Thursday, October 25, 2007

the mennu method celebrates Israel at 60...musically, of course (Part VI)

Trends In Israeli Music (Continued from Part III)

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:

  1. Ktzat Acheret - This album is the quantum singularity around which all the progressive music produced in Israel orbits.
  2. Acharit Hayamim
  3. Sheshet
  4. Shem Tov Levi - Hitorerut
  5. Tammuz - End of the Orange Season
  6. Fourteen Octaves
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. The Platina - The Girl With The Flaxen Hair
Honorable Mention:
  • 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

Some videos:
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

At this point many Americans are aware of Hadag Nachash and Subliminal. They are the darlings of Israeli hip hop who enjoy name recognition and popularity in Jewish communities around the world. Their popularity is deserved and they continue to put out exciting and enjoyable hip hop. Their themes are thought provoking and touch on political and social themes; a kind of "thinking man's rap." Recently they have ranks have been joined by the Fools of Prophecy. The hip hop movement started in Israel in the 1980s most notably with Shabak Samech. In the style of American hip hop which draws from the the popular music of previous eras, Shabak Samech's song "Mekofef Habananot" (The Bender of Bananas) is predicated on Arik Einsteins song of the same name. Recently, I came across a rap-reggae version of Eli Luzon's "Eizo Medina" where the Israeli rapper Ilan Babylon took a classic Mizrahi song about discontent and added a bombastic reggae beat, renewing the song for a younger generation.

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:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

the mennu method celebrates Israel at 60...musically, of course (Part VII)

I think I'm gonna stop writing about this subject now. I would like to spend a little time editing what I've already written, and trying to see if it's coherent.

Here's a picture of my lab where all this stuff was written:

Digging In The Crates

Some random thoughts about random Israeli discs and albums that I have in my crates of music:

Charlie Megira
If surf rock or the 50's come back, Charlie Megira will be way ahead of the game:
Charlie Megira - Dynamite Rock

Kruzenshtern & Parohod
Where does Klez-Core fit into the Israeli music scene? If gypsy is the new punk, as bands like Balkan Beat Box and Gogol Bordello have recently proven, then there might be room for Kruzenshtern & Parohod

Pollyanna Frank
I wish I had a YouTube video for Pollyanna Frank. Their 1990 album, "No Choosing," scored a modest pop hit with a song called "Ziva," which was about a girl named Ziva. In the chorus, the singer tells Ziva that her name is disgusting, then terrible, then nauseating. But hidden in that album is a smart and catchy tune called "Dykes and the Holy War." I should try to get hold of the lyrics.

My Second Surprise
In the section on Israelis who sing in English, I should have spoken about My Second Surprise. I have their 2005 CD "Avoidance As A Way Of Life," and it was in heavy rotation in my playlist from the summer of 2005 until well into the spring of 2006. The song "Meeting's Over" is a terrific example of "spy rock," and it's available for download off their website. They were recently at South By Southwest in Austin, TX. Ayal Nistor, their lead singer and the brain behind the band has recently relocated to San Francisco. I wonder how long it's going to take him to figure out that he probably paid a lot less rent in Tel Aviv. Then again, he and the band could strike it big here: they definitely have the talent.
My Second Surprise - Perfect Cure

My Second Surprise MySpace

Adi Ran
An Orthodox rock and roll singer: the Jews answer to Christian rock.
One of his songs, Atah Kadosh (You Are Holy) is in the movie Ushpizin. The film took place in an Ultra-Orthodox community, where the film maker agreed not only to refrain from filming on shabbat, but also that the film would not be screened in Israel over shabbat. All of the actors in the film were actually Ultra-Orthodox or Haredi as they are called in Israel. It's a really great movie; well worth watching because it gives a realistic window into the Haredi community. I especially enjoyed watching them rock out to Adi Ran.
Reviews of Ushpizin on Rotten Tomatoes

Ehud Banai - City of Refuge
Here's a perfect example of a song that's significant to Israelis, but probably doesn't mean a thing to a broader audience. Here's Ehud doing the song:

And here's Berry Sakharof doing an excellent cover of City of Refuge. It's also got a good video:

