Filed under: Art, design, General, History and Culture, Israeliness, Movies, Music, Nostalgia Sunday, Pop Culture, Travel, tv
A new exhibit, “Israeli Records, Local Grooves” opened earlier this month at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s gallery space in Tel Aviv. The exhibition pays homage to a lost art: the large-format 33 1/13 RPM album cover, and the artists who created some of Israel’s most memorable pop images. For example, David Tartakover’s cover for Shalom Hanoch’s Mechakim La’mashiach (Waiting for the Messiah); a close-up of an ashtray containing all the hallmarks of Israeli impatience: chewing gum, a blister-pack wrapper of some sort of anti-anxiety medicine and, of course, cigarette butts, burnt matches and more cigarette butts.
Aris San was a beloved singer of sad Greek songs who found fame and fortune in the night clubs of Jaffa. He’s credited with bringing Greek and Mediterranean mizrahi music to the wider Israeli audience.
Zohar Argov was known as “The King” as one of the first mizrahi singers to successfully crossover into mainstream popular culture. This album was issued by a company called Galton - something more or less akin to an Indie label – but Argov’s mainstay was the cassette market: recordings purchased at central bus stations around the country.
Haim Topol became famous internationally for his portrayal of Tevye the Milkman in the film version of Fiddler on the Roof. But locally, he will always be remembered for his roles in Ephraim Kishon’s movies Sallah (more about that here) and Ervinke, in which he played a devil-may-care Tel Avivian.
Svika Pick (a.k.a: Tzvika Pik, Tsvika Pick, Henrik or Henryk) is the closest Israel has ever come to a true pop star. He started out emulating David Bowie, as you can see, on this album issued by another more or less Indie lable, Koliphon, run by two brothers out of their record store.
Pick later morphed into a local version of Peter Frampton, Elton John (complete with soccer playing) and more recently, something like Ozzy Osbourne (reality TV show). He wrote Dana International’s Eurovision winning hit, Diva, and has been a judge on the local version of American Idol. His daughter dated Quentin Tarantino. And he does it all with sunglassed nonchalance. And to think it started with a layer of silver body paint.
“Israeli Records, Local Grooves” runs through November 20 at the Bezalel Gallery, 60 Salameh Street in south Tel Aviv.
Filed under: Art, General, History and Culture, Holidays, Israeliness, Nostalgia Sunday, Politics, Pop Culture, Religion, War
Composer Naomi Shemer wrote the song Shlomit Bonah Sukkat Shalom (“Shlomit builds a house of peace”) in 1974 as part of an album of childrens’ songs. The date is telling: released one year after the Yom Kippur war, the song expressed hope for a battle-fatigued nation, battered by a difficult political climate and uncertain diplomatic situation. The song has since become a beloved standard for Israeli children and the adults who were once children; in four verses, Shemer manages to encapsulate the traditions of the sukkot holiday and the ideal of better world.
Here is the song as performed at the time by Hanan Goldblatt, Aliza Rosen and Gabi Eldor.
And here is a version sung decades later by kiddie show presenters Rinat and Yoyo, her robot assistant. (I don’t know why she has a robot).
…plus mizrachi singer Avi Peretz recently pitched in with a Middle Eastern-flavored version.
Shemer was never apolitical in her writing and was certainly associated with Israel’s right-wing, but even she might be nonplussed at the heavy-handed way in which her song was parodied this past week by comedy site LatmaTV. There aren’t English subtitles so here is the gist: the world is accusing Shlomit of destroying the peace process by building her sukkah, which she will proceed to build anyway. (I did say “heavy-handed”, didn’t I?) Oh well, as you watch, bear in mind that there’s no word in Hebrew for “subtlety”.
Filed under: A New Reality, General, History and Culture, Holidays, Israeliness, Music, Nostalgia Sunday, Pop Culture, tv
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.”
Filed under: General, History and Culture, Israeliness, Movies, Music, Nostalgia Sunday, Politics
The members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet went on a little trip today up to visit historic Tel Hai in the Galilee. Going on tiyul is quite common this season — dozens of people are hiking Shvil Yisrael, the Israel National Trail this month — but it’s unusual for members of Knesset to move en masse out of their comfort zone and into the periphery.
However, this was a special occasion. Today being the 90th anniversary of the battle at the Tel Hai compound — itself refurbished thanks to the efforts of The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites (SPIHS) — it was selected as an appropriate time and place for a cabinet meeting to approve a comprehensive plan, the largest ever, to “strengthen the national heritage infrastructures of the State of Israel”.
