Friday, October 12, 2007

the mennu method celebrates Israel at 60...musically, of course

Israel At 60: Musical Overview

Part I: A Musical Retrospective

A look back at Israeli music can tell us a lot about the country, the national mood, the way Israelis see themselves and the world around them, and most of all, the songs that are at the lips of Israelis as they sing their way through work and play. As Israeli music changed through the six decades of its existence it reflected changes in Israeli society going from the romantic socialism of the early pioneers, rooted in the folk traditions of Eastern Europe, to an international melange of sounds from around the world creating a unique Israeli style of music. Current music in Israel features sounds from the Middle East, the Mediterranean, South America and Africa. There are Israeli forms of jazz, hiphop, pop, reggae, punk, electronic and trance. By following the careers of significant Israeli artists and following trends in Israeli music, Americans can find an access point into the world of Israeli music.

Some artists have had such a great influence on Israeli music, and their careers have been so enduring, that by following them, we can learn more about the country itself. These artists include:

* Arik Einstein: His musical career spans five decades and includes collaboration with many other significant Israeli artists.
* Aris San: A non-Jewish Greek immigrant to Israel whose blend of Greek and Mediterranean sounds opened Israeli music to other styles of ethnic music.
* Shlomo Artzi: A musician whose lyrics spoke about the day to day concerns and anxieties of average Israelis.
* Kaveret: A supergroup whose members would continue to flavor the Israeli music scene for years after the band broke up.
* Mashina: The quintessential Israeli 80s band.
* And more...

There are also a number of trends and institutions that influenced the development of Israeli music. Lehakot Tzahal, or the Army Bands were a proving ground for many aspiring Israeli musicians who would later achieve fame as civilian musicians. The annual Eurovision song contest provided an international stage for Israeli performers and showed that Israel was a peer to European countries that participated in the contest. The progressive rock movement in Israel in the 1970s was influenced by musicians in the United States and Europe, but its expression was uniquely Israeli. Jews from Middle Eastern countries brought their own unique style of music, and while it took a while for their music to be accepted by the rest of the country, it is now a staple of Israeli music. There are also historical and biblical themes in Israeli pop music which represents a reinterpretation of the Jewish tradition for the modern era.

Part II: Current Israeli Music

Israeli music today is full of diversity. There is a growing Israeli hip-hop scene dominated by acts like Hadag Nachash and Subliminal. Ethnic music is blended into the Israeli sound, exemplified in the music of Idan Raichel, which combines pop, Yemenite and Ethiopian music, and has gained popularity around the world. Israeli trance DJs are thought to be the best in the world in their genre. There are also pop musicians like Banot Nechama, Shy Nobleman and MC Karolina who sing in English, seeking to appeal to a broader audience. There's the interesting story of Beit Habubot, a band that was made so popular by Israelis backpacking through India, that they returned to Israel to sold out shows with a crowd that new their lyrics before they officially released an album. Many of today's Israeli musicians take their inspiration from the Israeli rock scene of the previous generations and some are forging new and interesting connections with klezmer, jazz, funk and sampling. And then there are some Israeli rock groups like the Girafot who are just plain good. There is something for everyone in today's Israeli music scene.

Part III: Israeli Radio Online

Many Israeli radio stations now stream their broadcasts online. Galgalatz is a format-free, commercial free radio station with news and traffic on the hour. Kol HaCampus broadcasts from the Israeli Broadcasting School, and is like a college radio station, where the DJs bring unique flavor to their own shows. A comprehensive list of these stations will be provided in the full Israel at 60 package.

Part IV: Shopping for Israeli Music

Whether online or in Israel, there are a number of excellent stores with knowledgeable salespeople to help you find the Israeli music that appeals to you.

Aris San:

In 1957, a young Greek musician named Aristidis Saisanas sailed to Israel, and on his way changed his name to Aris San. He claims to have traveled to Israel in pursuit of a girl who had made aliya. When he arrived in Israel he found out that the girl was already engaged, but he realized that it was no the girl that he loved, but Israel. Another theory is that he left Greece in order to avoid mandatory military service. He started out, at age 17 playing in a Tel Aviv nightclub called Arianna, popular amongst the Salonikian population. By the time he was 20, through the connections he had made in the nightclubs, he had become close to the political leaders of the time, including Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon. Somehow, through these connections, he was granted Israeli citizenship even though he was not Jewish.