Shem-Tov Levi is one of my favorite Israeli artists of all time. It is impossible for me to get sick of his album "Waking Up." For the past three years, I have been trying to get a picture of me seated at Cafe Tamar on Shenkin street in the same pose as Shem-Tov. I would use it for either an album cover or radio show about Israeil progressive music called "Hitkadmut" ("Progress") a spin on Shem-Tov's "Hitorrerut." I enjoy all the project he's been involved with; whether with Ktzat Acheret, Tuned Tone, Arik Einstein or solo. Shem-Tov's musical style includes making the flute a rock and roll instrument. In an interview, Shem-Tov once said that he was inspired when he heard Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull play the flute in rock music. Shem-Tov realized that the flute could be an instrument with
Recently he put out an instrumental album with the Shem-Tov Levi Ensemble called "Stations." Click here for a video of material from the album performed at the Eilat Jazz Festival 2007, and click here to buy the album.

The Mind Church
An odd name for an Israeli band, I will grant you that.
I wish I had listened to more of their material in the past. They are pretty good. I look forward to exploring their catalog further, and possibly getting together with them for a drink.
The Mind Church - Let Me Drink:

Their self titled debut is one of my favorite recent Israeli albums regardless of the gratuitous mention of vomit and menses in the lyrics. The album is lots of fun, particularly the yiddish kazatzka ending to "When Napoleon Conquers Akko." There's also the poor man's lament of "No Baguettes In The Ghetto." It's a totally irreverent album whose lyrics become more disturbing when you focus on them. Their unique polka rock songs are deliberately grotesque, but you can read more about that on their MySpace profile. An example of their bizzareness, the single off their new album.
Habiluim - Bab El Wad 38a

Zingaleh - Peace
I'm not sure where to list this album. They sing in English, but it's progressive Israeli from the 70s. There are all kinds of interesting sounds woven into the music. On the CD there are a few Hebrew songs. Maybe I should add them to the progressive all-time list...

The Witches - Anticipating Another Rapture
Since their lead singer was a suicidal lesbian, the band wasn't going to last forever, but lucky for us, they cranked out a few good albums in the 1990s. Here's a song of theirs in poor quality on YouTube. It looks like someone recorded it off of the television with a camera phone. Oh well, what can you do? It's the internet!
The Witches - The Witches

And here's HaBiluim covering The Witches as a ska/polka/punk version:

The Apples
A guitarist, drummer, double bassist, sound guy, two DJs and four man horn section make up The Apples. 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. I can't wait. Here's a video from their second album, Attention!
The Apples - Attention!

The Apples Website

Braad Session
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.
Braad Session Website (with music samples) MySpace

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

the mennu method celebrates Israel at 60...musically, of course (Part V)

Israelis Singing in English

As a general rule, I would suggest that Israeli artists try to limit the amount that they sing in English. That being said, there are a number of Israeli artists who have sung in English at various times for various reasons. In the late 60s and early 70s, Israelis covered some (mostly Beatles) songs, such as Arik Einstein's version of "Here There and Everywhere," which were not too terrible. A beatle-esque song called "To Be Alone" appeared on the "Fourteen Octaves" album by Yoni Rechter and Anver Kenner which is actually quite nice. Covers of English songs or original compositions written in English by Israeli artists can sometimes work out, but Israeli artists run into serious trouble when they try to translate their songs into English. This phenomenon can be exemplified by two bands, Kaveret and T-Slam.

In 1976, Kaveret toured the US following their overwhelming success in Israel. They translated their songs into English and were met with a mostly Jewish audience who were interested in hearing the songs in the original Hebrew. On a similar note, T-Slam, a very successful Israeli band from the 1980s tried to translate their hit song and title track from their breakout album "Loud Radio." While the Hebrew Radio Hazak is awesome, the lyrics and cadence of the English version are severely lacking. (T-Slam also gratuitously covered "Smoking in the Boys Room," which probably shouldn't have been made.)