What is a national heritage infrastructure? As set out in Netanyahu’s plan (called TAMAR which in Hebrew is the acronym for “national heritage infrastructure”) it consists of about 150 “tangible/material cultural resources” (archaeological and historic sites) and “intangible/nonmaterial cultural resources” (archives and collections of literature, poetry, philosophy, arts, crafts, music and song, dance, theater, film, traditions, holidays, festivals, ceremonies, etc.) all in need of rehabilitation and/or enrichment. TAMAR will cost almost NIS 400 million, and will be funded by private donations to be matched by allocations from the budgets of 16 government ministries.
The list of sites — which is not yet finalized — includes 37 archaeological sites, 39 museums and collections, and 62 sites relating to Israel’s Jewish and Zionist heritage — many literally crumbling to bits, such as the magnificent painted ceiling in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim Yeshiva. There are also 13 projects in the “intangible/nonmaterial” category that would restore cultural resources like the backlog of yet-uncatalogued movies still in cartons at the Israel Film Archive – as well as upgrade the archive building itself.
Two additional trails will be created in addition to Shvil Yisrael, promised Netanyahu, one a historic trail of archaeological sites from the biblical, Second Temple and other eras in the history of the Land of Israel, the other a trail tracing the places and events that gave rise to the modern-day State of Israel.
Netanyahu couldn’t have given a better example than this one: dowdy, dingy Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. “It is good that the city is open to the world and good that the city is alive and moving forward. But at 16 Rothschild Boulevard, there is a small auditorium in which the State of Israel was declared. There, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, declared the State of Israel.
“The hall is run-down. I am not saying that it is about to fall over but as far as the many young people and others, who flock to the street, to Rothschild Boulevard, are concerned, they do not know it. They do not visit it at all. And therefore, we will rehabilitate Independence Hall.”
The long-term payoff for TAMAR, say the plan’s authors, will be NIS 630 million in annual tourism revenue, job creation in the amount of 3,500 permanent positions plus 800 more during the 5-year period of the plan’s execution, and development of tourism to the Negev and Galilee regions. Later this week, the cabinet is due to approve the national transportation plan joining the Galilee and other regions to an accessible national transportation grid.
The cabinet also made a separate decision today on a new building for Israel’s National Library, funded by a donation from Yad Hanadiv (the Rothschild Foundation).
Filed under: Art, General, History and Culture, Israeliness, Music, Nostalgia Sunday, Pop Culture
Glee, the TV comedy about a high-school choral group, is coming to Israel and the streets are filled with billboards touting its arrival. Satellite service provider YES needn’t worry about the show’s popularity here. Israelis have a long-standing tradition of community choirs, vocal groups and other forms of “Gleekiness”.
This coming summer, for example, Israel will host the 22nd Zimriya World Assembly of Choirs.
Zimriya is a really unusual international celebration that invites choirs from all over the world to participate in concerts, workshops led by world renowned conductors, choir-to-choir sessions and informal singing into the wee hours.
But let’s go back in time, a bit, to the source of our geekiness. And by that, I mean, central and eastern Europe where the tradition of community-based choral singing was reinforced under socialism and communism as handy tool for educating the masses. Young Labor Zionists came to Palestine to establish kibbutzim and immediately set up choirs as part of collective cultural life. Some are still going strong, the most important of which is the Gevatron, today considered Israel’s national choir.
The Gevatron began in 1948 when, according to the choir’s site, “a group of singers in Kibbutz Geva performed at the dedication of a new basketball court on the kibbutz. They called themselves the ‘Gevatron’ – a combination of the name of the kibbutz with the name of the ‘Cheezbatron’, a singing troupe that performed during the War for Independence. The young group started performing for communal occasions in the kibbutz, with accordion accompaniment. They were amateurs and sang mainly verses, written by members of the kibbutz, to borrowed melodies, Russian songs for the most part.”
See what I mean about the Eastern European thing? Anyway, more information about the Gevatron is available on the site, including Bat 60, their most recent pop music coup, singing backup to rap artist Subliminal.
The Mila-Li website, which centralizes information about choirs in Israel, lists 114 choirs active in Israel today. Mila – the Israeli Organization for Choirs and Singing Groups, is now gearing up for a massive choral happening at the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) this coming weekend.
For more information about choral music from years gone by, the Zemereshet website is an absolute gem of an volunteer-run downloadable archive that includes hundreds of Hebrew songs (texts and sound files) from the early Zionist period and up to 1948. These include recordings from live sing-along performances and recent recordings of old songs, as well as valuable old commercial recordings by soloists and choruses.
Another great source of online videos is the Israeli Music History site, a labor of love compiled by lawyer Boaz Guttman. Leave aside his professional pages about forensic investigation – there are some real musical treasures to be found here if you dig around.
Israel’s choral tradition continues today, not just mired in tradition but also creating new and different forms of Gleekiness for all to enjoy. Case in point: the Voca People. Though their backstory is nerdiness incarnate — (they came from another planet and communicate with the earthlings through sound) — there’s no denying either their a capella musical prowess or the enjoyment they bring to audiences. It’s total, gleeful fun.