Israeli music, much like Israeli society as a whole, is a tapestry of multiple influences, cultures and geographic origins. Since the beginning of Zionism’s footprint in the land of Eretz Yisrael, music has been a significant element of early Zionism, Jewish growth in the period before the state, and then in Israeli culture since 1948. Early folk songs of the Halutzim (pioneers), classical music of the Palestine Orchestra (now the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra), Mizrahi music made popular in the 1970s, rock and roll, hip-hop and jazz are just some of the many pieces of Israeli music. Styles and genres reflect the origins of Jewish immigrants to Israel, Israel’s experiences as a state, and then cross pollinated with cultural combinations and influences from elsewhere. Artists such as David Broza, Shalom Hanoch, Arik Einstein, Zohar Argov, Naomi Shemer, Ha’dag Nahash and Muki convey the depth and complexity of Israel through their music. These songs act as historical and social benchmarks as well as compasses, telling the unique stories of Israel and its history, society, culture, and population.
Music Bibliography: Links to a short list of recommended Israeli songs
Israel’s national anthem was adapted from the first stanza of a poem written by Naphtali Herz Imber in 1878 with music adapted from a Moldavian folk song.
Written by Naomi Shemer, the songwas commissioned by Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek in 1967 for the Israel Music Festival. The final verse was added after the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem.
With lyrics written by Yaakov Rotblit and music by Yair Rosenblum, Shir LaShalom in 1969, the song was originally banned by the IDF for its anti-war message. It was sung by Yitzhak Rabin at the rally before he was assassinated in November 1995. A bloodstained copy was found in his pocket.
A staple of the Israeli musical canon, it was written by Arik Einstein with music by Miki Gabrielov and released in 1971. The newspaper Haaretz describes it as, “an amazing amalgam of fate, life and history, captured in a few, simple, everyday words, and totally Israeli.”
The title track of Shalom Hanoch’s 1977 album, this song defines the beginnings of mainstream Israeli rock music. Influenced by the sounds of European recording artists, Hanoch’s album is the culmination of many years of his musical collaboration and development with other prolific Israeli artists such as Arik Einstein and Ariel Zilber.
Written by David Broza and Meir Ariel, and recorded in 1991, this song is one of the major Israeli anthems of the 1990s. David Broza, Israeli lyricist, singer and guitar player is one the most known names in Israeli music, having had successful careers performing and recording in Israel and the United States.
Written by Avihu Medina, and performed by Zohar Argov at the Mizrahi Song Festival in 1982, “The Flower in My Garden” won first prize. The popularity of the song led to the integration of Mizrahi music, which had been mostly restricted to cassettes and not played on the radio, into the mainstream of Israeli music.
The “July August Heat” was written and recorded by Shlomo Artzi in 1988 as a memorial to the loss of his friends during the War of Attrition with Egypt which took place from 1968-1970.
One of 2012’s biggest hits and most controversial songs was Ivri Lider and Mook E’s political protest song which features a music video shot in the news studios of Channel 2 in Israel.
With lyrics taken from the Zohar, the Book of Jewish Mysticism, Shotey HaNevua’s (Fools of Prophecy) song speaks of a spiritual world in motion and is a departure from the band’s traditional hip-hop sound.
Author David Grossman, fascinated with the intensity of Israeli bumper stickers collated a list of 120, taking 54 and incorporating them into the rhyming elements of a song. Grossman approached Hadag Nahash, an Israeli hip-hop group because he wanted to create the melody and record that served as a snapshot of an Israeli spectrum of opinions.
Music Bibliography: Links to Israeli music collections
Among its unique collections and on-line accessible are rich digital collections of Jewish, Zionist and Israeli music, housed at the Bella and Harry Wexner Libraries of Sound and Song. These include rare recordings from many artists and periods, among them Naomi Shemer, Hannukah (Carlcbach), Israeli independence, Judeo-Spanish, etc. Choose a digital collection; listen to an array of songs and original recordings, perhaps 10,000 or more, while you peruse the rest of the National Libraries collections, including the Hebrew press from Zionism’s beginnings.