Many Israeli artist feel that singing in English will allow them to break out into a more international market. Arik Einstein's backup band, The Churchills tried to make it in Europe, although they never caught on, even after they changed their name to Jericho Jones. Their work within Israel was with the most influential artist of their time, but in England, they were just another struggling band trying to make music that fit in with the general sound of the time. There are very few bands that succeeded in the broader music market either in Europe or the US. A notable exception was Minimal Compact, a punk band, which was formed by Berry Sakharof in Amsterdam in 1981. They became popular throughout Europe and their fame grew in 1984 when they were joined by Sakharof's old buddy from Tel Aviv, former Tammuz roadie and original Israeli punk rocker Rami Fortis. Throughout the 80s, the band enjoyed a modicum of success in Europe, and toured the old world from Spain to Japan, but never realized their ambition to tour America because US immigration would not let them into the country. Sakharof is still an influential force in Israeli music, and Fortis' 1978 album, Plonter, is still a powerful listen after all these years.

On the other hand, there are quite a few bands in Israel today who only perform in English. Many are on the independent scene, and seek to break out of Israel and gain broader popularity. Some of these current artists might even make it; the energetic and charismatic Shy Nobleman, and eclectic DJ, MC Karolina. I personally like an album called Chameleon Mood Swing by Lemmus Lemmus, which is end to end psychedelic goodness in the style of Pink Floyd. A Neil Young-like Israeli band called The Flying Baby that exclusively sing in English recently toured the US. Rockfour is a band that actually did make it; initially they sang in Hebrew, but three albums into it they started singing in English and the band now tours the US regularly.

If you happen to be in Israel and are interested in seeing a great live band that sings in English, I have two recommendations. First is Funk'n'Stein, an eight member funk ensemble. Their CD comes with an invitation to a live show, where like any good funk band, they improvise on their songs and take the audience along for a funky good time. The other band is called Southbound Train, or SoBo to those "in the know." SoBo is the resident band at Mike's Place and is fronted by one of the owners Assaf Ganzman. Then again, Mike's place is a live blues bar with locations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and even if SoBo isn't playing, you'll still have a chance to hear some great live music.

To further confuse everything written in this section, check out the song "Hebrew Man" by Ehud Banai. I can't find a YouTube version of it, but I suggest getting his 2004 album, "Answer Me" (Ane Li) which has the "Hebrew Man" as well as other Cannanite blues songs.
Here's a great lesson plan written by Robbie Gringras that uses the song as jumping off point for experiential education.

Shy Nobleman - Baby In the Rain

Same video off of Shy's site. It's a smaller size but better quality.

Rockfour - Astronauts

Trailer for a documentary on Minimal Compact (With English Subtitles)

SoBo, live at Mike's Place in Tel Aviv performing "Girl From Mandalay"

Sobo's Website
Mike's Place Website

MySpace Pages for Israeli Artists Who Sing In English:
Lemmus Lemmus
MC Karolina
Minimal Compact
Shy Nobleman

the mennu method celebrates Israel at 60...musically, of course (Part IV)


Israel is geographically part of Asia, but for three things, it is considered part of Europe: Basketball, Soccer and Eurovision. Eurovision is an annual song contest run by the European Broadcasting Union. Member countries hold contests within their countries to decide who should represent the country in Eurovision. The contest is held in a different country every year, and all member countries vote on a winner. Israel won the event three times; in 1978 with "Abanibi," in 1979 with "Halleluja" and in 1998 with "Diva." Eurovison has always had an overtone of peace and love, and Israel's back to back victories in Eurovision may have been because the European community felt like encouraging Israel in it's efforts to make peace with Egypt at the time. Israel's entry in 2007, called "Push The Button" by Tea Packs, was a rare exception to the peaceful themes usually presented; it is a song about the threat of nuclear attack of Israel by Iran. There was discussion of banning the song from the contest, or possibly censoring the lyrics. Regardless of what the officials of Eurovision thought of the song, Tea Packs' performance in a small club in Helsinki during the week of the contest was packed wall to wall with supporters.

