The Sounds of Israel – Makom music blogs
Israeli pop music is full of hints, comments, and colors of modern-day Israel. This ever-growing collection of blogs and articles draw on Israeli (and sometimes non-Israeli) songs to explore the deep rhythms of Israeli culture.
Over Yom Ha’atzmaut, I decided to dive in to the best of Israeli popular culture. For each new song of HaDag Nachash I managed to translate, I rewarded myself with a Goldstar Unfiltered Beer.
Both were tasty, but while the songs didn’t affect the quality of the beer, as the afternoon wore on the beer certainly began to affect the quality of the translations.
I got through three.
And then there was the back-and-forth with Shaanan Streett, over all the brilliant Hebrew word-play that is untranslatable. Three key examples from their latest single:
1. First of all, the title itself. On their youtube channel, עוד יהיה טוב yihiye tov b’eretz yisrael is given as “Things will get better”. In the end for the translation we agreed on “All will yet be well”. It has more of a classical ring to it, which the strangely-dated chorus sound hints at.
2. Early on in the song, the rapper asks: “From what do I draw cheer?” And then throws down a translation challenge. “Not from the Labor (party) and certainly not from the Likud (party) – well maybe a little from the labor.” My slight of hand in putting a small “l” instead of a capital “L” for labor hints very poorly at the neat ambiguity in the Hebrew. Does he mean that he tends to the left of the political spectrum, or is he already sliding into a conversation about his own job? In Hebrew he could be saying both or neither. The English? Meh.
3. בנינו פיס בהתנחלויות Baninu Payis behitnachluyot refers to the standard-design cultural centers, sports and arts halls, that are built throughout the country by the National Lottery (Mif’al haPayis). A more literal translation would be something like “We built Payis buildings in the settlements”. However since the non-Israeli is unlikely to recognize such a reference, we went for the double-meaning of “lottery” – not just that the institution builds structures in the West Bank, but that this is something of a gamble…
Here are the three songs in their agreed versions. Just click on the “cc” button to choose English subtitles. And crack open a beer…
And here they are performing a bit of the song on the banks of the Kinneret…
October 24, 2016 by Makom
Why write about fantastic Israeli music trends, when you can just as easily listen to them?
This is the first in a series of podcasts about Israeli culture, narrated by Robbie Gringras. This episode looks at two classics, one Israeli and one American, that received a fascinating upgrade by two Israeli bands…
The Arik Einstein/Judy Katz version of “What’s with me?”
Teapack version of “What’s with me?”
To buy the Teapacks track, click here
Tracy Chapman performs “Baby can I hold you?”
Red Band and Sarit Hadad perform “Baby can I hold you?”
To buy the Red Band/Sarit Hadad track, click here
In collaboration with the Rabin Center, top Israeli band HaDag Nachash have just released a brand new song for Rabin Memorial Day.
Entitled “What would have been if?” the song remembers and laments.
Here is our translation, officially endorsed by the band:
The past we know, some of us even remember
How a few moments after the end of the speeches
We were all as one fixed to the receivers
Until the message reached our ears – and left us without words or utterance
And with a slightly bashful glance we were sucked back into the cycle
Of wounded and licking and wounded and flogging – like a wave
But you should know, that there are moments
When I see high above the Cypress trees
And above the heads of my exhausted People
A bubble floats and inside three words:
“What would have been if?”
The present is known with no need to expand
How it drains and shakes how it pressures with no quiet
And how every winter we race after the left-overs of the left-overs
Because maybe in the summer we’ll be running to the bomb-shelters
But know that there are moments
In which I see high above the Cypress trees
And above the heads of my exhausted People
A floating tear and inside three words:
“What would have been if?”
And our untrustworthy future what does it have in store
What more can it bury
Your Six Days blossomed a hundredfold
And nowadays not only we declare victory
And to think that you had the courage to change
And to think you knew how to plant hopes
And to think that you raised up to fly and went far enough to see
And to think that you managed to understand:
“What would be if…?”
September 13, 2015 by Robbie Gringras
I’ll admit that there has been little leading up to Rosh Hashana that leaves me looking forward to the New Year. The extremities of Climate Change, the extremities of Middle Eastern conflicts, the extremities of poverty, refugees, and public discourse.
And then, galloping in on its White Horse, Israeli popular culture comes to lift me up once more. I have been translating Israeli popular music for over a decade now, but today I celebrate the fact that Israel’s Song of the Year is untranslatable.
The song “Sweet when I am Bitter” is such a delightful reggae swing through the cutest of Hebrew word play, that it is no wonder it won the listeners’ award on top radio station Galgalatz.
Throughout the song, Eliad Nachum strings together a hidden list of top music stars, like a musical word puzzle of Israeli popular culture. The chorus in particular is a delight.