At 25 he began singing in Hebrew. His fame continued to grow in the nightclubs and with the cassette vendors who sold their wares in the Central Bus Station of Tel Aviv, but he was frustrated by his lack of airtime on Israeli radio which was dominated by Israeli artists like Yoram Gaon, Chava Alberstein and other Israeli vocalists still playing a folksy style of Israeli music. Then, while playing at the Zorba Nightclub, Aris met Aliza Azikri, a young Israeli singer fresh out of a Tzahal Band. The collaboration provided a tipping point for Aris San, and people would line up out the door of Zorba to catch the new sensation.

After the war in 1967, Aris went out on tour to entertain the troops of his beloved adopted country in all their far flung borders of the newly expanded state. 1967 was a critical year in Israeli music, where other musical influences, like the sound of Mizrachi music crept into the mainstream. Aris began blending Arabic music into his style, which today seems only natural with the likes of Idan Raichel and Tippex topping the charts in Israel. His use of Arabic themes brought suspicion onto Aris. Rumors started spreading that he was a spy. It seemed a bit strange to people that this foreigner seems to have endeared himself to the political establishment, and would perform regularly in the halls of power and on military bases. There was even a rumor that his guitar housed a small camera which he would use to photograph army bases. It was at this point that Aris retreated to the studio and recorded his most popular single, "Sigal." With the tabloids filled with stories of his romantic exploits, and the rumors of his alleged espoinage, Aris started to feel unwelcome in Israel, and in 1969 he left Israel for New York.

Upon arrival in New York, Aris San shaved off his moustache and traded in his trademark plastic framed glasses for tinted oversized gold wire frames and opened up a nightclub called Cirocco. The rest of his life story is similar to a VH1 Behind The Music story with a little mystery at the end. After brief success in New York, Aris fell into trouble with money, drugs and the mafia. He died in the 1990s in Budapest. Only his close friend and manager saw the body, which was allegedly cremated in Hungary, and his ashes are allegedly buried in Flushing, Queens. Some people, have an almost Elvis-like conspiracy theory that he's still alive and has only gone into hiding.

His influence on the Israeli musical scene is profound. By bringing Greek and Mediterranean sounds with him and blending it with Israeli lyrics he would open the door to other types of ethnic music to become part of the cosmopolitan blend that is Israeli music. Yemenite, South American, and even Arabic are part of mainstream Israeli music today. Aris San would pave the way for another Greek artist, Yehuda Poliker, a son of holocaust survivor from Salonika, to put out an album of Greek music with Hebrew lyrics after attaining national stardom with his rock group Benzeen. Even Arik Einstein would do a popular song with a Greek theme to it, Shekshenavo, from his album with Miki Gabrielov. Aris San helped Israeli music find its own identity.

Suggested listening:
Aris San - Yasas Vre Pedia

Aris San Documentary (in Hebrew) in Five Parts on YouTube:

Arik Einstein

Arik Einstein's accomplished career spans five decades from the 1960s until today. Arik's music has accompanied the country throughout most of its history. His songs evoke the Tiny Old Land Of Israel (Eretz Yisrael HaKtana) of the past. He's been entertaining the nation through good times and bad, a deep and familiar voice like a close friend to an entire country. Throughout his long career, his music is always relevant and up to date, incorporating new artists and different influences while keeping true to his own unique style. He's recorded over 500 songs, and 34 albums and has collaborated with many of Israel's premier musicians including Shalom Hanoch, Yehudit Ravitz, Shem Tov Levi, Miki Gabrielov and most recently with Peter Rott. Arik also dabbled in acting and comedy. He was part of an early 70's sketch comedy show called Lool, and appeared in a few Israeli movies.

Arik first started performing with Lehakat Tzahal, and upon his release performed in a band called Green Onions with Chaim Topol (who would later star in the film Fiddler on the Roof). Arik released his first solo album in 1960, a four song EP, after which he performed as a soloist under the stage name Ari Goren. After that he was in The Yarkon Bridge Trio together with Yoram Gaon until 1964, but Arik felt that the music that they were performing was similar to Russian ballads or the Beatles and didn't really constitute a new musical style. During his time with the Yarkon Bridge Trio, Arik still continued to record as a soloist, act and sing in stage productions and on soundtracks. During the 1965 and 1966 song festivals, Arik took first place as a soloist and came in second with the Yarkon Bridge Trio.

