Sunday, November 17, 2013

Israel's "Mizrahi Music" - Some Selected Clips

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has enjoyed a wide range of Hebrew music.  Many Israeli musicians have become quite popular and some have even wound up touring in North America and other places around the world.

Over the years, the musical genres have varied widely.  Israel has had it share of crooners (like Yehoram Gaon), folk musicians (Chava Alberstein), contemporary pop/rock artists (Shlomo Artzi/ Rami Kleinstein), hard rock (Benzine, Shalom Hanoch) and many others, including, of course, religious music.  I am not about to trace the musical history of Israel, which certainly could not be done in a short blog.

But while many non-Israelis have heard of some of the better known mainstream Israeli artists - Chava Alberstein, David Broza and the late Ofra Haza, to name a few, most non-Israelis have little exposure to the majority of popular Israeli music.  There are many great Israeli musicians and it is much easier today to access the music in an internet age.

But I thought I would open a bit of a window into a genre of music that is among the most popular in Israel today - at least among certain segments of society - "Mizrahi music" or "Oriental music" as it is sometimes translated into English.  This music is heavily influenced by Arab culture and sometimes the music of Greece and other surrounding Mediterranean countries.  Mizrahi music is ubiquitous at Israeli weddings, on radio stations and at many different types of large public gatherings.  One well known Israeli Mizrahi artist, who happens to come from Kiryat Eqron, is Dudu Aharon who has been named Israel's "Artist of the Year" on a number of occasions.

A fascinating recent phenomenon is the growing popularity of a group called "פרויקט של רביבו" ("Ravivo's Project").  This group has released a number of disks and videos seeking to revive popular 70s and early 80s Yemenite music that was often sung at group gatherings and was based on traditional Yemenite melodies.  The emphasis, as illustrated by the words, the music and the facial expressions of the band members, is on having a great time.  The group has recorded a number of videos, filmed in group settings, with a variety of people chewing Qat drinking beer and whiskey, smoking Hookahs and smiling - while singing medleys of Mizrahi music.   This first video by the Project really captures the spirit of Mizrahi music.  If you haven't really been exposed to it - try it out - at least for the experience... (If you like it, I will try to get you invited to a Yemenite Hina - where you can hear a whole night's worth and maybe even chew some Qat - or you can find out where this group is playing next time you are in Israel...).  To give you an idea of the popularity of this video, as of the time of the writing of this blog, it had been watched more than seven million times...

While the music may be sung in Hebrew, it is certainly not "religious" music.  In fact, one of the common slights of Mizrahi music is that the lyrics are often repetitive, simplistic and even base.  Unlike some of the other Mizrahi artists, Ravivo's Project has put together medleys of different traditional Yemenite songs, with traditional lyrics.  This is part of an effort to "revive" some older, once popular music.  The lyrics are not as "common" as some of the more contemporary Mizrahi artists, whose lyrics often have nothing to do with traditional Mizrahi music.

At the same time, the group has paid homage to some of the religious roots of Yemenite music.  In this next video, the group leader Raviv, explains that the group was asked by many people to put together a medley of Shabbat (Sabbath) songs.  So here it is - a medley of traditional Shabbat songs - sung to Yemenite melodies.  Some of the songs that make up this medley -like "L'cha Dodi" might be more recognizable - even if the tunes are not.  The last song of the medley (starting about the 7' mark) is the very well known ("כי אשמר השבת...) ("Because I observe the Sabbath, G-d will watch over me...").  This video has been watched well over two million times as of the time of writing of this blog.

Since I mentioned Dudu Aharon - I should probably also add a link to one of his most popular songs - "Tagidu la" ("Tell her that there is a guy who is asking to be the closest one to her....").  These are not traditional Yemenite lyrics - and the music, while somewhat influenced by Mizrahi elements, is not really viewed as pure Mizrahi music.  But it is enormously popular in Israel, especially at weddings and parties.  Dudu was recently featured as the star on a year long reality program - Israel's version of "The Bachelor." 

Finally, I had to add at least one video of Israel's true king of Mizrahi music.  Eyal Golan, has been popular in Israel for quite a number of years.  But this next song has been astronomically well received.  It is now sung at weddings, at the Kotel on selichot nights by groups of people walking to and from the Kotel between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - and at parties, clubs and all types of other occasions.  I have seen synagogues using it during hakafot on Simchat Torah (which shows how incredibly popular it has become in just a few years since its release).  The song "Mi she'maa'min lo mifached" - whoever believes, is not afraid, of losing faith, because we have G-d, the king of the world, to take care of us...") - is performed live here:

It is certainly a good thing that Eyal Golan professes such deep faith, since he is mired in a number of different scandals and has been forced to respond publicly to a variety of different allegations, none of which have been proven in court, and which I am not about to discuss in any detail.  

I have no plans to turn this into a musical blog...but the idea for this type of entry came to me as I attended a Mizrahi wedding on Wednesday night - and listened to this genre the whole evening.  I thought that it might be worthwhile sharing some of it with people who might not have had exposure.

If you already have a large collection of it, well - I guess you can skip over this post quickly.  But if you have never listened to it - you might find it interesting  to hear a type of music that you may not have heard before.

I have no comment on whether chewing Qat will make this music more enjoyable. This might be difficult in North America, where I believe it is a restricted or banned substance, even though it is generally not considered to be a narcotic.  Is is much easier to find in Israel and very common in Yemen and Sudan.

I can say that some nice single malt scotch would probably help, though I suspect that is not what the Ravivo Project guys are drinking in the video.  As for the Hookahs - and what they might be smoking in them - well - at this point, I will probably defer to a Toronto expert - the current Mayor Rob Ford - who seems to have quite a good handle on what to smoke at a party (or in a car, at City Hall, or just about anywhere else...). 

For now, one way or another - enjoy the music....

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