1970s: The Progressive Years
After the rock revolution hit Israel, Israeli artists strove to express themselves by creating a new and unique sound. In the early seventies, Israeli record labels were willing to take a chance on those progressive artists. Many of the albums produced in this era featured beautiful original music, but due to the small Israeli music market, some of the best progressive albums not only didn't find commercial sucess, the bands ended up in the red. A case in point is the brilliant 1977 self titled album Sheshet. The band was comprised of some of some great progressive musicians led by Shem-Tov Levy and fronted by a fresh out of the army Yehudit Ravitz. The band members lost money on the recording, but today it is considered a classic.
Top Ten Progressive Israeli Albums of All Time:
- Ktzat Acheret - This album is the quantum singularity around which all the progressive music produced in Israel orbits.
- Acharit Hayamim
- Shem Tov Levi - Hitorerut
- Tammuz - End of the Orange Season
- Fourteen Octaves
- Sussita - Sussita's 2005 self titled debut is a return to the early progressive movement of the 1970s. Their sound compares favorably with Sheshet and Apocalypse. The tracks are all long complex compositions featuring flutes and accordions, harking back to an earlier era in Israel. The name Sussita is a nostaligic reference to the short-lived Israeli-manufactured fiberglass car called Sussita. The lyrics are poetic, clearly spoken Hebrew which would lose quite a bit in translation. It's worth learning Hebrew to understand their poetry.
- Tuned Tone - With Shem-Tov Levy on keyboards, and Yitzchak Klapter and Shlomo Yidov on guitars, the energy and creativeity on this 1979 album are captivating. I've had the album for a while, but usually gravitated to the title track, and eventually, I felt played out on the album. Recently I gave it a full listen through and fell in love with the album again. "Shir Ahava Bedui" (Beduin Love Song) is so much better in the original than the David Broza cover, although I fear American audiences may only be familiar with the latter. "Yachol Lihioyot Shezeh Nigmar" is a nostalgic tune which I would include as the opening track to this musical retrospective if it were a disc. In fact, in 2006, Shem-Tov Levy redid the song and released it as a single. The title track is a sweet love song. While singing along with it, I was reminded of another charecteristic of Israeli music lovers. As I stated Earlier, Israelis love to sing along. If a song contains "la la las" or "na na nas" or any other non-linguistic vocalizations, it becomes easier to sing along with and possibly more popular in the country.
- Shmulik Krauss - Criminal Record This album was recorded in one take during a two hour session within a 48 hour leave from prison granted to Krauss who was serving time for pointing a weapon at Israeli soldiers trying to evict him from an illegal structure he built. He was joined by guitarist Haim Romano of the Churchills, and drummer Aharon Kaminski of The Platina. My favorite track is an eleven minute long interpretation of The Beatles' "Mother Nature's Son" which in the original is a quiet and gentle song that Krauss turns into a screaming jam.
- The Platina - The Girl With The Flaxen Hair
- Yoni Rechter and Yehudit Ravitz - Now And Forever
- Zingaleh - Peace
- Danny Ben Israel - Bullshit 3 1/4
- Sympozion - Sympozion
- Lord Filmnap - Point of View (The CD contains a song called "Lo Mevin Yoter" (I Don't Understand) which is one of the most beautiful Hebrew songs I've heard.)
- Matti Caspi and Shlomo Gronich - Behind The Sounds
- Yoni Rechter - Intentions
Shem-Tov Levi - B'Leilot HaStav
Matti Caspi and Shlomo Gronich - Picture
The 1980s: Commercial Diversity
By the 1980s, Israeli record companies were no longer willing to allow musicians the same creative latitude that they allowed in the seventies. The eighties were a period of optimism and economic growth in Israel. The music scene in Israel, like in the rest of the world, became more market driven, but a the same time, it became more diverse. During the 80s Mizrahi music entered the mainstream and although it still formed a significant genre on its own, mainstream radio programs started playing Mizrahi tunes in their "top 40" format. Yehuda Poliker is an artist who exemplified some fo the trends of the 1980s. His band Benzeen was a huge success, but during the height of his popularity, Poliker released an album that was close to his heart called "My Eyes." The album consisted of Greek songs in Hebrew, reflecting Poliker's Greek heritage; he is the son of a Holocaust survivor from Salonlika. The album was a commerical success and the songs were played both in the top-40 and Mizrahi radio shows.
The Israeli pop music scene was dominated by Mashina whose songs are still in heavy rotation on Israeli radio. Although some of their songs are strikingly similar to the UK ska group Madness, Mashina developed a recognizable form of Israeli ska. Their albums were all smash hits, and although the band broke up after a productive decade of work in 1995, they reunited in 2003 in order to tour and release their eighth studio album in 2005. Mashina is considered one of the most comerically successful bands of all time, and their albums have sold over 400,000 copies.