Arik put out "I Sing For You," his first full solo album in 1966. It was influenced by jazz and South American music and integrated the sound of an electric guitar on a few of the tracks. He performed a number of Beatles covers, along with other pop favorites like "The Lemon Tree," and "The House of the Rising Sun." But Arik was always looking for new musical influences, and together with Shmulik Krauss and Josie Katz, he would form the first Israeli pop trio, The High Windows. Their song "Yecheskel," a catchy pop tune released in 1966 about the biblical prophet Ezekiel can still be heard on Israeli radio today.

In 1967, Arik met with and started to collaborate with a young musician and writer named Shalom Hanoch. The songs that they recorded appeared on a album released in 1968 called "Mazal Gedi" (Aries). At around this time, Arik's contract with CBS records had expired, allowing him to seek out new business relationships. He started his own production company called Hagar. In the 1969 song festival, Arik's submission came in next to last, and he decided from that point on that he would never compete in the contest again, and beyond that, he would no longer care about market demands or public expectations. Arik was looking for a new band that would accompany both in the studio and in concert and help him develop a new sound. He was introduced to The Churchills, featuring Miki Gabrielov on bass and Chaim Romano on guitar, and together they would record the first Israeli rock album, "Poozy," in 1969. This album featured electric guitars with distortion.

Einstein would continue to develop a unique sound together with the talented group of musician he surrounded himself with. In 1970, he released the film "Shablool" which had clips from their own lives and featured Arik Einstein and Shalom Hanoch as themselves. The film and the accompanying soundtrack were both commercial failures at the time, but they marked a turning point in Israeli music. The upbeat sound was heavily influenced by the international pop scene in general and The Beatles in particular. The language and themes, though, were contemporary Israeli: the lyrics of the songs echoed the way that Israelis spoke at the time, rather than attempt some kind of classic Hebrew poetic style. Einstein and Hanoch wrote the bulk of the tracks either individually or together, and Einstein sang lead vocals with Hanoch accompanying with the exception of "The Deeper The Bluer," where Hanoch sang the lead vocal. Shablool led to the 1970 television series "Lool," a sketch comedy and music show. Later that year, Arik Einstein and Shalom Hanoch released another album called "Plastelina." In the end of 1970, Hanoch moved to England for a brief period of time affording Einstein the opportunity to create new musical connections.

Suggested listening from Shablool:
"What Do You Do When You Wake Up In The Morning?"
"Take Yourself A Wife and Build Her A Home"
"Why Should I Take It To Heart?"
"The Ballad Of Yoel Moshe Salomon"

Suggested listening from Plastelina:
"What's With Me?" (Duet between Arik Einstein and Josie Katz)

After putting out a children's album in 1971, Einstein collaborated with Miki Gabrielov on "At Avigdor's Grass." This album combined rock and roll with romantic music and a Middle Eastern touch. The themes included longing for childhood as seen in the songs, "You and I (Will Change The World)" and "I See Her On The Way to the Gymnasium." The album cover features a picture of Einstein in the place near the beach in Tel Aviv where they used to practice. There were also allegations of drug use in that location, giving the English translation of the album title more significance. Soon afterwards, his backup band, The Churchills set out for England and again, Einstein had to find a new band, and led to brief collaborations with the rock-jazz fusion band The Platina, and later with the psychadelic rock band Apocalypse. When performing with Apocalypse, the first part of the concert would be Apocalypse songs, and during the second half, the band wolud back up Einstein on his songs.

In 1972, the Churchills returned to Israel and Einstein recorded the album "Jasmine" with them. Later that year he would co-star in the Uri Zohar film, "Peeping Toms."

Suggested listening from Jasmine:
"Good To See You Home"
"Mother Earth"

In 1973 Einstein re-recorded some old songs in a collection called "Good Old Land Of Israel." Among the songs were updated versions of "Could It Be That It's Over?" and "Yoel Moshe Solomon." The album was a commercial success and coincided with the fourth Lool TV program. Shalom Hanoch returned from England later that year, and joined Einstein in concert. Hanoch would open the concerts playing solo with his guitar and then would stay on and play with Einstein and his band, with the two of them singing "Why Should I Take It To Heart?" together. The two set out to tour together, but with the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war, both were called up for a half year of reserve duty where they would play at army bases throughout the week, leaving only the weekend to play for the civilian crowd. During that period, Einstein and Miki Gabrielov continued working on new material, the fruit of which was the album "Slow Down." Einstein even managed to find the time to star in Uri Zohar's movie, "Big Eyes." In 1974, Einstein went on tour with Shalom Hanoch who had formed a band together with Ariel Zilber which Einstein named Tammuz. Tammuz would be one of the most influential Israeli bands of the 70s.