Tea Packs (or Tippex, as they are called in Israel) is an Israeli band from the often shelled city of Sderot. Their lead singer, Kobi Oz, of Moroccan descent, is well known for his eccentric style and looks. The song, "Push The Button" was sung in Hebrew, English and French in order to make the song understood by as many Europeans as possible, and to take advantage of Oz's linguistic skill; French is his native tongue, even though he grew up in Israel.

For more thoughts on Israel's participation in Eurovision see Robbie Gringras' "Eurovisionland," and David Bryfman's list of Israeli Eurovision entrants.

And now the videos:
Abanibi - Yizhar Cohen: Eurovision Winner 1978
(Check out Yizhar's "Off-The-Wall-Like-Michael-Jackson-In-The-70's Jewfro.")

Halleluja - Milk and Honey: Eurovision Winner 1979
Check out the fancy choreography!)

Diva - Dana International: Eurovision Winner 1998
(Notice the background singers are not anywhere near Dana. That's because they were born as women, as opposed to Dana who was born a man.)

Push The Button - Tea Packs

Sunday, October 21, 2007

the mennu method celebrates Israel at 60...musically, of course (Part III)

Trends in Israeli Music

Israel: A Tough Market

Israel is a small country where even when the population is at it's largest, there are only about 5 million Jews living there. That's a rather small market for Israeli musicians. Out of those 5 million, there's a good amount of people who are Haredi or Ultra-Othodox, who don't listen to any kind of Israeli pop music. Most Israeli musicians, like their peers in other countries, earn most of their income by touring, rather than from record sales, but there is a limit to how much touring a band can do within Israel. Given that the country is so small the population tends to get very close to the local artists, so it creates a feeling of family; for better and for worse.

The Israeli public is often starved for new talent, and will embrace new artists with open arms. For the first forty years of Israel's existence, the broadcast media options were limited to those run by the state. Until the 1980s, Israel had only one television station, and a few radio stations. For an artist to get any kind of recognition, they would need to get some airtime somewhere. One of the advantages of having few media outlets, was that the whole country would watch the same TV shows. Today, there are cable and satellite networks in Israel, there viewers have their choice of what to listen to, but in the 70s and 80s anything that was on television could be the subject of conversation the following day. An artists first appearance on a variety show would indelibly color the way that artist would be perceived throughout their career.

A major difference between the way Israelis and Americans listen to music, is the Israelis like to sing along. Think about your own personal experiences: have you ever asked an Israeli if they know a particular song, and their response has been to sing a few bars of it? While Americans may do their share of foot stomping, snapping and clapping, Israelis prefer to sing along. Israelis will not be deterred by a lack of vocal talent, tone deafness, and certainly not by a lack of familiarity with lyrics. In fact, I've heard Israelis sing along with English songs where the original lyrics have been replaced by totally plausible English words which don't exactly bind together into coherent sentences. Israelis will even mangle the Hebrew lyrics to songs, but like any creative endeavor, who's to say that's a negative thing?

While I will try to focus on genuinely good Israeli music, the pop charts have, like in the US and UK, often been dominated by flash in the pan artists, whose hype was never accompanied by actual talent or quality. The most clear example of undeserved popularity in Israeli music is the band Noar Shulayim (Juvenile Delinquents) whose title track "Draw Yourself A Mustache" was the number one song in Israel in 1990. The track has an annoying high pitched chorus, which may have been fun to listen to at the time, but can really grate on the ears today. I guess you had to be there at the time. Thankfully the band broke up in 1991 after three albums; I don't think anyone is going to line up for a reunion concert.

1950s through the late 1960s

In the 1950s, Israeli music was still dominated by folk traditions of Eastern Europe. Many of the songs were patriotic, or idealistic, and designed for sing-alongs or Army bands. Israeli bands were slow to develop, primarily because Israelis are drafted into the army during their prime rock and roll years. Many aspiring musicians would forget their musical ambitions when in the army unless their pre-army talent merited them a spot in one of the army bands. Those selected into army bands would be able to get a start on their career while still in military service. In fact, many alumni from the army bands went on to have long illustrious careers in Israeli music such as Yoram Gaon, Chaim Topol, Uri Zohar, Yossi Banai, Arik Einstein, Chava Alberstein, Shalom Hanoch, Gidi Gov, Danny Sanderson, and more recently Dana Berger and Tomer Sharon. The military bands in Israel, unlike those in the US, were not marching bands and didn't glorify combat or war, rather they entertained exhausted troops with music that would appeal to the average soldier during his service and raise his spirits, at least for a night.

