The music of Israel is a combination of Jewish and non-Jewish music traditions that have come together over the course of a century to create a distinctive musical culture. For almost 150 years, musicians have sought original stylistic elements that would define the emerging national spirit. In addition to creating an Israeli style and sound. The works of Israeli classical composers have been performed by leading orchestras worldwide.
Music in Israel is an integral part of identity. "Public singalongs were a common pastime, and were for them a force in defining their identity", wrote Nathan Shahar. Jewish immigrants from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere brought with them their musical traditions, melding and molding them into a new Israeli sound.
The first efforts to create a corpus of music suitable for a new Jewish entity were in 1882. This was the year of the First Aliyah, the first wave of Jewish immigrants seeking to create a national homeland in Palestine. As there were no songs yet written for this national movement, Zionist youth movements in Germany and elsewhere published songbooks, using traditional German and other folk melodies with new words written in Hebrew. An example of this is the song that became Israel's national anthem, "Hatikvah. The words, by the Hebrew poet Naftali Herz Imber, express the longing of the Jewish people to return to the land of Zion. The melody is a popular eastern European folk melody.
In 1895 Jewish immigrants established the first Jewish orchestra in the town of Rishon LeZion, and played light classics and marches.
Avraham Zvi Idelsohn, a trained cantor from Russia and a musicologist, who lived in Jerusalem in 1906, with the objective of studying and documenting the musics of the various Jewish communities there. At the time, there were a number of Jewish enclaves in Jerusalem, for Yemenites, Hassids, Syrians and other Jewish ethnic groups. Idelsohn meticulously documented the songs and musical idioms of these groups. Idelsohn was joined by a few more classically trained musicians and ethnomusicologists, including Gershon Ephros in 1909 and, later, Joel Engel in 1924. Like Idelsohn, Engel worked to disseminate traditional ethnic tunes and styles to the general Jewish public.
The Second Aliyah, beginning in 1904, saw an increase in composition of original songs by Jewish immigrants. Among the earliest composers of folk songs were Hanina Karchevsky ("BeShadmot Beit Lehem"), and David Ma'aravi ("Shira Hanoar").
Over the next 30 years, Jewish composers began to seek new rhythmic and melodic modes that would distinguish their songs from the traditional European music. Leaders of this musical movement were Matityahu Shelem ("VeDavid Yefe Eynaim", "Shibbolet Basadeh"), Yedidia Admon ("Shadmati"),the composer Menashe Ravina, Marc Lavry ("Shir Ha-Emek", "Kitatenu Balayla Tzoedet"), Mordechai Zeira ("Hayu Leylot", "Layla Layla", "Shney Shoshanim") and others.
Emanuel Zamir worked in the 40s and 50s in a genre known as "shirei ro'im" (shepherd songs). He combined Bedouin music with Biblical-style lyrics, often accompanied by the recorder.
The movement to create a repertoire of Hebrew songs, which influenced the literature, theater and graphic arts of the period as well as music – was to seek cultural roots of the new Israeli nation in the culture of the ancient Hebrews of the Bible. The characteristics of the new Hebrew style, contended composer Yitzhak Edel, are "remnants of ancient Hebrew music that have struggled to survive the years of diaspora. The Histadrut Labor Union, which, prior to the founding of the state of Israel served many of the functions of a government, created the "Merkaz LeTarbut" (Cultural Center), which published many songbooks, and subsidized the composition of works by Hebrew composers. Public singalongs were actively encouraged. The kibbutz movements distributed songsters and established the singalong as a central daily event in kibbutz life. Public singalongs were also seen as a way of teaching Hebrew to new immigrants from Europe and, later, from Middle Eastern countries. The state radio has also been a powerful force in promoting the Hebrew song, the stations initiate special projects for the preservation of the Israeli song heritage and to encourage the writing and recording of 'authentic' music.
Jewish Yeminite Music
The music of Yemenite Jews was particularly influential in the development of Israeli music because it was seen by early new immigrants as a link to their biblical roots. The music of the ancient Hebrews, wrote the musicologist A.Z. Idelsohn, "is preserved in memory and practice in various Jewish centers. There was a Yemenite Jewish community in Palestine before 1900, and the European pioneers who came in the 1920s were enamored of the Yemenite style. In the 1930s and 1940s, Yemenite singer Bracha Zefira researched and recorded many Yemenite songs, and also sang original compositions in the Yemenite style. An example is the song "Shtu HaAdarim" (Drink, the Flock), with words by Alexander Penn and music by Nahum Nardi.
