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.

“Sweet when I am Bitter” – a New Year’s celebration of Hebrew

September 13, 2015 by

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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.

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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.

Shana Tova!

The sweet desserts of Berlin – aliya, yerida, and Zionism

October 27, 2014 by

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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

I am unworthy – Israeli music meets the bible meets the conflict


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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.

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The corruption files of HaDag Nahash

May 15, 2014 by

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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…)

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“I’ve had it up to here with political parties…” The FishSnakers’ take on Meir Ariel’s timeless lyrics.

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Raging against the machine… it’s time to wake up… (click on captions for subtitles we provided)

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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.

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HaDag Nahash – translation powerpoints for you


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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…



Consolation Song


Grievance against Political Parties

Here I Come

It’ll all work out

It’s not enough




Sticker Song


Time to Wake Up


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:
  1. Please keep our logos on the slides – we’re not asking for any payment, just acknowledgment.
  2. Find out more about HaDag Nahash from their official site, here.

Arik Einstein – Lost and Found in Translation

November 28, 2013 by

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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

Celebrating HaDag Nahash – a retrospective

September 25, 2013 by

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I’ve been doing a lot of HaDag Nahash recently. As part of my work for Makom I’ve been translating the latest album at the band’s request, and preparing translation projections for their show at the opening of London’s new JW3 building. Lots of bilingualising and cutting and pasting.

Then a couple of nights ago I took my daughter to see a gig of theirs, at the outdoor amphitheater in Binyamina. Standing there, bopping and singing with my thirteen year-old as I had done some 11 years ago with my then-fourteen year old son at Limmud UK, I was struck by three thoughts.

HaDag Nahash have been going a long time, they keep getting better, and their work has helped me live and thrive in this strange and wonderful country. To Full Post

A Matter of Habit

October 18, 2012 by


Izhar Ashdot is an Israeli rock legend, a founding member of Tislam, the most successful Israeli band of all time, and a solo performer in his own right. He has long been a left-wing activist and often performs at Meretz (left-wing social democratic political party) rallies.

Generally an adored musician, Ashdot has found himself in the center of a controversy that is rocking Israeli society in a different way than he is used to. This week the Director of Galatz גל”צ, one of the two nationwide radio stations operated by the IDF, ruled that Ashdot’s latest song עניין של הרגל “A Matter of Habit” could not be performed or played on the station.

While Galatz is an army radio station run by the Ministry of Defense, this has not stopped it being a voice of free expression and a lynchpin in the cultural development of the State of Israel. For Galatz to censor or ban a song is almost unheard of. And banning an Izhar Ashdot song… unthinkable.

I had already heard rumors on the blogosphere as to the problematic nature of the song including a couple of open letters from would-be politicians/minor celebrities questioning Ashdot’s thinking; but until Galatz banned the song I hadn’t taken the time to listen to it.

With a fellow Israeli in my office I pulled the song up on YouTube and we watched the official music video.

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There is no doubt this is a painful song which sets its sights on Israeli society and in particular the Army for creating a culture of fear and hatred which make killing “a matter of habit”. This exaggerated and one-sided criticism tempers a deeper message in the song, as Ashdot really seems to be saying that we have backed ourselves into a corner, convinced ourselves that it is us against the World and placed our existential threats on a pedestal that has become identity defining.

Ashdot claimed in an interview that, “A song becomes political when it is treated in that way.” But some might argue that a song becomes political when it contains the line, “Patrolling all night in the Kasbah of Shechem. Hey what here is ours and what is yours?”

We have a habit in Israel of making valid points in such strong words, sometimes even extremist, that the original message is lost. (As an aside, in America I have found the exact opposite: valid points made in such weak, consensual language that I can no longer identify the original message.) Peace Now is against Settling the West Bank, a legitimate opinion, yet they often portray Settlers as the enemy and use overly painful terms in describing their opponents.

Likud often questions the validity of biased human rights organizations run by Israelis who are funded by foreign governments, again a legitimate opinion, but by framing these organizations as traitors, the argument loses its own validity. Ashdot has fallen in this trap.

He ends the song with the words, “To learn how to love, is a matter of delicacy”, and it’s a shame that he hasn’t heeded his own advice. For, with all the delicacy of a hammer Ashdot has saddened and angered mainstream Israel with an apparent attack on the most beloved institution (the IDF), when he could have artistically side-stepped naming names and had a deeper effect. We can’t really blame him, it’s all a matter of habit.

The writer is Makom’s Community Shaliach and Israel Engager in Greater Washington

Clap Your Hands! Campari! – from protest to parody and back

July 22, 2012 by


A couple of years ago HaDag Nachash came out with a song that took a swipe at the cultural and political choices of most Israelis. Consolation Song critiqued the way in which Israeli music – and the tastes of its listeners – had begun to run away from any engagement with the world. “Best not to stay up all night worrying about things,” rationalized the song, since there’s “no solution anyway. Better to sing consolation songs.”

A combination of fear at what clear-eyed critique might reveal, and a general moral laziness was leading people to kick back, hang out, and enjoy a vacuous kind of dance music. The song was performed in a virtuoso replica of the very genre HaDag Nachash were critiquing. Namely, party-mood, bazooki-tinged clap-fest Mediterranean music. 

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