Archives for posts with tag: musiqah mizrachit

This week we get to focus on one of the “hot” topics in the study of music in Israel: the rise of musiqah mizrachit, Israeli Oriental music, from the old Tel Aviv bus station to the charts.

In overall terms, we’ve already encountered the issue of Jewish orientalism. It’s a loaded topic, which goes back almost two centuries (and to German Jewish culture), and that also finds its interpreters among unexpected popular culture icons. See for example how Danny Kaye and Harry Belafonte interpreted Hava nagilah back in 1966:

The theme of Jewish orientalism was also appropriated by non-European Jews, such as the Algerian-French musical legend, Enrico Macias:

…on the basis of a long tradition of Jewish musical practice–involving classical and popular music alike–in the lands of Islam. Listen for example to Macias’ predecessor, Algerian legend, Lili Boniche:

In Israeli terms, the issue of musical orientalism has to do as much with the development of local musical genres and of cultural “authenticity” as it has to do with politics. It is a musical culture that combines Jewish tradition with Arabic music and with pop and rock styles. As a culture expressed by Israeli Jews with roots in the lands of Islam, this music has given some of the most marginalized elements of Israeli society a voice (quite literally), and a way to be “heard” beyond music itself.

Musiqah mizrachit, or Israeli oriental music, has been also called musiqah shel tachanah merqazit (music of the Central [Bus] Station), or musiqah qasetot (cassette tape music), because it was first available outside of mainstream cultural outlets (like the official music market, radio broadcasting, TV, and national music festivals), and distributed instead on bootlegged cassette tapes, sold at bus stations. (Buses and collective taxis were the main mode of transportation in Israel until the advent private cars in the 1980s, and remain an essential mode of transportation until today. Israeli bus stations are therefore important hubs and places of great diversity and social exchange).

It’s hard to explain what the old Tel Aviv bus station, where musiqah mizrachit was initially sold in the ubiquitous cassette-tape format, was like, but the Israeli rock band Teapacks (or Tipex, depending on who’s reading their name) made an attempt at narrating it:

While the music of mizrachiyut (oriental Israeliness) indeed emerged out of Tel Aviv, its politics were defined by a mostly Jerusalem-based movement, the panterim ha-shechorim (yes, the [Israeli] “Black Panthers”), rebellious Moroccan-Israeli youth from the Jerusalemite neighborhood of Musrara (right on the green line), famously described by Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, as “not nice boys”:

Musiqah mizrachit has had a host of interpreters, from “purists” to pop stars.

My personal favorites:

Zohar Argov…

…and Sarit Haddad.

These days, while the sound of musiqah mizrachit still defines music in Israel, the music market is moving beyond it. See it for yourself, for instance through the excellent work of Ester Rada, born in an Ethiopian-Israeli family in Kiryat ‘Arba, whose work addresses both the East African roots of her heritage:

as well as the sounds of the “Black Atlantic“:

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As we mentioned in class (and as we will discuss extensively during the Semester), musiqah mizrachit, Israel’s own “Oriental music” (a blend of rock, pop, Arabic music, with Hebrew, and often religiously-inspired, lyrics) is a fundamental paradigm of what happened, culturally/socially/politically, in this corner of the Middle East during the last half-century or so.

And this is precisely why we listened to Zohar Argov (1955-1987):


The song is ha-perach be-gani (The flower in my garden), lyrics and music by Avihu Medina, 1982 (a translation is available here), which, according to Israel’s daily, Haaretz, “changed the face of Israeli music” (read here).

Here are the listening assignments for next week, organized chronologically and connected (when possible) with related pages of our textbook.

It’s all good stuff. Really good stuff.

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Any respectable course on music in Israel must tackle the topic of musiqah mizrachit (מוסיקה מזרחית), and so will ours. Extensively. For so many reasons: musical encounters, cultural conflicts, minority/mainstream cultural dynamics, “Orientalism,” the Israeli “Black Panthers,” cassette-tapes, bus stations, and more…

For now, enjoy Zohar Argov:

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