Aharon Amram became the first to record Yemenite music using instruments from outside its tradition. Among the instruments he accompanied his traditional Yemenite singing with were guitar, violin, qanoun, trumpet, trombone and percussion instruments. Yemenite music reached a world audience in the 1980s as a result of the efforts of Israeli singer Ofra Haza, whose album Yemenite Songs became an international hit with world music fans. Ofra Haza grew up in a traditional Yemenite family who lived in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood. She became famous for singing pop music, but later in her career became something of a cultural ambassador for her community, both in Israel and internationally. Several of her most famous tracks, such as "Im Nin'alu", were reworkings of traditional Yemenite songs, many composed by Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, a medieval poet and mystic whose spiritual and artistic achievements are universally revered in the Yemenite community. Shabazi's poetry dealt with both religious and secular themes, giving Yemenite music a wider lyrical range than many other forms of traditional Jewish music, which tend to be liturgical in nature.
Jewish Misrahi Music
Israeli immigrant communities from Arab countries have over the last 50 years created a blended musical style that combines Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and Israeli elements.The Muzika Mizrahit style is truly spontaneous and indigenous.
The Muzika Mizrahit movement started in the 1950s with homegrown performers in the ethnic neighborhoods of Israel – the predominantly Yemenite "Kerem Hatemanim" neighborhood of Tel Aviv, Moroccan neighborhoods and neighborhoods of Iranian and Iraqi immigrants – who played at weddings and other events. They performed songs in Hebrew, but in a predominantly Arabic style, on traditional instruments – the Oud, the Kanun, and the darbuka. Jo Amar and Filfel al-Masry, were two early proponents of Moroccan and Egyptian extraction. In the 1960s, they added acoustic guitar and electric guitar, and their sound became more eclectic. Vocalists typically decorated their singing with melismaand other oriental-style ornaments, and delivery was often nasal or guttural in character.
Lyrics were originally texts taken from classic Hebrew literature, including liturgical texts and poems by medieval Hebrew poets. Later they added texts by Israeli poets, and began writing original lyrics as well. An example is the song "Hanale Hitbalbela", sung by Yizhar Cohen. The lyrics are by the modern Hebrew poet and lyricist Natan Alterman, to a traditional tune.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, a few of these performers began distributing their songs on cassette tapes. The tapes were an instant hit. They were sold in kiosks in the rundown shopping area around the Tel Aviv bus station, and the music became known derogatorily as "Muzikat Kassetot", cassette music, or "Bus station music". Performers during this period included Shimi Tavori, Zehava Ben and Zohar Argov, whose song "HaPerah BeGani" became a major hit. Zohar Argov, became known as the "King of Muzika Mizrahit"; he became a folk hero, and a movie was made of his life.
The penetration of Muzika Mizrahit into the Israeli establishment was the result of pressure by Mizrahi composers and producers such as Avihu Medina, the overwhelming, undeniable popularity of the style, and the gradual adoption of elements of Muzika Mizrahit by mainstream artists. Yardena Arazi, one of Israel's most popular stars, made a recording in 1989 called "Dimion Mizrahi", and included original materials and some canonic Israeli songs. Also, some performers started developing a fusion style of Muzika Mizrahit, Israeli, Greek, and other styles. These included Ehud Banai, Yehuda Poliker, and Shlomo Bar, whose group "HaBrera HaTivit" incorporated Sitars, tabla, and other Indian instruments to create a new, "World" style.
The acceptance of Muzika Mizrahit, over the 1990s, parallels the social struggle of Israelis of Mizrahi origin to achieve social and cultural acceptance. This move to the mainstream culture includes cultural assimilation", writes literary researcher and critic Mati Shmuelof.
Israeli Arab music
The Arab community in Israel, comprising twenty percent of Israel's population, has developed its own unique forms of musical expression.