The National Library of Israel has digitized many albums and individual songs from its vast collection, making them available for free through their Sound Cloud page. Housing everything from holiday specific folk songs to rare recordings of Arik Einstein, this page is a great resource for fans of Israeli music to educators alike.
This free radio station based out of Los Angeles, CA, streams Israeli music 24/7. It features a mix of contemporary Israeli top 40 along with nostalgic classics from all of Israel’s past artists and genres.
Israeli Music Youtube Chanel (livni2)
Featuring a wide array of Israeli videos and songs, this easily navigated YouTube channel houses hundreds of videos that span across all eras and genres of Israeli music.
Music Bibliography: Books and Articles
Gradenwitz, Peter. The Music of Israel: From the Biblical Era to Modern times. Portland, Or.: Amadeus Press, 1996.
Horowitz, Amy. Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010.
Ingber, Judith Brin. Seeing Israeli and Jewish Dance. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011
Keren, Zvi. Contemporary Israeli Music: Its Sources and Stylistic Development. [Ramat-Gan, Israel]: Bar Ilan University Press, 1980.
Regev, Motti, and Edwin Seroussi. Popular Music and National Culture in Israel. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004.
Seroussi, Edwin. Popular Music in Israel: The First Fifty Years. Cambridge, MA: Harvard College Library, 1996.
Shafir, Gershon, and Yoav Peled. Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
+972 Magazine – Independent Commentary from Israel and the Palestinian Territories. “Hasidic Music: Pushing the Boundaries of the Israeli Comfort Zone.” June 14, 2013. Accessed July 9, 2013. http://972mag.com/hasidic-music-pushing-the-boundaries-of-the-israeli-comfort-zone/73628/.
Boston Globe. “Ravid Kahalani’s Musical Journey Returns to His Roots.” July 4, 2013. Accessed July 9, 2013. http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2013/07/04/from-israel-west-africa-and-back/edwD2SRfcceMZrwPGe8iRM/story.html.
Erdely, Stephen. “The Land Where Two Streams Flow”: Music in the German-Jewish Community of Israel. Philip V. Bohlman .” Journal of the American Musicological Society 45, no. 1 (1992): 153-60. doi:10.1525/jams.1992.45.1.03a00080.
Halevi, Yossi Klein. “Israeli Rock Music’s Spiritual New Sound,” Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2015. http://www.wsj.com/articles/israeli-rock-musics-spiritual-new-sound-1434122493.
Halper, Jeff, Edwin Seroussi, and Pamela Squires-Kidron. “Musica Mizrakhit: Ethnicity and Class Culture in Israel.” Popular Music 8, no. 02 (1989): 131. doi:10.1017/S0261143000003329.
Nocke, Alexandra. “Israel and the Emergence of Mediterranean Identity: Expressions of Locality in Music and Literature.” Israel Studies 11, no. 1 (2006): 143-73. doi:10.1353/is.2006.0008.
Public Radio International PRI. “Israeli-born Ethiopian Jew Embraces Ancestry in Her Music.” July 2, 2013. Accessed July 9, 2013. http://www.pri.org/stories/arts-entertainment/music/israeli-born-ethiopian-jew-embraces-ancestry-in-her-music-14278.html.
Regev, Motti. “Israeli Rock, or a Study in the Politics of ‘local Authenticity’.” Popular Music 11, no. 01 (1992): 1. doi:10.1017/S0261143000004803.
Serousssi, Edwin. “Nostalgic Soundscapes: The Future of Israel’s Sonic Past,” Israel Studies, 19:2 (Summer 2014): 35-50.
Shabtay, Malka. “‘RaGap’: Music and Identity among Young Ethiopians in Israel.” Critical Arts 17, no. 1-2 (2003): 93-105. doi:10.1080/02560240385310071.
Shiloah, Amnon, and Erik Cohen. “The Dynamics of Change in Jewish Oriental Ethnic Music in Israel.” Ethnomusicology 27, no. 2 (May 1983): 227-52.
Waterman, Stanley. “Variations on a Hebrew Theme: The Politics of Art Music in Israel.” GeoJournal 65, no. 1-2 (2006): 113-23. doi:10.1007/s10708-006-0012-2.