Nostalgia Sunday – Duets

Tonight is Erev Tu b’Av, the eve of a minor holiday that’s gained a great deal of popularity in recent years. To celebrate this so-called “Jewish Valentine’s Day” we present a few duets that are oldies but goodies. None of these male-female duos have stayed together (it’s a hard musical group structure to sustain) but the songs have withstood the test of time.

Perhaps it stemmed from Palmachnik prudishness but early Israeli romantic ballads were generally solo songs of longing sung by a lovesick youth, while boy-girl duets tended to be a bit hokey-jokey. Nonetheless, songs like Rina were hits — and the fashions can’t be beat.

Ani Holem al Naomi (I dream of Naomi) is a fun duet, performed by where-are-they-now duo Hedva and David. In its time, Naomi proved popular in other countries as well, with versions recorded in Korean and Japanese. More recently, a drag version was released.

Tni Li Yad (Give me your hand) is a very pretty song. Music is by the great Yoni Rechter with lyrics by Eli Moher, who performed the duet with his somewhat abashed daughter Sharon.

Pay no attention to the silly opener the precedes Shir Ahava Bedoui (Bedouin Love Song), one of the loveliest duets to come out of late 70s Israel. Try to ignore the costumes, too. Best to just shut your eyes, lean back and remember those summer nights on kibbutz…

Shuv (Once Again) is perhaps the most romantic of all Israeli duets. Performed by then husband and wife Josie Katz and Shmulik Krauss, the song describes the emotions of a couple reuniting after a long separation. This being Israel, the implication is that he has returned from reserve duty or perhaps a war. “Give me a moment… Let me catch my breath… Give me a chance to get used to you once again.”

And a happy belated birthday to Josie Katz!

Nostalgia Sunday – Commercials Go Way Retro

We are awash in a flood of nostalgia that shows absolutely no sign on abating. As part of that trend, our commercials and TV shows are populated by the stars of yesteryear, trying today to earn some of the cash-o-la they couldn’t back in those modest days.

Take, for example, singer-songwriter Mati Caspi, seen lately endorsing Bituach Yashir direct insurance. Other unlikely singing insurance pitchmen include David Broza and Boaz Sharabi.

And here, just to remind you of why we loved them — Riki Gal and Mati Caspi in concert televised by Channel 2, then in its infancy. (Check out Riki’s single lace glove!).

Gal, by the way, is still a force to be reckoned with (she judged the first two seasons of Kohav Nolad, the Israeli version of Pop Idol), and will be performing in Jerusalem on Monday night this week at a benefit for Tsad Kadima, the Israeli organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of children, adolescents and young adults with cerebral palsy and other motor dysfunctions. (Tickets are still available. Contact anat@tsadkadima.org.il or call 02-6540062).

But back to nostalgia: even stars who no longer walk this earth are getting into the game. Israel Discount Bank revived a commercial from the 80s that starred the late great actor Shaike Ophir.

The ad’s revival highlights the fact Discount Bank was Israel’s first to offer telebanking-a revolutionary concept back then, especially in light of the poor quality of our phone service (“poor” being a polite substitute for the other four letter word I was considering using). Ophir actually offers the cop an asimon phone token so he can make the call. The commercial has proven so popular, there’s a follow-up where today’s comedians pay homage to Ophir:

Even Maccabi Health Services has climbed on the retro bandwagon, launching a radio campaign that employs the use of this catchy jingle for powdered orangeade Zip. The connection between HMO and beverage is tenuous — something about “We’re not in the Eighties anymore, so why should your health organization be?” — but it’s fun to revisit the era and that peculiar but sweet Israeli institution of the family whistle. Enjoy the original.

Reviving Arad with Eldad Menuchin

The city of Arad is a sort of forgotten footnote in Israel’s history. Today, the selective and short memory of people living in Israel’s populous center associate Arad mainly with an annual festival of Israeli music. They forget, or worse perhaps, do not even know about Ben Gurion’s vision for Arad as a gateway to the Negev region, a center for industry and tourism because of its clean air, purportedly free of allergens and asthma-inducing pollens.

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Photographer Eldad Menuchin does remember. As a child, his family spent summer vacations in Arad.

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As an adult, he returned to Arad to create a series of images that capture perfectly the stultifying stillness of a summer afternoon as the city bakes underneath the hot desert sun.

