FOLK MUSIC

 

The music of Israel is a combination of Jewish and non-Jewish music traditions that have come together over the course of a century to create a distinctive musical culture. For almost 150 years, musicians have sought original stylistic elements that would define the emerging national spirit. In addition to creating an Israeli style and sound. The works of Israeli classical composers have been performed by leading orchestras worldwide.

Music in Israel is an integral part of identity. "Public singalongs were a common pastime, and were for them a force in defining their identity", wrote Nathan Shahar. Jewish immigrants from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere brought with them their musical traditions, melding and molding them into a new Israeli sound.

The first efforts to create a corpus of music suitable for a new Jewish entity were in 1882. This was the year of the First Aliyah, the first wave of Jewish immigrants seeking to create a national homeland in Palestine. As there were no songs yet written for this national movement, Zionist youth movements in Germany and elsewhere published songbooks, using traditional German and other folk melodies with new words written in Hebrew. An example of this is the song that became Israel's national anthem, "Hatikvah. The words, by the Hebrew poet Naftali Herz Imber, express the longing of the Jewish people to return to the land of Zion. The melody is a popular eastern European folk melody.

In 1895 Jewish immigrants established the first Jewish orchestra in the town of Rishon LeZion, and played light classics and marches.

Avraham Zvi Idelsohn, a trained cantor from Russia and a musicologist, who lived in Jerusalem in 1906, with the objective of studying and documenting the musics of the various Jewish communities there. At the time, there were a number of Jewish enclaves in Jerusalem, for Yemenites, Hassids, Syrians and other Jewish ethnic groups. Idelsohn meticulously documented the songs and musical idioms of these groups. Idelsohn was joined by a few more classically trained musicians and ethnomusicologists, including Gershon Ephros in 1909 and, later, Joel Engel in 1924. Like Idelsohn, Engel worked to disseminate traditional ethnic tunes and styles to the general Jewish public.

The Second Aliyah, beginning in 1904, saw an increase in composition of original songs by Jewish immigrants. Among the earliest composers of folk songs were Hanina Karchevsky ("BeShadmot Beit Lehem"), and David Ma'aravi ("Shira Hanoar").

Over the next 30 years, Jewish composers began to seek new rhythmic and melodic modes that would distinguish their songs from the traditional European music. Leaders of this musical movement were Matityahu Shelem ("VeDavid Yefe Eynaim", "Shibbolet Basadeh"), Yedidia Admon ("Shadmati"),the composer Menashe Ravina, Marc Lavry ("Shir Ha-Emek", "Kitatenu Balayla Tzoedet"), Mordechai Zeira ("Hayu Leylot", "Layla Layla", "Shney Shoshanim") and others.

Emanuel Zamir worked in the 40s and 50s in a genre known as "shirei ro'im" (shepherd songs). He combined Bedouin music with Biblical-style lyrics, often accompanied by the recorder.

The movement to create a repertoire of Hebrew songs, which influenced the literature, theater and graphic arts of the period as well as music – was to seek cultural roots of the new Israeli nation in the culture of the ancient Hebrews of the Bible. The characteristics of the new Hebrew style, contended composer Yitzhak Edel, are "remnants of ancient Hebrew music that have struggled to survive the years of diaspora. The Histadrut Labor Union, which, prior to the founding of the state of Israel served many of the functions of a government, created the "Merkaz LeTarbut" (Cultural Center), which published many songbooks, and subsidized the composition of works by Hebrew composers. Public singalongs were actively encouraged. The kibbutz movements distributed songsters and established the singalong as a central daily event in kibbutz life. Public singalongs were also seen as a way of teaching Hebrew to new immigrants from Europe and, later, from Middle Eastern countries. The state radio has also been a powerful force in promoting the Hebrew song, the stations initiate special projects for the preservation of the Israeli song heritage and to encourage the writing and recording of 'authentic' music.

Songs of Israel

Songs of Israel

Songs of Israel
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Jewish Yeminite Music

The music of Yemenite Jews was particularly influential in the development of Israeli music because it was seen by early new immigrants as a link to their biblical roots. The music of the ancient Hebrews, wrote the musicologist A.Z. Idelsohn, "is preserved in memory and practice in various Jewish centers. There was a Yemenite Jewish community in Palestine before 1900, and the European pioneers who came in the 1920s were enamored of the Yemenite style. In the 1930s and 1940s, Yemenite singer Bracha Zefira researched and recorded many Yemenite songs, and also sang original compositions in the Yemenite style. An example is the song "Shtu HaAdarim" (Drink, the Flock), with words by Alexander Penn and music by Nahum Nardi.

 

Aharon Amram became the first to record Yemenite music using instruments from outside its tradition. Among the instruments he accompanied his traditional Yemenite singing with were guitar, violin, qanoun, trumpet, trombone and percussion instruments. Yemenite music reached a world audience in the 1980s as a result of the efforts of Israeli singer Ofra Haza, whose album Yemenite Songs became an international hit with world music fans. Ofra Haza grew up in a traditional Yemenite family who lived in Tel Aviv's  Hatikva neighborhood. She became famous for singing pop music, but later in her career became something of a cultural ambassador for her community, both in Israel and internationally. Several of her most famous tracks, such as "Im Nin'alu", were reworkings of traditional Yemenite songs, many composed by Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, a medieval poet and mystic whose spiritual and artistic achievements are universally revered in the Yemenite community. Shabazi's poetry dealt with both religious and secular themes, giving Yemenite music a wider lyrical range than many other forms of traditional Jewish music, which tend to be liturgical in nature.