From Material Girl to Zionist

Madonna performing in Tel Aviv in 2009 with an Israeli flag draped over her.

Is it just the luck of the draw that the Queen of Pop, Madonna, has decided to open her 2012 world tour in Israel? I think not.

The Material Girl, who provided a spectacle-filled half time show for attendees and viewers of the Super Bowl on Sunday night, scored her own Hebrew touchdown this week when she announced that her mega-tour to promote her new album MDNA would kick off on May 29 at Ramat Gan Stadium.

In a press conference, Israeli promoter Shuki Weiss disclosed that the 54-year-old cultural icon will arrive in Israel two weeks before the concert, accompanied by an entourage of more than 300 people, to carry out intensive rehearsals for the show.

And since debuts of world tours of someone of Madonna’s caliber are international news events, hundreds of foreign entertainment journalists are expected to descend on the country.

This provides an amazing PR opportunity for Israel to gain worldwide exposure for a news event that has nothing to do with the things we’re usually in the news for: Iran, Palestinians, Hezbollah, separate seating for men and women, or any other of the issues that the foreign media tends to focus on when Israel is the topic.

How cool is it that instead of more of the same, this time we’re going to be seen hand in hand with the world debut of Madonna’s show that is going to travel to over 50 other cities in the world and probably one of the biggest-grossing tours of the year. While it may be a coincidence that the tour is starting in Israel, Madonna’s past indicates that she’s developed a real affinity for the country and its people ever since she performed here for the first time in 1999 at Hayarkon Park.

Since then, she’s returned a number of times for event as the Kabbala Center in Tel Aviv, and in September, 2009, she closed her Sticky & Sweet tour back at Hayarkon Park with two shows.

“It isn’t even a regular visit anymore when she comes,” Weiss said at the press conference on Tuesday. “It’s as if she is the process of making aliya.”

What he probably meant was that Madonna likely feels comfortable with the country and its lifestyle to the extent that she decided to use it as a base for two weeks ahead of the tour’s opening.

“Every time I come here, I get so supercharged with energy,” she said onstage in 2009. “I truly believe that Israel is the energy center of the world. And I also believe that if we can all live together in harmony in this place, then we can live in peace all over the world.”

By choosing to open her tour here and bringing the world’s focus to our small country, Madonna is doing a great service in promoting the above ideals and spreading the word that what we have here is indeed the energy center of the world, and proving that in addition to whatever other monikors that she’s had hoisted upon her, there’s one more that fits her to a T: Zionist.

Nostalgia Sunday – Kol Israel archive open to all

As the child of a folksinger, it was more than exciting to read that the archive of American ethno-musicologist Alan Lomax has finally be digitized and 17,000 music tracks made accessible online through the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE). Lomax’s research, books and investigative sprit were evident on my parents’ bookshelves and record collection. As the child of an Israeli folksinger, it was equally exciting to hear that the Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) music collection has also been digitized and made publicly accessible. Israeli folk songs were, of course, a part of daily life.

“Technology has caught up to the imagination of Lomax,” and his vision of a “global jukebox”, wrote the New York Times of the newly opened ACE storehouse of audio treasure. Locally, the same is true. Only a few weeks ago, Israeli nostalgia repository launched an online radio station of old Israeli songs. Late last summer, we reported on Shapam’s collection of old radio ad spots. And now, the largest collection of Israeli music from pre-State to recent times, has been made available to the general public.

The Kol Israel preservation project was conducted by the National Sound Archives which is part of the Music Department at the Israel National Library. The Archives has the world’s largest collection of ethnographic and commercial recordings of Israeli and Jewish music. The online collection is available both via the National Sound Archive and through the Israel Broadcasting Authority website.

In a radio interview on Friday, Dr. Gila Flam, Head of the Music Department and National Sound Archive, described the volume of the Kol Israel project. In 1983, 6,300 phonograph records belonging to Kol Israel to the National Library. The majority were recordings of radio broadcasts as well as commercial recordings. Flam noted that these were rare acetate master records produced specifically for radio broadcast.

An additional 20,000 records containing a variety of materials were transferred in 2002 of which approximately 5,000 were selected for cataloging and preservation.

