Of Yemenite Jewish ancestry, Haza was born the youngest of nine children in the poor Tel Aviv neighborhood of Hatikvah (meaning "hope" in Hebrew). She became an instant local, then national, success story, the subject of great pride for many Israelis of Yemenite origin.
Her voice has been described as mezzo-soprano, of near-flawless tonal quality, capable of lending itself to a variety of musical styles with apparent ease.
Inspired by a love of her Yemenite-Jewish culture, the appeal of her musical art quickly spread to a wider Middle Eastern audience, somehow bridging the divide between Israel and the Arab countries. As her career progressed, the multi-lingual Haza was able to switch between traditional and more commercial singing styles without jeopardising her credibility. The music, too, fused elements of Eastern and Western instrumentation, orchestration and dance-beat. Success was to follow in Europe and the US; during her singing career, she earned many platinum and gold albums.
At the age of twelve-and-a-half, Haza joined a local theatre troupe, and manager Bezalel Aloni spotted her exceptional singing talent. He staged many of his productions around Haza as the centrepiece and later on he became her longtime manager and mentor. At the age of 19, she was Israel's first pop princess and retrospectively, music journalists described her as "The Madonna of the East".
By the time she had completed her military service in 1979, Aloni's protégé had matured as a singer and was ready to launch a solo career.
Her first album, entitled Al Ahavot Shelanu (Our Love), was released in 1980 and yielded a string of popular radio hits, including "Hageshem" (The Rain), "Shir Ahava La'chayal" (Love Song For The Soldier), "Kmo Tzipor" (Like A Bird) and what ultimately became her signature song in her homeland, "Shir Ha'frecha" (The Bimbo Song). The latter was written for the film Shlagger (1979) in which Haza played a leading role. At first, radio stations across the country refused to play the song due to its explicit lyrics but it quickly climbed the charts and reached #1, where it stayed for five consecutive weeks.
A second album soon followed, Bo Nedaber (Let's Talk), which included the hugely popular hits "Tfila" (Prayer) and "Simanim Shel Ohavim" (Lovers Signs).
Her third album, Pituyim (Temptations) came out in 1982 and enjoyed equal success with such hits as "Gabriel" and "Kol Yom Matchila Shana" (A New Year Starts Everyday). With this album, more well-known writers agreed to write her songs, including Tzvika Pick and Nurit Hirsh.
In 1983, Haza's career jumped to a new level of success and popularity. At the Eurovision Song Contest, she came in a close second to the Luxembourg entry with the song "Chai" (Alive). Her popularity in Israel reached enormous heights. Her 1983 album, Chai, became her biggest-selling album to date and the title track was voted the #1 song of the year. Author and historian John Kennedy O'Connor notes in The Eurovision Song Contest - The Official History that Haza's performance of this song was highly symbolic as it contains the lyric "Israel Is Alive". As the contest was held in Munich, Germany, the scene of the 1972 Olympic's massacre, there was considerable patriotism involved with the Israeli entry. Additional hits from the album included "Amen Lamilim" (Amen For Words) and "Sof Hakayitz" (End Of Summer). Haza was voted "Female Vocalist Of The Year" four years in a row, from 1980 through 1983. Later that year, Haza released Shirey Moledet which consisted of her renditions of well-known Israeli folk songs. Public response was so overwhelming, she went on to release two more volumes (in 1985 and 1987).
Bait Ham (A Place For Me) was released in 1984 and included such hits as "Yad Beyad" (Hand In Hand), "Itcha Halayla" (With You Tonight) and the title track. The album quickly went gold. In December that year, Haza released what was to become the turning-point of her career, a collection of Yemenite songs, simply titled Yemenite Songs. Despite lukewarm radio airplay, the album went on to become a best-seller, quickly reaching platinum status. This LP was reissued in the United States by Shanachie Records under the title Fifty Gates of Wisdom. The album Adama (Earth) followed in 1985 and saw the top writers in the country contribute to the album: Sasha Argov, Naomi Shemer, Ya'akov Orland and Ehud Manor, among others. The album produced the enormously popular hits, "Adama", "Goral Echad" (One Destiny) and "Mishehu Holech Tamid Iti" (Someone Always Walks With Me).
In 1986, Haza tried to update her sound and gathered with acclaimed producer Yizhar Ashdot to create what some consider to be her most interesting work, Yamim Nishbarim (Broken Days). The album had an edgy rock sound and the lyrics were deep and personal and written by Haza herself, a first. The album went gold and produced the hits "Kol Haklafim" (Open Your Cards), "Bo Ve-Nagen Oti" (Come and Play Me) and "Hake'ev Haze" (This Pain).
When asked about her musical roots in an interview on KCRW-FM radio (1993, Santa Monica), Haza spoke of her Yemenite Jewish parents, a childhood filled with music and singing and a passion for traditional Yemenite songs, picked up from her mother. Questioned about the theatre troupe, she spoke of poverty and the total neglect of successive governments for the Hatikvah region; and how, by way of protest, the community had rallied to create something positive and dramatic, which would make others sit up and take notice of a forgotten neighbourhood. Throughout the interview, Aloni can be heard in the background, adding information and correcting Haza about her age (by subtracting two years), when asked about her first album.
