The Rough Guide to the Music of Israel

why a shadow of a hasid in an album with nothing remotely hasidic?

The Rough Guide to the music of Israel
RGNET1168CD, 2006


It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to try to encapsulate the amazing salad that is Israeli music on one CD. As the liner notes to this recording point out, Israel is home to a hundred cultures, all swimming together, mixing together, and the variety of music and the intensity of the music in such a small space may be unmatched anywhere else in the world.

So, here's the good news&8212;this is a very good guide to some of the best of the many streams of Israeli music. There is a lot that isn't here: no Shalom Chanoch or Yehuda Poliker; no Esther Ofarim or Shoshana Damari; no Shlomo Gronich or Mati Caspi. Certainly nothing so avant garde as Kruzenshtern & Parohod. But this isn't an encylopedia, it's a one-CD sampler whose goal is to inveigle the non-Israeli listener, to catch and intrigue the listener to come here more.

The variety of music that is here is wonderful. There are a couple of golden oldies such as Arik Einstein and Chava Alberstein (with a song from her Yiddish repertoire), both with earlier material. There are current pop favorites such as the album opening "Tea Packs" (actually, "tipix"—the Israeli name for "white out"), "Hadag Nahash", represented here by a song more typical of their repertoire than the hit "sticker song" of a couple years ago. There is a host of Mizrahi music—music from Judeo-Arab and Judeo-Spanish traditions, that ranges from a soaring Ofra Haza singing "Ode Le-Eli" to traditionalists such as Kol Oud Tof Trio and Yasmin Levy, on to pop favorite Zehava Ben, and to middle-eastern fusion bands such as Bustan Abraham and Yair Dalal. Shlomo Bar is represented by a song he did with David D'Or in one of my favorite recent periods of Habrera Hativit, a new recording of "Atzlano Kafar Todrah" (poetry by the late blind poet Erez Bitan, if memory serves, and originally recorded as part of the band's first album back in 1978). Judeo-Arabic cantor Emil Zrihan is here with "Habibi Dyali", and the new, groundbreaking Ethiopian hip hop artist, Idan Raichel is represented by "Blassings for the New Year".

It's an amazing tour. The Rough Guide folks did a truly excellent job of coming up with a collection that hints at the diversity of Israeli music, while also presenting some of the favorites of the past 30 or 40 years. This is not a collection for Israelis, but for non-Israelis who are curious and open to diverse and compelling music. The CD also contains web material, so you can browse more information about the artists, as well as listen to an interview with the person who compiled the collection. (The compiler sounds like he has a decent "tourist" understanding of Israeli history and culture—this is not a scholarly discussion, nor one informed by deep scholarship. There are a few howlers—his mention of klezmer is Israel is correct in noting that it isn't generally heard, but entirely ignorant as to its place within the religious community; he similarly doesn't seem to know the difference between "Palestinian" and "Arab", or more than a general impression about the pre-state Yiddish vs. Hebrew cultural wars. But the talk is close enough, and well-enough expressed to interest non-Israelis wanting to explore.)

If I have a real complaint, it is that there are no specific song credits. The liner notes present some good information about each artist, but the authors and/or composers of the songs (if known—some of these are traditional and the authorship is lost) are never noted.

If you are thinking of introducing a friend to what Israeli music sounds like, or if you want to get a sense of the diversity of styles represented there, this is an excellent place to start. Well done! כל הכבוד!

Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 4 June 2006.


  1. Yesh Li Havera (Tea Packs) 3:02
  2. Ode Le-Eli (Ofra Haza) 3:29
  3. Dezile Al Mi Amor (Kol Oud Tof Trio) 3:07
  4. Blessings for the New Year (Idan Raichel's Project) 3:33
  5. Abadai (Bustan Abraham) 3:24
  6. Atzlano Kafar Todrah (Shlomo Bar & David D'Or) 5:42
  7. Margaritkalach (Chava Alberstein) 5:19
  8. Rooti (Arik Einstein) 3:04
  9. Locura—Madness (Yasmin Levy) 5:38
  10. Sika Rondo (Israeli Andalusian Orchestra) 5:37
  11. Silan (Yair Dalal & the Alol Ensemble) 9:21
  12. Habibi Dyali (Emil Zrihan) 7:22
  13. Melech Amiti (Zehava Ben) 3:27
  14. Kamti (Hadag Nahash) 3:35

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