Most of these records contain broadcasts from the 1950s and include many unique recordings, chiefly in the field of Israeli music. The labels, which were photographed and cataloged, contain relevant information, such as the name of the artist, production date, etc. There are speeches, such as Israeli Ambassador to the US Abba Eban’s speech on Israel’s 9th Day of Independence, holiday songs like Tu b’Shvat (a dolorous ditty but included here in honor of the upcoming holiday), Im Nin’alu performed by Yemenite immigrants (the song was later made famous in a dance-trance version by the late great Ofra Haza), and of course, no Israeli musicological collection would be complete without accordion renditions of folk dances like Simi Yadech b’Yadi (Put your hand in mine) and Hora Agadati.

There are curiosities as well, such as Arik Lavie’s HaSela HaAdom (The Red Rock) which is labeled quite plainly: “This record is forbidden from broadcast”. The reason for the banning? The song, which described a midnight trip across the border into what was once enemy territory, to visit Jordan’s legendary Petra, had apparently inspired many young people to make similar treks to their peril. And so, Israel Radio bore the national responsibility to quash the trend.

The Legacy Heritage Fund, which provided funding for the digitization project, states, “Because of their impaired physical state, the records cannot be played at all, even for research purposes. The majority are made of acetate and are considered to be at risk because of chemical processes which could cause them to disintegrate at any moment. According to the research and directives of the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), these materials should be transferred to digital format immediately in order to preserve their content.”

“As part of this project the Kol Israel recordings, among others, are being transferred from analog to digital format. The Sound Archive includes studios equipped with instruments for optimal playback of old records and conversion to digital formats. After undergoing a cleaning and fixing process, the original materials are converted to both WAV files, for preservation, and MP3 files, to enable access. The preservation process is compliant with the IASA standards.”

Each month, dozens of new audio files will be added. The complete Kol Israel collection is currently being digitized and is scheduled to be uploaded by the end of 2012.

The library has also compiled collections of songs for ease of listening, such as a Nostalgic Hebrew Songs compilation.

The Music Department and National Sound Archive at the National Library welcomes public contributions and additions to the collections and knowledge database on any subject relating to Jewish or Israeli music and are happy to receive songs, recordings, manuscripts and any other material relevant to this field of study.

BTW: The ACE collection has almost no Jewish/Israeli content (Lomax researched the US, Great Britain, Ireland, the Caribbean, Italy, and Spain) but there is a radio show from 1948 that features part of this song, Dance the Hora: “Don’t be sad now, little one, little one / I command you to be happy / All our lives are sorrowful, sorrowful / Come forget your fears and troubles / Let’s have rhythm, let’s have dancing / Bring the music, bring the wine / Let the old and young clasp hands now / dance the hora /” etc. etc. It isn’t much of a folk song — or a song, for that matter — but the lyrics, sung in accented English to the accompaniment of an accordion (what else?) gives some insight as to the Jewish condition in that important year.

Israeli TV ad too ‘HOT’ for Iran to handle

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One thing Israelis can take pride in is their dark, subversive sense of humor.
Iran’s aiming to complete their nuclear program and aim missiles at Tel Aviv? No problem, let’s use it as a comedic backdrop.

That’s the case anyway with the current TV ad campaign by cable provider HOT, which is promoting its ‘on-demand’ epidsodes of the popular spy-comedy show ‘Asfur’ by offering a free Samsung Galaxy tablet as enticement for prospective customers to sign up for the on-demand package.

In the ad, a bored Mossad agent stationed in Iran, apparently to monitor Iran’s nuclear development, meets up with three characters from the show who are also clandestinely in the country dressed as women. Sitting in a café, the agent shows off the Samsung Galaxy, explaining that he used his downtime to use the on-demand option to watch episodes of ‘Asfur.’

At the end of the clip, one of the three Asfur accidentally pushes an application on the tablet over the frantic efforts of the agent, and a nuclear reactor is detonated in the background.