Suggested listening from Slow Down:
"Slow Down"
"Big Eyes"

In 1976, Arik Einstein asked Yoni Rechter to engineer his next album. Einstein was impressed with Rechter's work on the album "Fourteen Octaves." Rechter enthusiastically agreed. The result was a short but beautiful album called, "Love Has Many Faces."

Suggested listening from Love Has Many Faces:
"What Do The Deer Do?"

Throughout the rest of the 70's he recorded and performed with some of the up and coming talent on the Israeli music scene including, Avner Kenner, Shem-Tov Levi, Shlomo Yidov, Corinne Alal and Yehudit Ravitz. In 1979, Einstein and Hanoch reunited for another tour, which would include shows in New York and finally end up in Hechal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv.

More suggested listening from Arik Einstein's Albums of the 1970s:
"When There's A Light In Your Window" - Good Old Land of Israel Part II
"Atur Mitzcheh" - Good Old Land of Israel Part III

Suggested listening from Armed With Glasses:
"Tel Aviv (Yarkon 1950)"
"San Francisco on the Bay"

Suggested listening from Sitting On The Fence:
"Sitting on the Fence"
"In Praise of the Samba"

Suggested listening from Time Out:
"He Made Teshuva"

Suggested listening from A Home Loving Man:
"When We Arrive"
"A Home Loving Man"

Arik Einstein

Here's Arik Einstein pretending to be Greek:

Atur Mitzcheh: Arik Einstein with Yehudit Ravitz, Corinne Alal and Avner Kenner:

Arik Einstein in a comedy sketch called the Bible Quiz from Lool: (English Subtitles)

Arik Einstein in a sketch from Lool which shows how each wave of Jews to arrive in Israel viewed the next group off the boat: (Hebrew Subtitles, but most of the sketch is spoken in gibberish.)

Panas HaRechov: Tammuz featuring Shalom Hanoch and Ariel Zilber:

Author's Note:

I've had a lifelong interest in Israeli music which I inherited from my beloved father and his fantastic record collection. This love was only increased when I moved to Israel in 1985. In the late 80s, I was drafted into the IDF and found myself fully immersed in Israeli music. I used to kid my army buddies about the music they listened to, and they would try gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) persuasion, trying to prove that Israeli music had genuine quality and not just the meaning and value that they themselves placed on it.

I recall a bunch of particularly long nights at the Lebanese border where I would be up all night with my commander listening to our little transistor radio to an overnight program called Lo Rotzim Lishon or "We Don't Want To Sleep." By that point I had observed that when Israelis hear a song that they really really like, they make a face that almost looks like they are in pain and then they say something to the effect of, "Yo eizeh shir! Shir gadol! Shir anak!" This translates loosely as, "Whoa! What a song! It's a big song! A HUGE song." My commander was skeptical about my observation, until one night, the DJ on the radio, in his deep overnight Hebrew said, "Uvechen, shir anak, umutzak..." which means "And so, that was a huge and solid song."

I hope that my efforts in this project will expose a wider American audience to the plethora of huge and solid songs that have come out of Israel for the past 60 years.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mennu at Tonga Room

Mennu at Tonga Room, originally uploaded by chicagodust.

Here's a picture of me drinking a Volcano Bowl in the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The place is like two Disney themes at once: The Tiki Room with Pirates of the Carribean; like a Polynesian village near a docked boat. There's a pool in the middle of the bar, and in the middle of the pool is a small ship where undersized Polynesian musicians do live covers of Madonna songs, or at least so I'm told. I don't know about that though, since there was no music there late on Monday night. There were, however, constant indoor rainshowers. Every once and a while some indoor thunder and lightning would be followed up by movie-set rain which would noisily fall directly into the pool. It was playful, interesting and fun.

For more pics, click, here, here and here.

And thanks to Flaggs for helping me amass KNOWledge about SF. It's as though I was born there...