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  • Mike Leibsohn

Finding your way through the Israeli Musical scene

I've always been rather diverse in my taste in music; I grew up on the golden oldies and classic rock of my parents, went through my quasi-punk, alt rock phase in high school, and in college I experimented with everything from rap to trance, hard rock, coffeehouse, progressive, new age, classical, whatever. But I've never really been much of a connoisseur in the sense that I didn't know what I was listening to, I just knew if I liked it or not. So when I moved to Israel at the age of 25, I was pretty open to new ideas, to say the least. This rambling is by no means intended to be any kind of list or ranking; it's essentially a trimmed down mini-chapter of my life story where I give some Israeli music recommendations based on my own personal experience. Try it out for yourself, see what sticks.

It just so happens that at the time, my good friend Tzach (aka. the Time Turkey) had just gotten out of the army, and was himself going through an emotionally and musically turbulent stage in life. This was not long after Israeli hip hop artists Hadag Nahash released their fourth studio album, and songs like Shirat HaSticker were bombarding the Israeli populace with vehement social commentary (and criticism) while at the same time bringing people to the dance floors with their vibrant and compelling rhythms. I especially appreciate the way Hadag Nahash is able to attract someone like myself, who doesn't traditionally give hip hop much of a chance; theirs is a unique blend encompassing Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, while their lyrics to this day represent one of the strongest and most vocal artistic outlets of popular opinion on the contemporary Israeli left. They aren't afraid to say what they feel about Israeli society and its many difficulties, like poverty, racial inequality, corporate and political corruption, and more.



A few years into my Aliyah, around the time I began studying in the tour guide course, I decided it was time to get serious about making up for my lack of being a native-born Israeli. I had a lot of big gaps in my cultural knowledge of modern Israeli society; and music was first on the list. I decided to go back a few decades, to when Israel was still a tiny, fledgling nation based mostly in agriculture. Here I encountered the cooing love songs and wistful ballads of Meir Ariel. For me he's very similar to a Bob Dylan character, certainly in his central importance to the development of the Israeli musical identity, but if Bob Dylan had just a little less to be angry about. Meir Ariel is able to combine that same fiercely strong and independent pioneering spirit with a eloquent mastery of the Hebrew language, resulting in lyrics that are emotionally powerful, yet accessible. Ariel conjures up delicious imagery of the Israel we all remember, the Israel of our youth, the Israel we still long for; a true sabra (native-born Israeli).



Most American Jews, definitely the ones who were involved in any kind of Jewish summer camp or youth movement, have had some contact with the music of David Broza. I remember somebody once referring to him as the Israeli Dave Matthews, whom later went on the become my hands-down favorite artist and group. Today, I can say that the two have very little in common, except for crazy insane levels of musical talent. David Broza spent many years living in Spain, and his addictively upbeat guitar riffs reflect a strong Spanish and Flamenco influence. And while Broza sometimes sings in Spanish, sometimes Hebrew, sometimes English, his themes are universal: love, both romantic and for one another, a desire for peace and a brighter tomorrow for all mankind, and the simple beauty found in nature. His songs can bring a whole theater to its feet singing a chorus together, or be found by the fireside, late at night, when there's nobody left standing but you and the music.

Over the years, as I had passing flirtations with various different Israeli artists, genres, and whatnot, I slowly came to the realization that I needed to find an Israeli musician who I could really connect with. I started digging through some of the classics, and some of the greats, and then somehow, can't really say how or when exactly, I hit on Ehud Banai. The first couple songs got me thinking, hey, this is interesting; I like what's going on here. Right away I felt passion and emotion that transcended beyond the words, music that reaches out from deep down in the soul and grabs you with both hands by the shirt and drags you in. Throughout his journey, Banai has dabbled toward the rock side, and toward the folk side, and toward the coffeehouse side, and somehow he's managed to carve out his own comfortable niche in between all of them. A childhood spent first in Jerusalem, then in the suburbs of Tel Aviv afforded him a diverse and flexible world view; despite growing up in the city, Ehud Banai has the heart of a country boy, revealing a love of nature and simplicity and friendship.


For the sake of fairness and open-mindedness, I'm happy to throw out a laundry list of names of other Israeli artists whom I've come across and enjoyed on some level or another. Like I said, what I've written here is only a small part of my small journey, everyone has their own. Israeli music aficionados might either be highly entertained or gravely insulted at the randomness of the following list, but here it goes: Shlomo Artzi, Barry Sakharof, Aviv Geffen, Knesiyat HaSechel, Idan Raichel, Arik Einstein, Shotei Hanevua, Mosh Ben Ari, Chava Albertstein, Shalom Hanoch, Shlomi Shabat, Monica Sex, Mashina, Kaveret, and more and more and more. I'm sure that my handful of household names only scratches the surface of the rich depth of Israeli artistic creativity welling up inside of our kibbutzim and or cities, our desert and our mountains, blah, blah, blah. Go listen to music.