As diverse a population there is in Israel, it’s no surprise their music has such a diverse background of influences. Every group that has moved into this area has left their own influences on Israeli music. So, let’s take a look at some of these influences that have made their way into what has become part of their national voice.
The large number of Russians who made their way into Israel also brought their instruments and folk songs. Instruments such as the balalaika have made their way into the Israeli sound. Also coming out of Central and Eastern Europe is klezmer music. Klezmer music is stemmed out of the Hasidic traditions, and many of these klezmer songs have been translated into Hebrew, becoming part of the standards of Israeli folk music. There are also many Greek musical elements that can be heard as well.
Middle Eastern music (namely from Iraq and Yemen but northern African countries like Egypt and Morocco as well) has also had quite a bit of influence on Israeli music. Many Middle Eastern instruments found their way into Israeli music. Often this is referred to as Oriental music, or Muzika Mizrahit. There were many Jews living in Yemen whose music came to light on the world stage during the 1980s and subsequently had a major influence on Israeli music.
Israel also has many immigrants from Ethiopia where there is a fairly large Jewish population. These immigrants brought their music with them, creating Israeli songs sung in both Hebrew and Amharic. Israel also embraced many of the styles from the West (including both Western Europe and the US), like rock, pop, folk, and hip-hop. Through all of these different styles of music, there are certain characteristics that have generally come to be a commonality throughout much of Israeli music. The use of dance rhythms, minor keys, a unique style of singing, and lyrics that discuss the life and struggles of living in Israel bind all of these different styles together to create a unique “Israeli” styles of music.
The Jewish people have a long history of dance in their culture. The Talmud and Bible mention dance many times. There are also many popular dances that were brought into their culture via the waves of immigrants moving into Israel around the turn of the 20th century, mostly stemming from Central and Eastern European traditions, like the polka, rondo, and the horah (which became the national dance). Depending on its origin, these dances can either be a circle dance, a line dance, or a solo dance. There were also some dances that were brought over by Yemenite Jews as well. During this time of massive immigration into the country, small collective communities (often based in agriculture or specific industries) called kibbutz began popping up. In many of these kibbutz communities, town dances, theatrical performances, and music performances were the most popular forms of entertainment.
I came across many different Israeli singers, bands, and groups on Spotify. I listened to an album by Etti Ankri, which has more of a classical music sound and makes use of traditional instruments and rhythms. David D’Or is a famous musician whose music also seems to be in this category: a mix of classical and traditional but also seems to incorporate some folk elements to his music.
Aviv Geffen has definitely been influenced by rock music; however, he also brings in strings and piano into his music, but his melody lines are rock. Ivri Lider has a little bit of that style in his music, but relies more heavily on his acoustic folk sound. It makes for a relaxing album.
Dana International is transgender singer who made waves in the dance-pop category and is the winner of the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest (for some reason Israel is invited to be a part of this contest even though they aren’t in Europe. Invitation by association, I suppose?).
Chava Alberstein is sometimes referred to as Israel’s most important folk singer. Although she was born in Poland, she and her family moved to Israel when she was three years old. Her music is sung in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.
I generally like the music of Shalom Hanoch, but there’s one thing that always throws me: the vocal line seems like it was recorded louder than what I’m expecting. And his voice is slightly rougher than most people’s singing voices. It could be a style thing, though. I mean, Bob Dylan’s voice is actually pretty bad.
I had no idea that Israel has produced a number of techno/dance/electronica artists. One DJ I found was Alien Project, which I thought was great. I often listened to the album Alien Project–Activation Portal while I worked. Astrix is another DJ I found in the same category. The album Red Means Distortion is really good. I listened to these two albums back to back. Offer Nissim has been touted as one of the best DJs in the world according to DJ Magazine. And I can see why. His music is more in the dance genre rather than house or techno.
Hadag Nahash’s music falls somewhere in the midst of traditional music, dub, and hip-hop. At first I wasn’t quite sure what I thought about it, but there was something about the mix of sounds that I like. It works. Another hip-hop musician is Subliminal. His music is a mix of traditional music with some spoken lyrics here and there. There are several songs I listened to that are pretty catchy. Almost every song has a guest performer. Sagol 59 is a hip-hop group who I enjoyed listening to. Although it does have a little bit of a late-1990s feel to it, it was pretty catchy, and the rhythms flowed. What’s weird is that all of the song titles are in English, but the songs are sung in Hebrew (I’m assuming).
I even ran across two metal bands. One that I listened to is called Orphaned Land. They make use of strings and traditional instruments and traditional melody lines along with their traditional rock guitar sound. I actually really like their sound. The other metal band is called Melechesh. It’s definitely a much louder and harder rock sound and with a very typical “metal” sound, complete with the screaming. It’s the type of music that would scare your grandma and make your parents frown. Maybe, depending on your family.
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