Listen for just a few beats. It’s easy to be drawn into singer- songwriter Franciska Kay’s bouncy, infectious upbeat music video “Shiru l’Hashem,” shot on a beach under a crystalline blue sky with a troupe of white-clad dancers. Kay (Freydie Kosman), in white and gold lace with a gold and turquoise headpiece, wields a staff and sings astride a horse and on the beach playing a tambourine.
This might sound like a typical pop-music video, but Kay’s tunes, original compositions, are all set to ancient Hebrew texts. “Shiru l’Hashem,” based on Exodus 15: 20-21, tells the story of Miriam, sister of Moses, hurriedly leaving Egypt.
“She grabbed the tambourines and the musical instruments and the women followed her,” Kay said. “She knew there was going to be redemption and miracles were going to happen, and they were going to have to sing praises to God.”
Kay, 25, dedicated the video to “all the past, present and future Jewish female leaders.” About halfway through the video, images of nine well-known Jewish women appear, from former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to poet and paratrooper Hannah Szenes, to writer Gertrude Stein and actress Gal Gadot.
“It shows leadership, it shows female empowerment,” Kay said. “Because I sing Jewish texts, I feel responsible to sing about the things that will empower women and show women that we have what it takes.”
Kay seems to have what it takes to be successful in the admittedly challenging niche music field she has chosen. And she doesn’t seem daunted by the task of bringing ancient texts to young people through new, ear-catching music.
Growing up in Moscow, Kay began formal piano study at 6, also studied classical guitar and traveled internationally with the children’s choir and dance ensemble Ilanit. She began teaching piano at about age 13 and attended Touro Lander College for Women in New York, majoring in business. She settled in Baltimore, in Upper Park Heights, for a time, where she met her husband. They recently moved to Bala Cynwyd, Pa., near Philadelphia, but the couple returns often to observe Shabbos at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Pikesville. She recently performed at the Baltimore Shabbat Project’s Women’s Challah Bake. In between writing music and producing albums and podcasts, she performs live, but only before all-female audiences because she observes kol isha.
I have composed ever since I was a little girl. We would learn Jewish texts my mother would teach us or that we were learning in school. And my mother would suggest to the teacher when we had artistic projects that I choose a parshah, or a text, that I connected with and write a melody to it. That’s how I began to write.
Why Bible texts?
Just because David or Moses lived a couple thousand years ago doesn’t mean that the music to those words should sound 2,000 years old or even 300 years old. It’s the new music, the new sound, to what people want to dance to and sing to today.
When did you start producing albums?
I started in 2012 and have been putting out one a year. I have five albums: “Echad,” “Adon Olam,” “Misheberach,” “Libi Bamizrach” and “Kol Haolam.” I’m always working on another album. I already composed five songs toward my next one. My goal is 10 albums and to create a nourishing environment that can help other artists. That’s a long-term goal.
I’m still developing the Reinvention Tour. It should be ready by Chanukah time. I’m in the process of trying to book things. People have expressed interest from New York, Canada, Cleveland, London, L.A., Baltimore and Philadelphia. One of my hopes and dreams is to build a record label to provide resources and have real management for people. Everyone is doing this out of pocket right now. I feel like this is a revolution, like things are happening and there is a market evolving. I enjoy my work. It’s my passion, what I’m meant to do. It gives me tons of encouragement, and I’m really hopeful. And I believe in our community and the Jewish women’s market and that they will eventually support this somehow. I love what I do, that’s why I keep doing it.