Until the early 1990s, little original music was produced by this community and the focus was on the great stars of the Arab world – Umm Kulthum, Fairuz, Farid al-Atrash, and others. Ad 1980s, local performers at weddings and other events played music written in Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria.
With the onset of the 21st century, local stars emerged, among them the internationally acclaimed oud and violin virtuoso Taiseer Elias, singer Amal Murkus, and brothers Samir and Wissam Joubran. Israeli Arab musicians have achieved fame beyond Israel's borders: Taiser Elias and Amal Murkus frequently play to audiences in Europe and America, and oud player Darwish Darwish was awarded first prize in the all-Arab oud contest in Egypt in 2003.
Israeli Arab musicians are in the forefront of the quest to define their emerging identity. Lyrics deal with issues of identity, conflict, remembrance and peace. For example, Kamilya Joubran's song "Ghareeba", a setting of a poem by Khalil Gibran, deals with a sense of isolation and loneliness felt by the Arab Palestinian woman:
Several groups have emerged, such as Elias's Bustan Avraham, The Olive Leaves, and Shlomo Gronich's Israeli-Palestinian ensemble in which Jews and Palestinians perform together, creating a fusion style of music. Joint musical bands such as Zimrat Yah, Shams Tishrin, Blues Job, and Sahar, appear all over Israel, particularly in the Galilee.The Olive Leaves gave a successful concert tour in Jordan in 1995, with lead singer Shoham Eynav (Jewish) singing songs in both Hebrew and Arabic.
The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance has an advanced degree program, headed by Taiseer Elias, in Arabic music. In 2007, the first precollege conservatory for the Arab-speaking population opened in Shfaram.
Iraqi Jewish music
The Iraqi Jews who immigrated to Israel in the early 1950s have preserved their own musical tradition. In the first half of the 20th century, almost all professional instrumental musicians in Iraq were Jewish. They played in the Imperial Orchestra, in the Baghdad radio orchestra, and in the nightclubs of Baghdad. Leading performers included composer and Oud player Ezra Aharon, violinist Salih Al-Kuwaiti and his brother, oud player Dawud Al-Kuwaiti, composer Salim Al'Nur, singer Salima Pasha, and others. Between 1949 and 1950, almost all these professional musicians fled Iraq for Israel. The Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) Arabic Orchestra was instrumental in sustaining their musical traditions in Israel.
Many of these musicians were forced to seek employment outside the music business, but they continued to perform in the community. "Our musical tradition continues", said Suad Bazun, singer and daughter to a family of leading Iraqi musicians. Today the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren continue to fill their homes with the songs of Iraq.
There is also Abraham Salman, a blind khanoun player who was born in Iraq in 193. He joined the Iraqi Radio Orchestra and accompanied renowned Arabic singers. He moves to Israel in 1950. In Israel, he worked with the Arabic orchestra of the Israeli radio, called ‘Kol Israel’ until 1988.
From the fourteenth century secular songs were sung in Yiddish, though rabbis of the period directed that sacred songs were only to be sung in Hebrew.
One of the main genres of Yiddish folk song in Central and Eastern Europe is Klezmer, which was also exported to America and Israel, though Henry Sapoznik (2005) writes Historically, Yiddish song and theater have had a higher visibility than klezmer music in Israel.* Generally 17th and 18th century songs and lullabies are anonymous, but the composers of others such as are known; such as Oyfn Pripetshik "On The Hearth" by Mark Warshawsky.
Yiddish theatre songs
In Europe many of the songs of the Yiddish theatre companies were composed as incidental music to musical theatre, or at least plays with strong musical content, whereas others are "hit" individual arias and numbers culled from Yiddish operetta.* In America, aside from America's own Yiddish theatres, songwriters and composers employed Yiddish folk and theatre songs, along with synagogue modes and melodies, as material for the music of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood.*
Irving Berlin was one of the popular composers to move from Yiddish song to English songs.* Bei Mir Bistu Shein is an example of a Yiddish song which was later recast as an English hit.
