Traditional Palestinian music is vibrant and always at the heart of family and communal celebrations. During parties and special events, singers, who are usually members of the family or close friends rather than professionals, will improvise lyrics in accordance with themes and musical styles that have existed for generations in that particular village. Some of the common song forms are:
— Mejana or Ataba:
A poetic form of music sung at weddings, traditionally by shepherds and others who are working in the fields or with their hands. The singer begins with a sound like, “Ooaaaff!” (don’t blame me–that’s the estimation by contributors to Wikipedia) and then four verses of poetry follow, the fourth, again according to your friends at Wikipedia, “ends with a word that usually ends with a sound like, ‘Aab or Aywa!'”
Dal’ona lyrics consist of four verses of poetry but the first three don’t need to rhyme like in the mejana. The fourth line ends with word that has the sound, “Oana.” The Dal’ona often inspires people to dance the dabke, which is exactly what we do when we sing Dala’ona in class.
Another type of song popular at weddings, this style appears slightly differently when men sing it then when women do. Men will gather in two lines and face each other or surround a groom, then sing in call and response with a zajal, a singing poet, who improvises the verses. When women sing the sahja they also surround the bride but older women lead the song, not a zajal. And, again, thanks to Wikipedia, we know that “the women may add a loud, ‘Lolololeey’ during and at the end of the sahja.
–. Zaghareet (pl):
These songs are usually sung by women at celebrations. Unlike in the sahja, zaghroot don’t include clapping. Otherwise, we can’t describe this more joyfully than Wikipedia: “One woman starts the zaghroot with a loud, ‘Heeey Hee…’ or ‘Aweeha…’. She then continues with a small poem or few short rhyming words. After the women are done they all join with a loud, ‘Lolololoolololoeeeey’ sound.”
Today’s modern Palestinian music references international styles and sounds while still remaining respectful of Arabic musical melodies and rhythms. Hip hop has become a
particularly popular form of expression, as groups like Ramallah Underground rap as as way of detailing Palestinians’ struggles and future dreams. [You may want to explain the political situation to your kids to the best of your ability as you listen to Ramallah
Underground’s “Min Il Kaheff (From the Cave)” along with English translation and subtitles.]
In the late 19th century when European Jews began to settle in Palestine with the intent of recreating it as a Jewish State they decided that because they came from a number of countries and spoke many languages they would benefit from developing a specifically “Israeli” culture. Many of the settlers were highly literate and well-versed in Western literature and music and realized the communally unifying benefit of art. They prioritized the
development of Israeli songs, which they called Sheirei Eretz–“Songs of the Land of Israel.”
Sheirei Eretz began as Eastern European folk songs translated into Hebrew, but settlers soon created new music based in and created specifically for their new life in Israel. The most popular of these songs were simple enough that settlers and their families could sing along, which they did. Lyrics sometimes told of the hard life of a settler, but more often the songs were optimistic about the mission and ultimate projected success of their
endeavor. They celebrated victories more readily than they bemoaned defeats. Israelis sang Sheirei Eretz while they were working in the fields of their kibbutzim (collective communities), at joyous family occasions and even at the encouragement of musical ensembles that were (and still are) part of the military, so much so that the singing of hopeful songs became an essential part of Israel’s national character. This was especially true in the period surrounding the wars of 1948 and 1967, when communal singing of compositions like the national anthem, “Hatikva” (“the Hope,”) and Naomi Shemer’s “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (“Jerusalem of Gold”) were an essential factor in the Israeli forces’ high morale.
After 1967, as Israel became economically stable and its musicians gained increasing access to international material, an Israeli counterculture developed that began to question Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Also, in the ’70s and ’80s, as a way of questioning the national ideal, popular Israeli musicians became less interested in making music for the sake of promoting the concept of the Israeli nation and more for the sake of making music. An Israeli rock scene developed, led by musicians like ARIK EINSTEIN (who we’ll meet below), featuring songs sung in Hebrew but sounding like
In the 1960s Israeli artists of Greek origin began to perform Greek music, specifically laika, which was popular in the bars and nightclubs of Athens and Thessaloniki at the time. The best known of these Israeli-Greek artists was ARIS SAN, who performed with legendary Greek musician STELIOS KAZANTZIDIS. [Listen to Aris San perform with Kazantzidis] In 1988 another Greek Israeli musician, YEHUDA POLIKER, helped popularize this genre with Ashes and Dust on
which he played guitar and keyboard and Greek instruments like the bouzouki and baglama. [Watch Yehuda Poliker perform.]
