Singer-songwriter Susan Devor Cogan was part of a duo whose early hit songs, recorded more than four decades ago, still get airplay on Israel’s radio and television stations.
After her early success in Israel as part of the folksinging duo Susan and Fran, Cogan developed audiences in Canada, the United States and Europe. She has about 10 albums to her credit, some solo and some recorded with Fran.
As the name of her indie label, Nomad Music, suggests, Cogan is somewhat of a wanderer, dividing her time between Salt Spring Island, B.C., which she now calls home; Toronto, the city of her birth, and Israel, where she performs when she’s in Jerusalem.
Cogan rarely performs in Toronto. Last August, she appeared at the Tranzac club in downtown Toronto on her way home from Jerusalem. Cogan said she decided it was time to put on a concert for the Jewish community here.
“I usually sing my own compositions, and mostly English, except in Israel where I sing mostly Hebrew, but I have been thinking for a while now that it is high time for me to combine both for the Toronto Jewish community,” she said.
As her concert venue, Cogan chose the Darchei Noam Reconstructionist Synagogue. “I’ll be singing in the sanctuary – an elegant, modern room with very good acoustics,” she said.
She became aware of the synagogue after seeing her friend, Israeli musician Diane Kaplan, perform there last year. “It had such a lovely, warm ambience it gave me the idea to give a concert there,” Cogan said.
Cogan described her sound as folk fusion – a blend of folk, jazz and blues, with Middle Eastern rhythms. Her music grew out of her roots as a folksinger. At 15, she entertained at Israeli army bases, singing songs made famous by Judy Collins and Joan Baez.
In 1966 when Cogan was 15, her father, John Devor, took his family on a yearlong sabbatical to Israel. Through a friend, she became part of a performing group that toured the army bases on weekends. Back in Toronto at 16, she sang Hebrew songs and played guitar between sets of her uncle Benny Louis’ Big Band. Then in 1969, her family made aliyah.
In 1970, Cogan met her musical partner, Fran Avni, a Canadian who was singing for anglophones in coffee houses in Jerusalem. “We met in a nightclub in old Jaffa, and right away we recognized a very special voice blend and formed the duo,” Cogan said. Their hit songs soon rose to the top of Israeli music charts.
Their most popular song, Tzipor Shniya (The Second Bird) is a standard on Israeli radio today. “It’s as well-known in Israel as The Sound of Silence is in North America,” Cogan said.
Cogan wrote the song Men in the Service for the 1972 Israeli film An American Hippie in Israel. The movie was not released until about five years ago and has become a cult favourite in Israel. Cogan watched it on the Turner Classic Movies TV channel. “It’s very camp. It’s so bad it has charm,” she said.
Susan and Fran’s early success was just the beginning of Cogan’s career, she stressed. “That’s my long-ago history. All these years, I have been recording and performing my own music.”
Cogan hopes to have her latest CD, Nine Goddess Tales, ready for sale at her upcoming show. The album, about living and dying, is based on tales and myths, she said. A video, Boatman, an advance release from the CD, is about crossing over to the other side, a metaphor for death. The mesmerizing video has an otherworldly quality and showcases Cogan’s powerful voice.