Archives for posts with tag: rap

Israeli Rap Presentation Handout
Ben Reich & Alexis Kang

We have recently learned in class about relational history as described by David A. McDonald, in which “popular culture, specifically African-American Hip-Hop, enables new social formations to coalesce and to dialogue within new associative frames of meaning, articulating an emerging transnational interconnectedness” (McDonald, 30).  Also, according to Franz Markowitz in Ethnographic Encounters in Israel: Poetics and Ethics of Fieldwork, “all Israeli rappers consistently claim that hip-hop is not just about music but also about saying loudly and clearly what you really think, feel and believe. Since rappers come from different social backgrounds, hip-hop in Israel soon became a space where different truths were being conveyed and contested, lyrically and stylistically” (Markowitz ,81).

Through this lens, we will discuss Israeli rap and its contributions to the idea of ‘transnational interconnectedness’ more so than other genres.  We will begin by briefly outlining the trajectory of hip-hop/rap from its beginnings in the U.S in the 1970’s, to its association with sociopolitical ideas and movements such as Black Nationalism.  From there, we will move to politics in Israeli rap by listening to two Israeli rap songs.  This first is called “Meen Irhabi” (Who’s the Terrorist), written in 2001 by Palestinian-Israeli rap group DAM.  The second song, called Tikva (Hope) was written by Jewish Israeli rapper Subliminal in 2003.  From these songs’ English subtitles, we will explore some of their many political messages.  Finally, we will discuss the phenomenon of political statements as a staple of rap as a genre and Israeli rap in particular, as well as rap’s unique effectiveness in empowering and giving a voice to whole communities.


One date in Oakland (March 1st). Here’s HaDag Nachash‘ most celebrated hit, The Sticker Song (2004), written by Israeli novelist David Grossman, here with English supertitles:

More information on the band’s upcoming Bay Area appearance here.

The Sticker Song and the video that comes with it are an interesting complement to what we watched together at the beginning of the semester: 500 people in 100 seconds. It strikingly reminds of the clash of immigrant cultures we saw at play last week, as well as, in a similar vein, Spike Lee’s harsh “love song” to New York City in the 25th Hour (2002).

Because this too is a love song for a war-torn place, after all (originally by David Benioff).

PS: Of course, some may see the scene from Spike Lee’s film as an answer to Woody Allen’s other love song to New York City (well, Manhattan, actually):

Perhaps it it that, as well. Instead, I’d prefer seeing it as a (not so) gentle reminder that this week we discuss war.

At first sight, a veeeeery WaltDisney-esque Song of the Grape Pickers, 1955. The analogy with Snow White’s Hi-Ho holds only insofar as one begins taking into account the real agricultural achievements of the State of Israel, and, even more importantly from our perspective, the role of the early pioneers (chalutzim) and their lives in the Jewish agricultural communes (kibbutzim) in shaping national culture in Israel. Music, and song, and dance, played a central role in all this. We’ll have a week to discuss it. And a whole semester to look at the way in which music relates to, describes, and challenges, the evolving notions of “Land of Israel” (eretz yisrael).

The mother of all Israeli songs (SLI, or “Songs of the Land of Israel), with hauntingly beautiful lyrics (by Naomi Shemer) and an interesting story, to be explored in detail later (the melody is apparently not original; the song itself came to define the Six Day War of 1967, among other things). A very important aspect of this song is that it does embody, in its own 1960’s folk-music way, the multi-millenary Jewish longing for Zion (Jerusalem). In this course, we are devoting a week to this topic, as expressed through poetry and song throughout the Jewish Diaspora for centuries.

The Nachal army ensemble, 1967: a deconstructionist’s dream. Also, a nod at the role of the army in shaping national and musical culture. (A lot) More on this to come.

Idan Reichel, the star of many Jewish organization-sponsored events in North America and beyond; and a true game-changer in the “world music” circuit. This song, which quotes Psalm 130 (mi-ma’amaqim, also known in its Latin incipit, De profundis, or “from the depths, I called you, god”), mixes world music styles, ethnic (mostly, African) sounds and languages, with a Biblical theme.

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), conducted by Zubin Mehta, performs Israel’s National Anthem (Hatikvah, “The hope”) on top of Masada, the site of a famous and tragic battle between the Jews and the Roman army in ancient Palestine, in a concert held in 1988. The IPO is but one examples of the building of musical institutions (orchestras, academies, broadcasting stations, festivals, competitions, etc.) since before the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, and of their role in shaping national culture. It also has an interesting connection to the San Francisco Bay Area, since the first fundraising event to establish the IPO (then called the Palestine Orchestra) was held in San Francisco in the 1930’s. (BTW, we are devoting one week of class to the many, and interesting, musical connections between Israel and the Bay Area, also with the help of an esteemed guest, Cantor Roslyn Barak, learning about her experiences  living in Israel, performing with the Israel National Opera, the Jerusalem Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic). I chose this video excerpt for a few notable (and slightly wicked) reasons. Note how the audience sings along, and how everyone stands, including the orchestra – except for those who cannot. The violin (solo played by Ori Kam), is in itself a fundamental Jewish musical icon. However, the distortions to the sound caused by the digital transfer from a VHS tape give this recording an involuntary Jimi Hendrix quality that I could not resist to point out.

Fiddler on the Roof, in Hebrew, staged by the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv. From Yiddish, to English, to Hebrew… What are “Jewish languages,” and what is their relationship with music (and sound)?

Essential. Palestinian and/or Arab-Israeli (bring on the hyphens…) rap band, DAM, singing in Hebrew and Arabic about their relationship to the Land (of Israel?). During the class, we are going to explore the role of sounds and music in defining and opposing ethnic, cultural, political, and military conflicts. We are also fortunate to be assisted in this by Professor Ben Brinner (author of Playing Across a Divide) and members of the band, Bustan, who will join the class in March.

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