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.

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.

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. To Full Post

Don’t Fence Me In – Global Jewish Forum III

June 11, 2012 by

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Thinking towards the Global Jewish Forum on Liberalism and Zionism.

One song and two clips has got me thinking.

Here Ella Fitzgerald sings Don’t Fence Me In. It’s a jaunty declarative and celebratory song, loving the open spaces, remembering the pioneering days of being able to walk freely in one’s own land. On the one hand it extols freedom, and on the other hand it extols sovereignty – the ability, right, and power to do as one wishes on a huge swathe of land.

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Israel as part of the Whole

February 2, 2012 by

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I don’t normally like Israeli songs that are written and performed in English.

I’m a great fan of Tamar Eisenman’s artistry, and of Asaf Avidan’s surreality, but what can I tell you – I’m an old-school Zionist. I’m big on our developing and Israeli-Jewish culture in Hebrew. You don’t need to – even I call me old-fashioned. I kind of think that if we can’t even create our own renewal of Jewish culture here in the Holy Land, then really what are we doing here?

But just now a great song came out by an Israeli woman who writes and performs in English. This one made it past my usual barriers. It’s one of those rare Israeli songs that while escaping the particularity of Hebrew, doesn’t feel the need to escape Israel and her issues. To Full Post

The Song for our Troubled Times?

January 5, 2012 by

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“Point a finger at someone and you’re pointing three fingers at yourself.”

Yeah I know, it’s one of those annoying aphorisms that appear on Facebook with some cute photoshopped image. But as in many annoying Facebook aphorisms, it has something to it.

I’ve been thinking about this physiological morality tale over the past few weeks. Like an evil wind, uproar against one Israeli ‘tribe’ or another has been whipping from headline to headline, stirring up anger then moving on to the next issue, leaving pointing fingers in its wake.

I keep returning to the Prayer of the Secular. It’s a song by Kobi Oz that, to my mind, manages to point a finger at everyone, and yet finds a space for self-critique and harmony. (For a less polemic interpretation of the song, feel free to pop over here, where you’ll also find a full written translation and explanatory footnotes.)

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The top 5 tent protest songs

August 24, 2011 by

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First appeared in

What is the theme song for Israel’s Tent Protests? Although there are some brand new candidates (Mosh Ben Ari’s Look Me In The Eyes, and the unplugged version of a new song The Good Guys Will Win, that HaDag Nachash wrote specially for the Tent Protests), Israelis are rediscovering popular songs from the recent past that would seem to have been written with the current protests in mind. Tallkbackers and youtube uploaders are hailing them as prophecies finally coming to pass…

My top five are as follows:

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A new Star is Born

July 24, 2011 by

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Hagit Yaso won A Star is Born last night.

I don’t think even she was all that surprised. While tens of thousands demonstrated in the streets of Tel Aviv for fair housing prices, and others mourned the loss of Norway’s security and Amy Winehouse, the rest of us were watching cute Hagit win A Star is Born.

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Remembering Debbie Friedman

January 10, 2011 by

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I opened the newspapers and couldn’t find it.

I knew it was an outside chance, but it made me sad nevertheless.

Last night Debbie Friedman died. It was all over my facebook and, I’m assuming, all over the facebook of thousands of English-speaking Jews. But so far nothing in Israel.

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When Shalom only means goodbye

October 23, 2010 by

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This year I had a tough Rabin Day.

So many replays of that night, so many archived appearances of Rabin on chat shows, and the speeches he made.

What struck me most was the number of times Rabin talked about Peace. These days it is so rare to hear someone talking about peace.

We hear much talk about “reaching an agreement”, we hear a great deal about recognition and borders and security arrangements and settlements, but I don’t hear anyone talking about peace any more. We talk about methods techniques and procedures to solve the problem, to find an end to the conflict, to divide or not divide the land, but it feels like we’ve forgotten to even dream about what that might look like beyond lines on a map.

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