Archives for posts with tag: popular songs


Popular Music: Famous Israeli Songs in Israel and Around the World
Xulan Zhang


Through this presentation, we’ll explore topic of how certain Israeli songs become famous worldwide and the preserve and transformation of performance form, context and people’s interpretation of these songs when they went “globalized”.  And try to answer the question: Is the music a universal  language or a mirror that reflects the difference between different cultures?

Case 1:  Donna Donna

Origin: Yiddish theater song written in the time of Nazi

Performance form: a duo of a man and a woman, choral with the orchestral accompaniment

Became popular when American country music singer Joan Baez performed it in English with guitar.

Represented spirit of freedom in Israel during the WWII.

Became a worldwide symbolic song for people who are pursuing freedom.

Case 2: Hallelujah

Origin: sung by the Israeli band Hakol Over Habibi for 1978’s Eurovision’s competition

Became popular when it was performed by Gali Atari and Milk & Honey song in 1979 and won the competition for Israel as the hosting country

Performance form: alternate among 1 female voice and 3 male voices

The song roused the national pride in successfully winning and hosting Eurovision Competition.

Case 3: Diva

Origin: sung by Dana International, an Israeli transsexual singer

Performance form: It was originally only performed in the form of singing on the competition but later on was added the dancing part

Became highly popular after Dana International performed this song in Eurovision 1998.

But in its own country, Dana International’s big success triggered controversy.

Conclusion: Through these three different cases, I see music’s role both as a universal language that connects people from different culture and a mirror that reflects cultural gap.



  1. Regev, Motti and Edwin Seroussi , Popular Music and National Culture in Israel








The Festival della Canzone Italiana (Festival of Italian [Popular] Song), organized in the coastal city of Sanremo by RAI, Italy’s broadcasting authority, since 1951, served as a model for the festival ha-zemer ha-yisraeli (Festival of Israeli Song), organized by the Israel Broadcasting Authority since 1960.

On the musical relations between Italy and Israel, you can read Crossing the Sea of Songs, by Francesco Spagnolo, here.

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Erev shel shoshanim, “evening of roses” or “evening of lilies” has been one of the most successful songs from Israel, with the exception of Yerushalayim shel zahav (1967), and of course Hava nagilah–which was actually composed, by Abraham Zvi Idelsohn, in pre-1948 Palestine (and that is now a movie…).

It is a love song with fairly explicit biblical references (see for example Song of Songs 14:4 for the reference to myrrh, spices, and frankincense), as well as a SLI (Song of the Land of Israel) in its agricultural references to roses and the bustan, the Middle Eastern citrus grove.

An English translation is available via

Evening of roses
Let’s go out to the grove
Myrrh, perfumes, and incense
Are a threshold at your feet.

The night falls slowly
A breeze of roses blows
Let me whisper a song to you quietly
A song of love.

At dawn, a dove is cooing
Your hair is filled with dew
Your lips to the morning are like a rose
I’ll pick it for myself.

The Hebrew lyrics (written by Moshe Dor, a poet, writer, and journalist born in Tel Aviv in 1932) are also available on line, via Shironet. The music was composed by Yosef Hadar (Tel Aviv 1926 – Even Yehudah 2006), the son of Polish immigrants and the author of many Hebrew songs, especially in the 1940s-1950s.

Here are some musical sources, beginning with Ha-dudaim, of course, whose 1958 version of the song, originally sung by Yaffa Yarkoni (who first recorded it in 1957), made it popular worldwide.

Israeli pop-rock-and-everything-else music icon, Arik Einstein, recorded it as well, 

A late performance of Ha-parvarim (a 1960’s duo that integrated folk guitar accompaniments and Latin American arrangements with the SLI repertoire) shows it performed along with a sing-along crowd, in the style of shirah be-tzibur, or communal singing, which characterized Jewish musical life in mandatory Palestine since before the founding of the State of Israel, and that continues to this day:

But the song has had a longstanding international recognition. See below.

Yaffa Yarkoni, who must have sung this song many a times, recorded it in Spanish:

Greek international star Nana Moskouri with Israeli-French singer Mike Brant:

Harry Belafonte (his Nava nagila is better, though, either solo or with Danny Kaye):

And Miriam Makeba:

As usual, YouTube is full of surprises. See for example Israeli performer Tal Kravitz’s “Israeli-Indian encounter” with Rajendra Prasanna, in a concert sponsored by  the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi:

But the love-theme of the roses (or lilies) can also be challenged. This is undoubtedly the case in Idan Reichel’s song, Shoshanim ‘atzuvot (Sad Roses). You can find the lyrics here.

This week, we are very fortunate to work with our colleague, Dr. Yahil Zaban, of Tel Aviv University, currently a visiting post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. His main research subjects are food in Jewish literature and Jewish enlightenment literature, and his book about food and sexuality in Hebrew literature will be published in early 2014.

While his talk will focus on Israeli songs (in Hebrew) about food, I suspect that one of the subtext of his teaching will involve the cultural clashes generated by the subsequent waves of Jewish immigration to (Ottoman and British Mandate) Palestine and to the State of Israel during the 20th century. A satirical television program, Lool (Heb. לול, or “chicken coop”), broadcast on Israeli television in four parts between July 1970 and March 1973, which among others also featured singer-songwriter Arik Einstein, perfectly summarized the way in which popular culture internalized this historical process: 


Dr. Zaban’s talk will focus on two extraordinary Hebrew songs.

First, a song about the Tomato (עגבניה, 1931, lyrics by Yehudah Karni, music by Joel Engel), performed by Reuben Gornstein.


Agvanyah (Tomato)

Hoy, hoy, hoy
Our land is poor
Sing, soul of every being
The tomato song
Tomato, tomato

Only yesterday we came by ship
And already you were in the borscht
The salad and the meatball
Only, only, only
Only tomato

From Bnei Brak to Degania
So, so, so
In the days of immigration
In every kitchen
Will sing the tomato song

Hoy, hoy, hoy
Our land is poor
We sang enough already
The tomato song

And then, of course, the Falafel Song (שיר הפלאפל, lyrics by Dan Almagor, music by Moshe Vilenski, 1952), which over the years has been performed in radically different versions.

For instance this (performed by Baruch Nadav, of the Ayalon army ensemble):


And this (performed by Nissim Garma, within the context of Israeli musiqah mizrachit):


shir ha-falafel (The Falafel Song)

Every nation in the world
Has a special well-known food
Every kid knows that
That Italians eat pasta
The Austrians eat tasty schnitzels
The French eat frogs
The Chinese eat rice
And cannibals eat one other.

And we have falafel, falafel, falafel
A present for dad
Mom buys old grandma a half portion
And our mother in-law will also get
falafel, falafel, falafel
with a lot a lot of spicy peppers

Once upon a time when Jews arrived to the Land of Israel
They would kiss the ground and recite the “gomel” blessing
Today, one only gets off the plane
And already is buying falafel and has a soda drink
(full translation here)

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