Her greatest international recognition came with the single "Im Nin'Alu", taken from the album Shaday (1988), which won the New Music Award for Best International Album of the Year. The song topped the Eurochart (Europe's equivalent to the American Billboard charts) for two weeks in June that year and was on heavy rotation on MTV channels across the continent. For years to come, this song would be extensively re-released, re-mixed and sampled, for example on Coldcut's remix of Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full." The single made only a brief appearance in the UK top 40 singles chart, but became a dancefloor favorite across Europe and the USA, topping the German charts for nine weeks. Subsequent singles were also given the dance-beat / MTV-style video treatment, most notably, "Galbi", "Daw Da Hiya" and "Mata Hari", but none quite matched the runaway success of her first hit. "Im Nin' Alu" would go on to be featured on an in-game radio playlist of the video game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, released in 2005.
Kirya (co-produced by Don Was) received a Grammy nomination.
In 1994, Haza released her first Hebrew album in seven years, Kol Haneshama (The Whole Soul). Though not an initial chart success, the album produced one of her biggest hits to date, "Le'orech Hayam" (Along The Sea). The song did not have any substantial chart success upon its release to radio but became an anthem after Haza performed it on the assembly in memorial to deceased Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a week after he was assassinated. Radio stations around the country started playing it and people took notice. Its lyrics became even more symbolic following Haza's own death in 2000.
Her collaborative work with internationally established acts included the single "Temple of Love (Touched by the Hand of Ofra Haza)", recorded with the Leeds-based band The Sisters of Mercy in 1992. Thomas Dolby co-produced Yemenite Songs and Desert Wind, where he was also a guest musician. Haza guested on Dolby's album Astronauts And Heretics (1992), singing on the track "That's Why People Fall In Love". She recorded "My Love Is for Real" with Paula Abdul in 1995 and on Sarah Brightman's album Harem, Haza's vocals were included on "Mysterious Days", thanks to an idea by Brightman's partner Frank Peterson (ex-Enigma), who produced both Harem (2003) and the album Ofra Haza (1997).
For the Kirya album, Iggy Pop, a friend of Don Was, performed the narration on "Daw Da Hiya" and Haza joined him and a host of other stars for the video and single release "Give Peace A Chance" in 1991. She also sang on the soundtracks of Colors (1988), Dick Tracy (1990), Wild Orchid (1990), Queen Margot (1994) and The Prince of Egypt (1998). In The Prince of Egypt, she voiced the small role of Yocheved, as well as singing "Deliver Us". For The Prince of Egypt's soundtracks, Haza sang the song "Deliver Us" in 17 of the 21 languages (Czech - "Tak vyveď nás", Dutch - "Verlos ons, Heer", English - "Deliver Us", Finnish - "Johdata", French - "Délivre nous", German - "Erlöse uns", Greek - "Eleftheri", Hebrew - "Hoshiana", Hungarian - "Szabadíts", Italian - "Ascoltaci", Norwegian - "Befri Oss", Polish - "Uwolnij Nas", Portuguese - "Liberte Nos", Spanish - "Libranos", Swedish - "Befria Oss"). On the soundtrack of The Governess (1998), Haza is the featured singer on seven of the twelve tracks and worked closely with film music composer Edward Shearmur. In 1999, she performed (together with late Pakistani artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) the track "Forgiveness", on the contemporary symphony album The Prayer Cycle by Jonathan Elias. As a featured background vocalist, Haza's voice has been recorded, re-mixed or sampled for Black Dog's "Babylon" single, Eric B and Rakim's "Paid In Full (Coldcut Remix)" and for the M/A/R/R/S hit "Pump Up The Volume". The single "Love Song" has been re-mixed by DJs many times, its powerful vocal performance and comparatively sparse musical arrangement making it the perfect vehicle for a dance-rhythm accompaniment.
There were many distinguished live performances and Haza spoke with fond memories of her visits to Japan and Turkey. Notable too, was her performance at the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo, where she appeared alongside Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor. "Paint Box" was written specially for the event. Her 1990 live recording, Ofra Haza At Montreux Jazz Festival was released in 1998.
Haza shared duets and concert performances with Glykeria, Yehudit Ravitz, Paul Anka, Paula Abdul, Michael Jackson, Iggy Pop, Hoite, Buddha Bar, Ishtar, Gidi Gov, Whitney Houston, Tzvika Pick, Khaled, Prachim Yerushalaim, The Sisters of Mercy, Sarah Brightman, Thomas Dolby, Stefan Waggershausen, Eric B and Rakim, Gila Miniha, Hans Zimmer, Hagashash Hachiver, Yaffa Yarkoni and Shoshana Damari.
At the fall of 1999, Haza recorded new material for a new album that she worked on with Ron Aviv, a music producer from Petah Tikva.
After Haza's death was announced, Israeli radio stations played non-stop retrospectives of her music and Prime Minister Ehud Barak praised her work as a cultural emissary, commenting that she also represented the Israeli success story – "Ofra emerged from the Hatikvah slums to reach the peak of Israeli culture. She has left a mark on us all".
In December 2007, Israel's Channel 10 disclosed previously confidential medical records affirming that Ashkenazi contracted the virus between 1992 and 1993 and Haza contracted the disease between 1995 and 1997. The two met in 1996.
On 22 March 2007, the Tel Aviv Jaffa Municipality and the Tel Aviv Development Fund renamed part of the public park in the Hatikva Quarter to Gan Ofra (Ofra's Park) on the seventh anniversary of her death, in honour of Haza. The park is placed at the end of Bo'az street where Haza's childhood home was built. The designated area features a children's playground, symbolizing her love for children and the old quarter where she grew up and always came back to.