A direct English translation would have you understand that Eliad is praising his girlfriend while referring to a friend of theirs called Bob: “You create sweetness like Bob, when I am bitter.” But the word “bitter” in Hebrew is “Mar”, and “Li” indicates the bitterness is mine. In this way we can hear that the Hebrew is hiding the iconic reggae star: “BOB, ksheMARLEY”
As well as playing with pop stars, Eliad touches on the bible, too. “Just tell me, and I’ll run into the (lions’) den” he proclaims. But while referencing the Book of Daniel, he also gently plants a tribute to beloved performer Gidi Gov: “Rak taGIDI ve’arutz el toch haGOV”
The whole song pays tribute to HaDag Nachash, Eyal Golan, Dudu Tasa, Nomi Shemer, and many more.
I could have done one of Makom’s standard video translations, but more would have been lost than captured.
I think this is cause for celebration.
Hebrew culture has now reached such a thickness that even the hit parade is too dense to be easily translated.
October 27, 2014 by Robbie Gringras
Here is the thing about the Berlin Balagan and the Milky Moan. They have nothing to do with the city of Berlin or the Milky dessert.
The controversy has been simmering for some time. Young Israelis have been working to attain European passports so as to more easily leave Israel. Berlin is their most attractive and symbolically incendiary European destination. The thought that an Israeli could actively seek to live in the Land of the Holocaust sends shivers down Zionist spines.
The rhetorical stakes are high. To Full Post
Singer-songwriter Yonatan Raza’el went to the shiva house of the Frankel family, after the murder of their son, Naftali Frankel. Later at a concert he confided that Rachel Frankel, Naftali’s mother, found him sitting in a corner and said to him: “Yonatan, I don’t know if you know this, but all we have to say now is “I am unworthy of all the kindness that You have so steadfastly shown Your servant.”
She was both quoting from the book of Genesis 32, and also from Yonatan’s award-winning song: Ktonti – I am unworthy.
May 15, 2014 by Makom
It may be fair to say that while most Israelis were surprised at the conviction of Ehud Olmert, and even at Olmert’s involvement in illegal activities, few Israelis were surprised to learn of corruption in the higher echelons of the State. After all, Ehud Olmert is far from the first minister of government to be sent to prison for corruption-related charges.
Here are HaDag Nachash’s top three songs of political corruption…
“Only Here I feel at home, although I’m angry about the corruption” (in the days when Makom was called NACIE…)
“I’ve had it up to here with political parties…” The FishSnakers’ take on Meir Ariel’s timeless lyrics.
Raging against the machine… it’s time to wake up… (click on captions for subtitles we provided)
Originally published 2007
In Eurovisionland, things like this aren’t supposed to happen.
In Eurovisionland everybody is smiling, all songs are catchy, and boom boom bingabang is a challenging lyric. This year, it’s all going to be different. And it’s all Israel’s fault.
The Eurovision Song Contest is Europe’s leading annual song contest, drawing huge numbers of viewers, and the continent’s greatest musical talent. Every country selects their own favorite original song, and sends off their hero to compete for the crown of the best song in Europe that year. Unlike X Factor, the emphasis here is on the song-writing itself, and not necessarily on the performer.
Are HaDag Nahash coming to perform for you?
Why not make sure that everyone enjoys their lyrics as well as their music?
All you need to do is set up a screen above the stage, a computer projector, and download these powerpoints…
Then all you need is someone who is a fan of the band, whose Hebrew is as good as their English, and who has a spare finger to keep clicking…. You can find a few more tips here in our section on booking Israeli bands.
Two more things:
- Please keep our logos on the slides – we’re not asking for any payment, just acknowledgment.
- Find out more about HaDag Nahash from their official site, here.
November 28, 2013 by Robbie Gringras
Along with the heart-felt tributes to Arik Einstein, there has been a fascinating undercurrent of emotional hoarding on the part of some Israelis. Assuming that no one outside of Israel has ever heard of Arik Einstein or any of his songs, they then make a further assumption that it is their job to explain what he and his music meant. Yet after this double-assumption, everything closes down. Writes Israeli-born Liel Leibovitz: “I have nothing to say to you about Arik Einstein. I’m sorry to sound like a prick, but you wouldn’t get it.” It’s an extreme comment, but sums up a prevailing sentiment. Those non-Israelis, they won’t get it.
There is something rather beautiful and also sad about this kind of response. The character and the music of Arik Einstein made its impact in the way the best of art should: Through our hearts. His music touched millions, each of whom received it as if created for them alone. This is the paradoxical magic of art. As a result, when feeling his loss, it is a personal emotional loss that – when we are sad – we sometimes fight to “own”. “You wouldn’t get it,” is a perfect way to maintain the purity and unique authenticity of my pain. To Full Post