Yiddish political and secular choral song
Di Shvue "The Oath" (1902) was the Yiddish anthem of the socialist, General Jewish Labour Bund in early 1900s Russia. Another song by the same composer, S. Ansky (Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport), was In Zaltsikn Yam "In the Salty Sea". Yiddish workers' choral societies continued - including that led by Lazar Weiner in New York until the 1960s. Zog Nit Keyn Mol "Never say (this is the end of the road)" was a partisan song written in 1943 by Hirsh Glick, for the Vilna Ghetto resistance.
Yiddish art songs
Composers of self-consciously "serious" Yiddish art songs include the composers of the Society for Jewish Folk Music founded in St. Petersburg in 1908 which was associated with composers including "the Jewish Glinka" Michael Gniessin, Joseph Achron, Moses Milner, Alexander Krein, and Solomon Rosowsky.
In America composers included young immigrants Lazar Weiner, Solomon Golub, film composer Henech Kon, and Los Angeles cantor Paul Lamkoff.* Yiddish art songs may make sensitive use of folk tunes.* One example of a conscious 21st Century approach to the Yiddish folk song as art song, as tribute to Schubert, are the A Yiddish Winterreise and Di Sheyne Milnerin cycles of folk songs arranged by Alexander Knapp for English baritone Mark Glanville.*
Sephardic Jews have a repertoire from the Mediterranean basin region. In the secular tradition, material is usually sung in dialects of Judeo-Spanish of the Sephardic diaspora. Tambourines and other percussion instruments are sometimes used, especially in wedding songs. Oud and qanún are also used in some instrumentations of Sephardic music, and more modern performers incorporate countless other imported instruments.
Sephardic music has its roots in the musical traditions of the Jewish communities in medieval Spain and medieval Portugal. Since then, it has picked up influences from Morocco, Argentina, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and the other places that Spanish and Portuguese Jews settled after their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1496.
Lyrics were preserved by communities formed by the Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. These Sephardic communities share many of the same lyrics and poems.
The song traditions were studied and transcribed in the early twentieth century by a number of ethnomusicologists and scholars of medieval Hispanic literature. From around 1957 until quite recently, Samuel Armistead (UC Davis) with colleagues Joseph Silverman and Israel Katz collected Judeo-Spanish songs from informants in North America, Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, North Africa, and Israel. The digitized recordings, with transcriptions and information about song type,are available on the website Folk Literature of the Sephardic Jews, now permanently hosted by the University of Illinois Library.
The early 20th century saw some popular commercial recordings of Sephardic music come out of Greece and Turkey, followed by recordings from Jerusalem and other parts of the Eastern Tradition. The first performers were mostly men, including the "Turks" Jack Mayesh, Haim Efendi and Yitzhak Algazi. Later, a new generation of singers arose, many of whom were not themselves Sephardic. Gloria Levy, Pasharos Sefardíes, Flory Jagoda, the Parvarim, and Janet & Jak Esim Ensemble are popular Eastern Tradition performers of this period.
Gerard Edery, Savina Yannatou, Stefani Valadez, Françoise Atlan, Marlene Samoun Yasmin Levy and Mara Aranda are among the new generation of singers bringing a new interpretation to the Ladino/Judeo-Spanish heritage and, in the case of Yasmin Levy and Gerard Edery, mixing it with Andalusian Flamenco.
The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki Choir was founded in 1995 by members of the community. The choir was founded in the hope that the musical tradition that their ancestors took with them when they were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula 500 years ago would be preserved and revived. The research of its conductor 'Kostis Papazoglou' on Sepharadic music from the medieval tradition (songs like "Tres Ermanikas") and later as the music evolved resulted to a CD, produced by Minos EMI, with the participation of the Codex Ensemble, under the title " En la mar ay una torre." Today, this choir has 25 - 30 members of different ages. Its conductor Kostis Papazoglou, is an experienced and distinguished music teacher, soloist, and orchestras conductor, who has given concerts all over Greece as well as in Israel (Tel - Aviv), Skopia, Vienna, Salzburg, Bulgaria (Sofia), Russia (St. Petersburg), Egypt (Cairo at the inauguration of the rebuilt Ben Ezra Synagogue),Turkey (Istanbul in the Ashkenaz Synagogue on the occasion of Jewish Culture Week), and Hungary (in the Great Budapest Synagogue).