During the early years of the state, the government controlled radio regulated the music that was broadcast, and in some cases, tried to keep out what they felt was a bad influence. At the same time that American Vice President Spiro Agnew was trying to keep the Beatles out of the US because they were a "bad influence" the Israeli Ministry of Culture also banned The Beatles from Israel. It is a credit to Israel as a democracy that this regulation would not last. By the late 60's Israel was caught up in the global rock and roll revolution. Many Israeli artists were influenced by The Beatles and some covered Beatles songs in English, or modified them into Hebrew versions. Israeli music started going through a transformation in the 60s; bands started playing with electric guitars, and the language of the music became more colloquial, rather than the literary form of Hebrew used in the early years of independence.

As someone who grew up on rock and roll, it's difficult for me to relate to some of the early music in Israel. A lot of the music features the accordion as a prominent instrument, a holdover from the pre-state pioneer days, and the early settlement of the land by olim from Eastern Europe. Shir the Hebrew word for poem is also the Hebrew word for song, and during the 50s and early 60s, the lyrics of Israeli songs sounded more like poetry than rock songs. Some of the songs also had stringy and percussive orchestral productions which sounded a lot like the soundtracks to Broadway shows. But by the late 60s this would all change, and Israelis would embrace the rock and roll revolution going on throughout the western world at the time. The accordion was abandoned for the electric guitar, bass and keyboard, and the language of the songs became more colloquial.

(...article will be continued...stay tuned...)

Lehakot Tzahal: The Military Ensembles

The Israel Defense Forces has a number of bands that entertain soldiers during their military service. The IDF bands are not like the military bands of other countries, like the US and Russia, in that they don't play marching band music. Instead, these bands perform original music and comedy sketches, and are incubators of Israeli musical talent. When rock and rollers in the rest of the world are dreaming of greatness, their Israeli peers are being drafted into their compulsory military service. Promising young artist do their best to get into the highly competitive army bands. Serving in an army band can often help young artists begin their careers in music. Some of Israel's most popular entertainers got their start in the military, like Yoram Gaon, Chaim Topol, Uri Zohar, Yossi Banai, Arik Einstein, Chava Alberstein, Shalom Hanoch, Gidi Gov, Danny Sanderson, and more recently Dana Berger, Achinoam Nini and Tomer Sharon.

In the 1950s the IDF began setting up bands in the various combat units. The most popular and successful band was Lehakat HaNachal. The other bands were from Central, Northern and Southern Command, The Air Force and The Navy. In the early years of the army bands, the music was primarily folk music with a preponderance of accordion music. The state and the army understood the propaganda value of having such bands, and some of the themes that they sang about were related to army operations, like "Givat Hatachmoshet" (Ammunition Hill) by Lehakat Pikud HaMerkaz which tells the story about the difficult battle in 1967 to conquer Ammunition Hill on the northern side of Jerusalem. Some songs were anthems for the various fighting units, like "Carnival BaNachal" by the Nachal Band, and "Shiro Shel Tzanchan" (The Paratroopers Song) by Lehakat Pikud HaMerkaz. The sound of the army bands changed with the times. In 1969, Danny Sanderson and Alon Oleartchik joined the Nachal Band, and replaced the outdated accordion with an electric guitar and bass. The themes of the songs also changed, which can be typified by "Shir Hashalom" (The Song of Peace) which was written by Yankale Rotblitt in 1969. The song was about a yearning for peace and it started a controversy in the army bands: commanders feared that it would lower the morale of soldiers, and Rechavam Zeevi, the commander of the Central Command forbade the performance of the song, and insisted that the Nachal change the name of their music and comedy revue from "Go In Peace" to "In Support of the Nachal in the Sinai."

