the whole equal marriage rights/Jason West/New Paltz brouhaha; she was appointed as wedding coordinator and made a musical appearance. She also played at last month’s Civil Rights in the Park, a concert in response to a New Paltz visit from Fred Phelps, the Kansas minister who runs a virulently anti-gay Web site.
“I’m not really a gay-rights activist,” Hava explains in her soothing, laid-back manner. “I believe in human rights, and I got involved because I was on the campaign committee for the Innovation Party; I was treasurer.”
Hava, a metro-area transplant who’s currently a resident of High Falls, is partially responsible for the rise of Jason West, Rebecca Rotzler, and Julia Walsh to the New Paltz village government; she went to college with West and ran two student organizations with Rotzler (Hava studied music therapy at suny). “I’m not a politician,” she says. “I don’t want to be a politician, and I generally don’t even like politicians. I got involved because I love New Paltz, and I didn’t want to see gentrification and destruction of all the woods and wetlands. I did what I had to do to prevent that from happening.”
She admits to going through a strong stage of activism in college, and that passion still creeps through on her latest comfort-rock release, Rise, a follow-up to her 2000 ep FireMusicFaerie. The title track was written with Death Row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal in mind, and the fiery “Julia” is an anthem of devotion to two of her heroes, Walsh and Butterfly Hill. “I still feel like I want to say something important, but now I have less drive to make a statement with every song I write. I have more of a feeling to just express what’s in my heart.” A good example of that expression would be the sweet love song, “A Little Bit of Heaven.” Also in her heart is a song she’s currently composing with the Children of the World Choir, an international kid’s chorus which promotes peace through music.
There’s no doubt that Hava is going places, both artistically and physically. Recent and future events from her calendar: Party for Peace, a musical event to motivate young people to get involved in the United Nations (Manhattan, April 18); a women’s songwriter circle benefiting Women’s Studio Workshop (Mudd Puddle, New Paltz, May 22, 1pm); Sacred Evenings meditations/drumming with friend Zzi Bellin (Manhattan, ongoing); and a very curious event—she’ll be singing at The Apollo on June 9 in a semi-finalist scenario; winners appear on “Showtime at the Apollo,” which airs each week after “Saturday Night Live.” You know the one—it launched the careers of Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Hava writes about her surreal audition for “Showtime” in detail on www.alizahava.com. She laughs about it with me.
“It was craaaazy!” she exclaims. “So I passed that, and now I’ll be singing at their weekly amateur night; it’s like level two. I have to win to be on the show. I’ve seen it maybe once...it’s really about soul. It’s not pretentious like ‘American Idol.’ People keep saying to me, ‘You should go sing on ‘American Idol.’ Hell, no!” Hava cracks up. “It’s stupid. It’s meant to humiliate people. One of the judges is constantly criticizing everyone. These people act like they’re gods of the music industry. It’s a microcosm of how the industry chews people up and spits them out.”
Hava isn’t seeking a record contract from “Apollo”; she’s just doing it for the fun and experience. “Fame is a double-edged sword,” she says. “People can either become a product of fame and fortune and use it to glorify themselves and their egos, or they can use it for a good purpose. Unfortunately, most famous people have nothing to say, and they walk through life just wearing nice clothes, they have nice houses, they drive fancy cars, whatever. I feel that my music has the capacity to reach people, and that’s what’s important to me. It’s a powerful thing when I affect people, and that’s why I do music.”