Tetyana Amirova always dreamed of having a Jewish name and asked a rabbi in Kyiv to change it to Golda when she was 22. Her Israeli passport bears both names.
Golda was born in Odesa 30 years ago to an Ashkenazi mother and a Mountain Jew father. She says Odesa is a city “with an incomparable charm” but two months after war broke out in Ukraine she made aliyah with her grandmother, her aunt, her uncle and her cousin, leaving her parents and her brother behind.
“It’s incredibly hard to leave a place where you were happy,” she says. “The doors of our home were never closed. Guests could come at any time of the day or night, so my grandmother was always busy in the kitchen, mostly preparing Jewish dishes: stuffed fish, latkes, and broth with matzo balls… My entire childhood unfolded in that kitchen.”
But Golda’s childhood wasn’t all about food. “My musical abilities manifested early on. I first performed on stage when I was three but in my family, no one had ever pursued music professionally; only my father played the guitar occasionally. At the age of five, I was enrolled in the Stolyarsky music school. My father wasn’t fond of the idea of me becoming a singer, so I studied piano. However, I always sang when I got the chance, at school concerts, holidays, and other events.”
She graduated from music school with honours and entered the music academy in Kiev.
Fast forward to 2019 and Golda appeared on Holos Krainy, the Ukrainian version of The Voice. “I submitted an application to the competition twice, but sadly I wasn’t accepted. On my third attempt, I chose to sing a Jewish song, Bei Mir Bist Du Shein – my grandmother’s favourite tune. Singing in Yiddish, the language of my ancestors, filled me with inspiration. That song turned out to be lucky for me and became my hallmark. I will always remember the support I received from Jewish viewers of the show.”
She reached the final and then launched her solo career. Suddenly life was a merry-go-round of rehearsals, concerts, tours, recording tracks and shooting music videos.
A few months after living in Israel she decided to shake things up and spend some time in London. “My older brother studied in London, and when I first visited him, I instantly and earnestly fell in love with the city. Before the war, I never planned to move anywhere, but now I am very glad to be right here. London has a special aura, and it is also one of the centres of the world’s musical culture. This city supports and inspires me.”
Golda lives in St John’s Wood and is part of the Ukrainian refugee community in London. She has also forged close ties with Chabad.
Her days begin with a glass of water, meditation and checking on her family. “Each morning, I write down my dreams in a journal as if they have already come true. I do vocal warm-ups and I aim to practice yoga daily, though it doesn’t always happen. Then starts the active part of my workday – calls, meetings, negotiations, rehearsals, and English, Hebrew, and dance classes.”
Last November Golda brought her very special mix of jazz, soul, pop, and Jewish cantillation to a sell-out show at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill. “In any country and under any circumstances, I remain a singer. I believe in the power of art. It can convey suffering better than words and has the ability to heal and empower. Producer Alexandrina Markvo, who stages large projects in London with stars like Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Osipova, has assembled a remarkable international team. Together, we conceived the musical GOLDA: A Musical Story of Love, Loss and Resilience, which tells partly my story and partly the story of all the people whose lives were shattered by war. Some people in the audience cried because they saw a reflection of their own experiences on stage.”
Next week Golda is appearing in a solo concert at the Clapham Grand, performing jazz interpretations of key Jewish songs such as Shma Israel, Am Israel Chai and Hatikva.
She has done a concert tour in America with a programme featuring Jewish jazz, and has also performed in Canada, Italy, France, and Switzerland and Israel. “Israel is my second home, so when I sing there, it doesn’t feel like a tour to me. In Ukraine I had the privilege of singing for President of Israel Isaac Herzog during his state visit in 2021.”
Golda has always proudly proclaimed her Jewish identity. “In Ukraine I worked to popularise Jewish musical culture and aimed to introduce it to as many people as possible. I consistently felt support and approval from both Jewish and Ukrainian audiences. I could have never anticipated encountering such a terrible resurgence of antisemitism in the world since October 7.
The terrorist attacks occurred during rehearsals for GOLDA. “Suddenly, our performance took on new significance. It became not only about Ukraine but also about Israel. In the second act, there’s a song in which a girl mourns her beloved who perished in the war. I sing it in two languages – Ukrainian and Hebrew.”
The girl with the Jewish name has not forgotten her roots.
Favourite meal? Chicken broth, chicken with mashed potatoes, and Israeli salad with tahini.
Favourite tv show? The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Favourite Jewish festival? Yom Kippur (I always feel liberated and purified after the fast).
Favourite restaurant in London? Mazal (kosher) Camden Town for the best Israeli shawarma.
Favourite season? Summer in Tel Aviv.
If you could perform with anyone, who would it be? Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Marina Maximilian, Omer Adam.
GOLDA Live is at Clapham Grand 31 January 2024.Jewish News readers can get 30% discount on tickets using code jewishnews30. claphamgrand.com
GOLDA: A Musical Story of Love, Loss and Resilience will be at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in March. trh.co.uk
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