The golden age of these bands was the period of time between the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. The army bands didn't just entertain soldiers on the bases, but they also performed for the civilian public, and produced and recorded albums, some of which produced hit songs on the radio. In 1978, a film called "haLehaka" (The Band) hit Israeli theaters. It was loosely based on the Nachal Band and depicted the difficulties faced by the new recruits particularly in their relationships to the veteran soldiers. That movie is currently enjoying a revival as an Israeli musical stage show currently running in Tel Aviv. Also in 1978, Rafael Eitan, the IDF Chief of Staff, dissolved the army bands, because he claimed they didn't serve the purpose for which they were created, namely, to entertain the troops wherever they may be. In it's place, Eitan created an army orchestra, which would play at official army functions, and was more similar to Red Army Orchestra. In 1985, the army bands were reinstated, but by then the musical style in Israel changed. The Israeli public was no longer interested in the nostalgic "songs of the Land of Israel" or light pop ditties, so the army bands started playing cover songs from well known artists. Although the army bands still exist, they are no longer the cultural force they were in the past.


Kaveret was the most popular Israeli rock band of the 1970s, and its members continued to influence the sound of Israeli music throughout the 80s and 90s. They are considered the first commercially successful Israeli rock band. Their melodic style and sense of humor helped their debut album, "Poogy Stories" sell an unprecedented 70,000 copies. Although they only recorded three albums, "Poogy Stories," "Poogy in a Pita," and "Crowded in the Ear," many of their songs, such as "Yo-Ya" and "The Makolet Song" remain popular among Israelis and are even familiar to Jews throughout the Diaspora.

The core of the band, Danny Sanderson, Gidi Gov and Alon Oleartchik served and played together in the Nachal Band. Upon their release they formed a band with the intention of writing rock operas. Soon after the band was formed, their sound would be rounded out by the addition of former Churchills guitarist Yitzchak Klapter and composer/keyboardist Yoni Rechter. In 1973, the band started working on "Poogy Stories," a collection of songs and comedy skits that would eventually become their first album. Their skits and songs began to appear on the radio, and in September 1973, Kaveret was named band of the year by Galei Tzahal radio. While in the middle of a successful tour, the Yom Kippur war broke out and the band members were called into reserve duty to perform for the troops. During their Yom Kippur War concerts the band wrote "Yo-Ya," an upbeat song comprised of a few short stories that would be one of the band's biggest hits.

In 1976, after releasing their third album, Kaveret decided to try their luck out on the American market. They translated their songs into English, but from their first American concert, they were met by an overwhelmingly Jewish audience who insisted that the band perform their songs in Hebrew. Difficulties on the road, and mounting creative and interpersonal conflicts among the band members led to their breakup after their American tour. The band members went their separate ways, except for Gidi Gov and Danny Sanderson who, in 1978 formed another band, called Gazoz. The original members reunited for a few live concert tours. In 1984 their tour included a free live outdoor concert in Park Hayarkon in Tel Aviv. In 1998 they performed to celebrate Israel's 50th anniversary, and the 25th anniversary since the release of Poogy stories. In 2000 they quickly set up a concert, but this time it was to raise money for urgent surgery which was needed by Klapter. The operation was a success.

We Are The World

Remember the 80s? Remember when USA for Africa recorded "Do They Know It's Christmas?" How about "We Are The World?" Well, Israel did something similar. In 1985 they had a song called "One Nation With One Song." Lame and cheesy. Here's the video:

But at the same time, a comedian named Tuvia Tzafir did a spoof of the song where he played the entire Israeli government. In the mid-80s, Labor and Likud formed a coalition government, but the condition was that they would rotate the prime minister position, so Shimon Peres and Yitzchak Shamir served as prime minister for two years each. The Hebrew term for it was "rotatzia." Anyways, here's the spoof video "One Nation With One Minister," where Tzafir plays, in order of appearance: Shimon Peres, Yitzchak Shamir, Abba Eban, Ariel Sharon, David Levy, Yitzchak Rabin, Yosef Burg, Plato-Sharon, Rabbi Shapira and Menachem Begin.

Ahh funny.

So now, all I have left to write about is:
-shlomo artzi
-mizrahi music (past and present)
-progressive rock of the 70s
-hip hop
-independent music