Typical Israeli sophomoric, whistling in the dark, hilarious humor. But evidently neither Iran nor Samsung are seeing the levity in it. According to a report in The Jerusalem Post sourcing Iran’s Press TV, Arsalan Fat’hipour, who heads the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, said over the weekend that Tehran was considering imposing a complete ban on buying all Samsung products. And, of course, they’ll probably aim their first operational nuke at the HOT corporate offices.

Meanwhile Samsung issued a statement saying, “Samsung Electronics is aware of a recent news report in Iranian media regarding an advertisement aired by HOT cable network of Israel. This advertisement was produced by HOT cable network without Samsung’s knowledge or participation… As a member of the global community, Samsung is committed to demonstrating respect for all people and cultures around the globe.”

The question is, how did Iran know that HOT was even airing the ads? Do they have spy here who subscribes to the company’s ‘Three-in-one” cable/Internet/phone service? If so, I hope they’re just as frustrated as the rest of us at having ‘You, Me & Dupree’ screening a million times a month on its movie channels. But I also hope he doesn’t have an itchy trigger finger.

In English or Hebrew, it’s Yael Deckelbaum

The number of Israel rock and pop artists singing in English in recent years has exploded. Between Assaf Avidan, Geva Alon, Tamar Eisenman, and a plethora of others, it seems sometimes like there’s more English than Hebrew out there.

So, in a refreshing change of pace, one of the first Israeli singers in English – Yael Deckelbaum – is bucking the trend and has just released her first exclusively Hebrew-language CD, Joy and Sadness.

A long-time fixture on the Israeli-Anglo club and festival circuit, Deckelbaum combines the folkie elements of Joni Mitchell and the bluesy wail of Janis Joplin into a cohesive whole. She’s the daughter of the late David Deckelbaum, who immigrated to Israel from Canada as a youngster and with his banjo led the bawdy folk/country/Irish Jerusalem legends The Taverners throughout the 1970s and 80. That’s where young Yael learned about music, and not even into her teens, she was joining her father onstage at The Jacob’s Ladder Folk Festival – Israel’s annual version of Woodstock.

By her early 20s, she stepped into the solo spotlight, and has been a live mainstay on Israeli stages – becoming even more well-known when she joined up with singers Karolina and Dana Adini to form the vocal trio Habanot Nechama.

After releasing her debut solo album in 2009 called Ground Zero, Deckelbaum began focusing on writing songs in Hebrew – her actual native tongue. And the result is Joy and Sadness, featuring a poignant photo of a young Deckelbaum riding on the shoulders of her father.

She promises she hasn’t abandoned writing and performing in English, and when she takes the stage for the album’s debut this month in Tel Aviv, she’ll be bi-lingual, and backed by two different bands – her own and special guests Mashina.

Whatever language Deckelbaum sings in, it seems to come out magic.

Sabras battle it out in court

Kishkashta and Shpitzik - separated at birth?

We all know that the nickname for Israelis is sabra. Now, I’m not saying that our natives are really prickly, argumentative and volatile, but it appears that in our country, even cartoon cacti can’t get along.

On one side we have Kishkashta, the thorny singing star of Israeli Educational TV’s children’s broadcasts for over 30 years. And on the other side is Shpitzkik, the spiky sabra mascot designed for the Israel Olympic Committee and the team of athletes headed to the Olympics this year.

IET has filed a motion with the Tel Aviv District Court to prevent the IOC from using Shpitzik because they say the two mutant sabras are too similar in appearance.

This case is actually being covered, and while not as urgent as the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, it is causing nail biting and nervousness among cartoon plant life around the country.

According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, Kishkashta made his first TV appearances in the 1970s, as part of the children’s show Ma Pit’om! (“What on Earth!”), and became known for his deep, somewhat lugubrious voice and signature song “They call me Kishkashta.”

In December, the IOC chose Shpitzik, a jaunty cactus clad in Israel’s official Olympic strip, as the mascot that will accompany the Israeli delegation to the London 2012 Olympic Games later this year.

The case is in court now, and our wise judicial sages will undoubtedly and down a just ruling. Sabras everywhere are bristling waiting for the answer. But in my mind, you can’t beat Kishkashta’s talent.

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