Eldad Menuchin Arad-2006

But Menuchin’s work also depicts a city in steady decline since July 18, 1995 when a tragic event — in which three young persons were crushed to death by the festival crowd — tarnished the city’s reputation and deprived Arad of an important source of income.

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The circumstances of what has come to be known in Israel as The Arad Catastrophe, were as follows: in May 1995, two months prior to the festival, pop group Mashina announced they were breaking up and Arad would be their farewell concert. On the day of the concert, thousands of teens began crowding the gate leading into the open-air concert venue. The fence caved in during the performance of warm-up act Tea-packs and two young men were killed instantly. A third young woman died in hospital a few days later.

At the time, then-President Ezer Weizman blamed the horrific event on “the Americanization washing over us… Israel must beware of McDonalds, we must beware of Michael Jackson, we must beware of the Madonnas.”

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In fact, as official investigation later revealed, the parties at fault were the organizers who oversold tickets, did not open additional gates, and did not have a security officer present on the grounds. In addition, the police deployed an insufficient number of personnel — just 54 officers, according to the Wikipedia entry (in Hebrew) about the tragedy. Well, it wasn’t the first or the last time Weizman got things completely wrong.

The festival experienced something of a revival this past year when sponsorship taken over by mobile phone company Cellcom which renamed it Volume Arad — an attempt, it would seem, to break with the past, and hopefully bring the crowds back to the city.

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Dimona brings the soul

March 3, 2009 - 8:49 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Music, Pop Culture 

Soul Messages from DimonaI’m an avid fan of Sound Opinions – the world’s only rock and roll talk show – hosted by the rock critics from the Chicago Sun Times and Chicago Tribune. Their show runs the gamut – they cover the latest pop trends, industry news, desert island discs, interview current artists and dissect the classics. It’s a rock and roll geek’s perfect hour of radio. I’m a few weeks behind and the show I listened to today on my way to Jerusalem was a gem. They interviewed the founders of the Numero Group, a Chicago-based label who hunt down and reissue obscure albums that never got the audience they deserved. They focused primarily on soul and I was seriously digging the interview as well as the music. There was something about the feel of the tunes that matched the gloomy weather as well as my gloomy mood. I was in the zone. I was feeling it. And then BAM, my ears perk up when they mention “Soul Messages from Dimona,” an obscure compilation that was released in the late seventies. The Black Hebrews, a group of African-Americans who moved en masse to Israel in the seventies, have been supporting their community in Dimona for years with profits from their music. I must have been at least a dozen weddings where members of their community have performed and have seen other performances elsewhere but I had absolutely no idea that this album existed. It’s something special. It’s an incredible amalgamation of funk, soul, gospel, and a smidgen of psychedelia. The music blogosphere has universally praised it and the always biting and not too generous pitchforkmedia gave it a very rare high rating. This is a *must buy* for all fans of soul and an interesting part of Israeli history. And here I thought I knew everything about this country.

The Radiohead – Israel connection

January 20, 2009 - 2:46 PM by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Music, Pop Culture 

Radiohead is known for being one of the most innovative bands on the planet. Dudu Tessa is not. However, Tessa is a well known genre-jumping Israeli singer-songwriter. Tess grew up in the Hatikvah neighborhood of Tel Aviv and put his out first album when he was just thirteen years old and has released four more albums. So what does Tessa have to do with Radiohead you ask? His first single, “Ezei Yom” (What a Day), features Jonny Greenwood, mostly known for his work as Radiohead’s guitarist and keyboard player. According to Ynet (Hebrew link), Greenwood visits Israel quite often, which makes sense since his wife is Israeli and he met Tessa through family friends.

You can listen to the resulting song in the YouTube video I embedded below.

Radiohead’s relationship with Israel actually has quite an interesting back story. In 1993, several months after the band released their first single with minimal success, the song “Creep” made quite a splash on the charts in Israel due to well respected DJ Yoav Kutner’s incessant playing of the single (which was introduced to him by a local representative of EMI). And the rest is history. Radiohead was rushed to Israel to keep the buzz going and actually ended up playing their first gig outside of the UK in Tel Aviv. Weeks later they garnished some buzz on a few midmarket California stations and then career making radio station KROQ played it and they’ve snowballed into one of the world’s most popular, innovative and influential bands.

Good story, eh?

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