Sephardic music, including pan-Sephardic music which may not necessarily be Judeo-Spanish, is primarily vocal. Instruments, when they are used, are played to accompany songs. the choice of Instruments used by Sephardim has generally reflected the instruments used in the host culture: (Greek, Turkish, Moroccan, etc.) The instruments most commonly played are plucked lutes (fretless: oud, the Middle Eastern lute; and in Turkey fretted saz or sometimes mandolin or the cumbus), kanun or santur (plucked or hammered Middle Eastern zither), violin and hand drums (frame and goblet).
From the sephardic music roots has grown a large corpus of original new classical music. Notable among modern composers are
Yitzhak Yedid, combine classical genres with improvisation on Sephardic roots and Arabic music. Yedid's composition 'Oud Bass Piano Trio' is a good example of this.
Betty Olivero, who has taken traditional Jewish melodies. Her work "Serafim," for soprano, clarinet, violin, cello and piano is a good example of this.
Tsippi Fleischer, who has composed vocal works that merge contemporary Western compositional techniques with the modal, quartertone scales of Arabic music.
Marina Toshich, Bosnian-born Israeli contemporary composer and oud player who uses Sephardi elements from her homeland Bosnia. She has also published Oud educational books in USA (Mel Bays).
Rabbi Simon Benzaquen from the Djudeo Espanyol Hip-Hop band Los Serenos Sefarad, who has composed rap lyrics to update Old Romanzas .
Israeli Sephardic singers and musicians
Noam Vazana (Israel/Netherlands)
Yitzhak Yedid (Israel)
Yasmin Levy (Israel)
Yehoram Gaon (Israel)
Avraam Perera (Israel)
Daddo Dganit (Israel)
Yosi Azulay (Israel)
David d'Or (Israel)
Esther Ofarim (Israel)
Avishai Cohen (bassist) (Israel)
Israeli Andaluzian Orchestra (Israel)
Some of Israeli singers of international renown
Etti Ankri – a singer-songwriter, and former Female Singer of the Year in Israel, has also performed in the United States, England, and India. Etti Ankri has been called a poet of Israeli spirituality, and the contemporary voice of... Israel.*
Hadag Nahash – As well as songs in Hebrew, Hadag Nahash has several songs in other languages, such as Arabic, French, and English. Hadag Nahash provided many songs for the Adam Sandler film, Don't Mess With The Zohan. Many of their songs are about peace, and "Zman Lehitorer (Time To Wake Up)" has been used as a memento song for movements.
David Serero – An internationally renowned French opera singer, baritone, born in France from Israeli parents. David Serero has won recognition for his versatile repertoire from Opera to Broadway and to popular songs. He has starred in several Broadway musicals such as Man of La Mancha for which he has won an award for best performance as Don Quixote. David has also recorded a duet with legendary pop singer Jermaine Jackson on Autumn Leaves. Very active in concerts, for which David has already performed more than 600, the French baritone often performs in benefit of charities and in hospitals in Israel.
David D'Or – A countertenor, he has been Israel's Singer of the Year, and Israel's representative in the Eurovision Song Contest. By February 2008, nine of his albums had gone platinum.* D'Or performs a wide variety of music, including dance music, world music, Israeli folk songs, classical, opera, baroque arias in the original Italian, klezmer, holy music, ancient chants, and Yemenite prayers.* He has performed throughout Europe, Asia, and the US.
Ofra Haza – Apart from her success in Israel, Haza was well known in Europe and North America in the 1980s and 1990s for her unique blend of Yemenite music. She represented Israel in the 'Eurovision Song Contest' in 1983, and won second place with "Chai" (Alive). Haza collaborated with Iggy Pop, Paula Abdul, Sarah Brightman, and others. She played Yocheved in the Oscar-winning animation movie "The Prince of Egypt," and sang a song, "Deliver Us."
Ishtar – (born Eti Zach), vocalist of the French dance music group Alabina.
Yael Naïm – Her song "New Soul" was used by the Apple computer company in an advertising campaign. She was the first Israeli solo artist to have a top 10 hit in the United States.
Achinoam Nini – Known outside of Israel as Noa, Nini sings in many languages and styles, but her signature sound is a mix of traditional Yemenite and modern Israeli music.
Gene Simmons of Kiss, the popular American band from the 1970s, was born in Haifa.