The presence of Greek-influenced music in Israel inspired “Mizrahi” Jews, those who hailed from Arab countries and other Muslim lands rather than from Russia and Eastern Europe, to perform their music in public venues. In the ’50s and ’60s a wave of Mizrahi immigrants flooded Israel and
increased the non-European-descended population of the new nation substantially, to about 50%. At the time the nation focused on unity and strongly favored immigrants’ assimilation. The first generation of Mizrahi to be born in Israel rose in the ’70s and ’80s and reclaimed their
parents’ original languages, culture and, important to us, music. Young Mizrahi musicians embraced Arabic scales and “Oriental” music–Yemanite, Arabic, Farsi, Tukrish and even Greek. Artists like Moroccan-born Jo Amar, who sang in the Andaulusian Spanish style that drew on Jewish-Moroccan traditions, brought elements of Arabic music into the Israeli mainstream. [Watch a young Amar performing live | Watch an older Amar singing at some guy’s
wedding] Many of the prominent Mizrahi singers were of Yemenite origin, such as Yemenite Israeli Ofra Haza began as a Muzika mizrahit singer with her 1979 hit “Ani Frecha” (“I’m a Common Girl”). [Watch Haza perform “Ani Frecha” | Watch Haza perform a song we sing in class, “Tzur Menoti,” complete with Yemeni dancers | Watch another Haza performance of “Tzur Menoti,”–this time Haza has her head covered, which indicates she’s performing for a more religious audience.]
Today Israeli music, like Israeli society, is exceptionally multinational. Some Israeli musicians, like Moroccan-Israeli SHLOMO BAR and his band HABRERA HATIV’IT (Natural Gathering) and
YISRAEL BOROCHOV and EAST-WEST ENSEMBLE have sought to integrate various strains of acoustic musics that immigrants brought with them to Israel. [Watch Shlomo Bar and Habrera Hativ’it in concert | Watch the East-West Ensemble] Other musicians, like electro-dance artists GOA GIL and ASTRAL PROJECTION, and rappers like SHABAK SHAMECH, SAGOL 59,
SUBLIMINAL, and, most recently, Ethiopian-Israeli rappers like JEREMY COOL HABASH, brought international sounds like electronica and hip hop into Israel and confidently made those forms their own. [Watch Goa Gil whip a crowd into a frenzy | Watch Astral Projection do the same | Where is Shabak Shamech? Here. | Meet Sagol 59 | Meet Subliminal | Jeremy Kool Habash connects Ethiopia with Israeli rap]
In class we’re going to listen to:
— Nawal Al Zoghbi, “Dala’ona” Nawal is a Lebanese Maronite Catholic vocalist who
throughout a twenty year career has become one of the Arab world’s best selling artists. In 2000 she became the first Middle Eastern artist (according to Wikipedia–and we trust it!) to sign an international contract to perform in a Western advertising campaign, starring in several ads for Pepsi, leading to more international advertising spots, leading to even more record sales. As mentioned above, the dala’ona is one of the main forms of dabke music. In class we’ll dance the dabke along to Nawal’s “Dala’ona.” Watch Nawal perform “Dala’ona” live.
— Gali Atari & Chalav Odvash, “Hallelujah”
Chalav Odvash (“Milk and Honey”) was an Israeli singing ensemble that consisted of three strapping young Israeli vocalists–Re’uven Gvitrz, Shmulik Bilu and Yehuda Tamir–who proudly joined Gali Atari to perform the song, “Hallelujah” in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest…and they won! (Despite the bow ties? Because of them?) Watch their performance at the 1979 Eurovision | Watch this totally dreamy version of the English translation
— Arik Einstein, “Ani V’atah”
Arik Einstein is a major figure in the Israeli rock movement of the ’70s and ’80s. Born in Tel Aviv, Einstein was part of a generation of post-Independence Israeli musicians who were not settlers or immigrants, but instead began their careers during their mandatory military service by performing in Israeli Army entertainment groups. After his stint in the army he became a moderately successful pop singer but his career really gained traction in the ’70s when he helped pioneer the genre of Israeli rock. Watch Einstein perform his hopeful hit, “Ani V’atah,” which we sing in class.
— Bobby Morganstein’s version of “Mayim”
“Mayim Mayim” is an Israeli folk song and dance that premiered in 1937 to mark the Israeli settlers’ discovery of water in the desert after a exhaustive seven year search. In class we’re going to dance along to a version released by Bobby Morganstein, a Philadelphia-based party DJ (bar mitzvahs, weddings, “Super Sweet Sixteens” and
more), on “The Complete Jewish Party CD II.” Bobby Morganstein is awesome. If you don’t believe me, look at his website. [Learn the Mayim Mayim dance | Watch the dance in action]
— DAM: “Muwaten Mustahdaf”
DAM is a hip hop group based in Israel composed of three Israeli-Palestinians who primarily rap about the difficulties of the Palestinians’ life in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. DAM formed in 1999 and initially released songs that were not overtly political, but become more and more vocal about their opposition to the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, both inside Israel and out. Most of DAM’s raps are in Arabic, though they
also use English and Hebrew to increase the reach of their music. [Learn about DAM in Time Magazine‘s 2007 article, “How Phat Conquered Palestine” | (warning: lots of strong
political opinions are present in this next video. Discuss with your kids accordingly: Watch DAM rap in Hebrew with English subtitles: “I broke the law? No, the law broke me.”]
In class we’re not going to listen to:
— any songs by Israel’s most popular puppet cover song duo, the Reb Band.