The 1990s: A New Crop of Artists
During the 1990s, a new crop of bands and artists emerged in Israel like, Nekamat HaTractor, Ethnix, Tea Packs (or Tippex as they're actually called), The Mind Church, Aviv Geffen, and HaYehudim.
One of the more significant artist of the 1990s was Arcadi Duchin. Duchin never studied music, but by the age of 12 he was already playing keyboards and bass for dance bands in his native Russia. When he made aliya with his family at age 15, he knew that he wanted to pursue a musical career. His band, The Friends of Natasha hit the Israeli music scene by the late 80s, and by the 90s, either with the band or as a solo artist, Duchin helped keep Israeli music vital while continuing the traditions of Israeli rock.
Israeli Hip Hop and Reggae
Israeli reggae is a underrated genre. Two of my favorite Israeli reggae bands are extremely positive in their lyrics and sound: Iyam and Kengeroo [sic]. Iyam has two albums out and they have spread their mellow and peaceful vibe throughout Israel through performing live throughout the country. Kengeroo's music has a positive outlook on both Israel, Zionism and Judaism which they express in a very credible manner. A hidden track on their self titled album released in 2000 is Psalm 75, "Lechu Nera'anena" opening psalm of the kabbalat shabbat service. It is sung in the Yemenite pronunciation with a easy reggae beat. It's one of my favorite things to listen to when I am making last minute preparations before the start of shabbat. Israel lost one of their best dub reggae producers, Haim Laroz, when he recently moved to Australia. His Laroz All Stars album from 2006 is a great ambient reggae album, which can be complemented with the 2003 release called Subconscious, which is a collection of Israeli dub reggae. On Subconscious, Israeli dub reggae producers create a synergy of sounds by combining Middle Eastern and African sounds into dub. One of my favorite tracks on Subconscious is called "Addis Vibes" which has a vocal in Amharic. Although it's not strictly a reggae album, I feel that I should include Braad Session here. Between haircuts, and Israeli hair stylist put out one the finest chill-out discs ever. Chill-out is a genre of electronica popularized in places like Cafe del Mar in Ibiza. In 2003 the first Braad Session came out and it was received so warmly, that at the release party they decided that they would collaborate on another album. Their sound is so soothing and original that I can't wait until they release their second album. Another respectable dub album is Papa Project's "Dub On The Moon," another album that you would not suspect came out of Israel. I would also add Tomer Yossef to this category; his 2006 album, "They Are Laughing Underground," defies categorization, and has elements of hip hop, reggae and pop.
The Israeli music of today is a blend of old and new. Arik Einstein recently released another album, Berry Sakharof continues to be an influence on the musical scene, as are Shalom Hanoch and Shlomo Artzi. Bands that emerged in the 1990s are still active today, like Tea Packs and Ethnix. One of the best bands working in Israel today is Girafot. Their first album, Chatting With The Chair was one of the best albums released in 1999 and came out of nowhere. They really took their time with the follow up album. In 2006 they released "Roof" which contains lyrics about loneliness and depression with excellent rock and roll. Their website is very creative, and their sound will leave you hungry for more.
Idan Raichel is also extremely popular internationally. He combines jazz, rock, Ethiopian and Yeminite sounds into a unique form of music. He regularly tours the United States. I personally find his work to be the stuff of high culture, more suitable for Carnegie Hall, rather than a classic rock and roll venue.
Beit Habubot, "The Dolls House" had an interesting journey into the Israeli mainstream. They did a home studio recording of some material before taking off for a post-army jaunt through India. Other Israeli backpackers got a hold of their music and started copying and circulating it throughout India. When they returned to Israel, their fame preceeded them. In their first concert in Israel, the audience sang along with the band because they knew all the words to the songs.
Israeli DJs are considered to be among the best in the world. DJ Mag, a UK trade publication has listed Israeli trance artists, Infected Mushroom as the ninth most influential electronic artists in the world. Other interesting DJ work can be heard on a recording called "Radio Trip," which is an audio montage of music and sound. Radio Trip is closely associated with The Apples; a guitarist, drummer, double bassist, sound guy, two DJs and four man horn section. In 2003 they released their first album which was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Of particular interest to me was the use of old Hebrew language instructional records as samples on "Zeh Ra'ayon Tov" and the use of a shofar as a musical instrument on "Jewfro." They just returned to Israel after a European tour in order to record a third album.
Other popular artist in Israel today are Aviv Geffen, Miri Masika, Ivri Lider, HaYehudim, Dana Berger, Eyal Golan, Peter Rott, Hadag Nachash, Subliminal and Mookie.
End Of the Orange Season: A Documentary in Hebrew: