Topic: Exercise 2The formation of the pan-Mizrahi ethnic identity in the context of the Eastern European communities in Yishuv/Palestine(Shirey Eretz Songs, Mizrahi renditions, Greek songs as mediators).
Israel’s ethnic problems and the emergence of the Mizrahi pan-ethnic marker are rooted in cultural affinities as well as in the shortcomings of an absorption program characterized by unequal treatment and cultural insensitivities toward North African and Middle Eastern Jews. Peripheral placement, unequal educational opportunities, housing difficulties, inexperience with "European"-style bureaucracy, and over-representation at the lowest levels of the army and labor force along with under-representation in the more affluent urban neighborhoods and white collar professions sharpened ethnic lines and distinctions between European and North African and Middle Eastern communities.
Jews from Muslim lands found an already present European dominated national music, ha-Shir ha-Erets Yisre’eli(The Songs of the Land of Israel), a popular genre that emerged during the large waves of Eastern European immigration from the 1880s until the late 1940s.Yemenite composer, Avihu Medina demonstrates this by readily identifying ha-Shir ha-Erets Yisre’eliinfluences in his compositions. For example, Ma’alu Asamaynu Bar’s patriotic and romantic lyrics depicting a land overflowing with ripening wheat, children, and wine (see Exercise One), inspired Lilhom Ba’adekh Medinah a 1970s composition.
While Mizrahi musicians such as Medina were eager to contribute to the national task of developing an Israeli musical style, they lacked western musical training and notation skill, and their mellismatic Middle Eastern vocalizationssounded alien to European ears. In fact, although there are ample Mizrahi covers ("remakes" involving the crossing of style lines or resuscitations of older works) ofha-Shir ha-Erets Yisre’eli songs or new compositions that the creators consider to be related styles, Mizrahi versions were not acceptable or even recognizable as part of the mainstream Israeli soundtrack. The hybrid genre that was emerging in Mizrahi neighborhoods was perceived as a challenge to Israeli cultural and aesthetic sensibilities aimed at forging a coherent national identity by subsuming diaspora music traditions. As such, “Arabized” vocal elaborations embedded in the Mizrahi idea of Shirey Eretz aesthetics were excluded from the canon.
Avihu Medina’s composition Lilcom Be’adech
Listen to Avihu Medina’s composition Lilcom Be’adech performed by the Yemenite band Tsliley HaKerem. Avihu Medina claims that he composed this song in the style of the Ha Shir Ha Eretz Yisrael song Ma’alu Asamaynu Bar (Exercise One). However, his composition was rejected by European Israeli radio editors and music listeners who did not recognize it as part of this genre.
Consider the vocal style on this recording. Now listen again to the vocals on the recording of Ma’alu Asamaynu Bar. Do you hear differences in the vocal styles of the songs? If so, how would you describe the differences? Now consider the themes of both songs. What are the similarities and differences? Can you suggest why the song may not have been considered part of the ha-Shir ha-Erets Yisre’eli music by European Israelis?
In Mizrahi neighborhoods and development towns, Jewish musicians interacted with each other and created new musical innovations emerging from and reshaping North African and Middle Eastern musics. Walking through a neighborhood street on a Friday evening during Sabbath services, one could hear the co-mingling of previously distinct liturgical traditions as Yemenite and Bukharan, Syrian and Afghani niggunim (tunes) poured out of open windows. Religious holidays were occasions for musical transformation as well as celebration. Renowned Iraqi qanun and oud players performed at Iranian, Libyan, Egyptian, and other Mizrahi community events. Yemenite singers became fluent in Iraqi and Kurdish folk song.
A pan-ethnic community of communities often called Mizrahim (literally Easterners) was now forming. Many previously local traditions were emerging in Mizrahi neighborhoods as shared and transformed pan-ethnic celebrations in the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, Mizrahi-ness itself was formed out of these new cultural intimacies. Neighborhoods weddings, especially, were sites for merging cultural traditions. As a first generation of Israelis intermarried across ethnic lines, new relationships were forged, and musicians learned each other’s styles and repertories. Inter-ethnic weddings constituted an actual merging of otherwise discrete groups into a pan-ethnic culture not only for the specific families being joined but also for the guests in attendance. Therefore it is not surprising that one story about the beginning of a new music style, Mediterranean Israeli Music, places its origins at a neighborhood wedding party.
Genesis: “It all started because of a wedding”
Consider the following story told by Asher Reuveni, one of the founders of the Mediterranean Israeli music network. How does this story help deepen understanding of the social, political and technological forces surrounding the formation of this new music style?Why do you think a wedding would be considered the beginning point for this new pan-ethnic music style?
Under normal circumstances the Yemenite marriage ceremony is a colorful and joyous rite of passage that incorporates a blend of centuries-old traditions and contemporary Israeli customs. But this was not a typical Yemenite wedding, because the celebration coincided with the grief and mourning that engulfed Israel in 1973 – 1974. The bright colors and the silver adornments, the henna parties and the traditional songs that would have accompanied Asher Reuveni's wedding were muted in the wake of the Yom Kippur War. Asher, who was wounded during the war, joined his fiancé’s family as they mourned the death of her only brother, who had been killed in the Sinai desert. The Sukkot festival that follows the Yom Kippur fast is normally a festive period. In 1973 it became a period of national sorrow as Israelis mourned the many casualties of the war. For Mizrahim returning from the battlefield, trauma soon transformed into disillusionment with Israeli society; ethnic inequality felt increasingly unacceptable after serving in the recent war. Asher Reuveni's older brother Meir and their friends promised him that once the mourning period had passed, they would throw a wild hafla (Arabic for party). Daklon and Moshe Ben Moshe, two neighborhood musicians agreed to perform. They played until the early morning hours. Asher Reuveni and his brothers, owners of a record and electronics shop in the Yemenite neighborhood of Shkhunat Ha'Tikva, photographed the event and recorded it on one of their new portable cassette recorders. After the party, they duplicated the cassette to give as mementos to all the guests. The sound mix was poor but the tape was revolutionary. It acknowledged and validated the Mizrahi wedding singer, a musician previously considered unworthy of representation or reproduction by the mainstream. As news of the tape spread throughout the neighborhood, there was a flood of requests for copies. When someone offered a hundred lirot for the tape, Meir Reuveni knew he was onto something:
This was '74, when a lira was a lira, and don't forget, it was a `partisani' [partisan] recording; it was completely unsophisticated. So I said, `What's happening here? My friends don't know how to read notes but they play and sing a'ala kefak (Arabic slang for very good, wonderful, excellent) because with them it comes straight from the heart. Let them enjoy! It's good to know that the music in this country runs according to our tap!'
The fact that the genesis story is built around a wedding is not surprising: Mizrahi neighborhood singers were mainly employed as wedding entertainers. Most of the singers, who were overwhelmingly Yemenites, gained proficiency in a broad repertoire in order to perform at the parties of different ethnic groups. Mirroring the polyglot culture of the neighborhoods, they learned Greek, Turkish, and Kurdish tunes and embedded them within Rock and Roll, light Mediterranean popular musics such as Samba, and Italian San Remo rearrangements. They also sang Hassidic Klezmer songs rearranged with a Middle Eastern twist. And as they shifted between Turkish, Kurdish, Greek, and Yiddish, the Yemenite vocal style remained at the center of the sound weave. Members of the Yemenite band Tsliley Ha'Kerem (Tunes of the Vineyard) point out that economic motivation catalyzed the growth of the network beyond the summer wedding "season." In the "off-seasons" singers began to find work in the nightclub circuit. However, despite increased media coverage and sporadic nightclub appearances, the music remained a neighborhood phenomenon that did not really threaten the status quo until the rise of Zohar Argov. Whether or not Mediterranean Israeli Music began at a wedding in a Yemenite neighborhood in the turmoil of the post-1973 war is not the crucial point. As with all origin stories, this tale represents a deeper set of contested issues. What is at stake in the narrating of this wedding tale is not only the increased audibility of a music genre but the struggle of half of the Jewish Israeli population for recognition.
Cassette cover featuring members of the Yemenite band Tsliley HaKerem
Consider the cassette cover featuring members of the Yemenite band Tsliley HaKerem. Daklon and Moshe Ben Moshe are seated in front of the Israeli Knesset (equivalent to our U.S. Capital Building where the Senate and House of Representatives are housed.) How does this image demonstrate the musicians’ effort to be included in mainstream Israeli society? What does this reflect about their Israeli identity?
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Mizrahi musicians were frustrated by European Israeli responses to their emerging styles. They resisted many of the labels as either inaccurate like Musika Mizrahit (Eastern Music) or Oriental Music or derogatory terms such as Musiḳat ha-taḥanah ha-merkazit (Central Bus Station music), Musiḳah shel tshaḥtshaḥim (cheap music), or Musiḳah sheḥorah (Black music).
Consider the various terms that European Israelis used to define and locate this new Mizrahi music style. What makes these labels pejorative, descriptive, complimentary, or inaccurate? Consider the headline of this newspaper article, “Not Cheap Music.” Write a short paragraph explaining who you would respond if someone labeled your music “cheap music.”
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Mediterranean Israeli singer, Haim Moshe attempted to define the new music genre by comparing Yemenite vocal style to a well known African American singer, Stevie Wonder: I call it Israeli music, neither east nor west but made up of both, but if you want a name, well then call it country music, because it reflects what's really going on in the country -- Stevie Wonder singing country music --- can't you hear Stevie Wonder's silsul -- mellismatic voice, he sounds just like a Yemenite.
Haim Moshe’s definition of his music style
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Emerging Mediterranean Israeli music style
Consider the following newspaper article about the emerging Mediterranean Israeli music style. Avihu Medina argues against the label Mizrahi music to describe the new style that is emerging. He claims that the music is comprised of eastern and western elements. Why do you think Avihu Medina takes issue with the term Mizrahi music?
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Avihu Medina, a leading Mizrahi composer of Yemenite ethnic origin, lamented the fact that mainstream interest in Yemenite, Moroccan, or other ethnic traditions depended on the performance of music that was seen as preserving the ancient roots. He claimed that European Israelis were less willing to embrace a pan-ethnic music that reflected contemporary life in Israel. In the following quote by Medina he expresses his frustration at what he considers the acceptance of Yemenite expressions only if they were considered authentic: It's been a long time since we rode donkeys in Yemen, went to synagogue three times a day, ate jachnun, and chewed on gat. We write and sing about being Yemenite Israelis in the here and now. It has been many years since Israelis left our Eastern and Western homelands. We have mixed together into one single, enormous muddle. Avihu Medina – 1991
Avihu Medina suggests that the Mediterranean Israeli music is the sound of contemporary Israel. He distinguishes this style from folklore performances in which singers dress in traditional clothing and present older repertoire. In this photograph, Yemenite singer, Tsipporah Greenfield, is performing at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The event is attended by a largely European Israeli audience. Avihu Medina claims that European Israelis accept Yemenite musicians when they dress in traditional attire and sing old repertoire, but not when they try to be part of the current Israeli music industry. Why do you think this is the case? [powerpoint image #5] Medina and Moshe’s reluctance to conform to a preservationist approach to musical heritage echoed the changing contours of Israeli music in general. By the late 1960s, media development, such as increasing radio channels, and home recording devices helped undermine European Israeli attempts to create a coherent Israeli music. Responding to market interests, rather than entirely national incentives, the radio and television began to introduce Greek, French, Spanish and other Mediterranean popular musics, as well as rock n’ roll, which came to influence and transform mainstream Israeli repertoire.
In Mizrahi neighborhoods, these Mediterranean songs as well as Arabic music was copied from LPs and radio on reel to reel tape and distributed widely. By challenging dominant channels of communication and empowering grassroots distribution, these technological and media innovations further destabilized the mainstream European Israeli music network and made way for the emergence of alternative genres and viable production networks.
The Mediterranean trend of the 1960s and 70s influenced Ashkenazi as well as Mizrahi musicians. Greek music in particular evoked a society with ancient roots and a contemporary national project—themes that resonated in modern Israel. Greek music signified the meeting place of Eastern and Western influences—a safety zone between the extremes of the Arab east and the American west. Greek and Mediterranean appropriations did not resonate with political overtones whereas Arab and Turkish borrowings – seen as degrading invasions touched a visceral chord in the national psyche committed to upholding a Euro-vision of the Jewish state. Despite the Greek sound, Mizrahi songs with a Greek tune were not accepted by the mainstream.
Hanele Hitbalbelah (Hanale Got Confused) by the Tsliley Hakerem band
Listen to the song Hanele Hitbalbelah (Hanale Got Confused) by the Tsliley Hakerem band that played at Asher Reuveni’s wedding party. The band has reworked the original Klezmer tune and vocals with a Greek/rock tune and Yemenite vocal style. The lyrics are taken from a poem by Natan Alterman, one of Israel’s greatest poets. Read the lyrics as you listen to the song. Describe the diverse elements that are contained in this song.
The formation of a pan-ethnic Mizrahi community and new pan-ethnic music styles began in the late 1960s – 1970s. During the same period two wars, the 1967 (Six Day War) and 1973 (Yom Kippur War) altered the balance of power in profound ways. While the 1967 war appeared to be a victory for Israel, it presented a fundamental contradiction for a society that had fashioned its political philosophy on an egalitarian ideal. After the Yom Kippur War (1973), the Ashkenazi power grip was shaken by an anti-Labor Party outcry from Israel’s Mizrahi underclass. Their seemingly contradictory voting patterns voiced decades of frustration with the Labor Party’s discriminatory policies. Mizrahi anger was fed by an experience of continued oppression even after risking their lives in the recent wars. Mizraḥi social and cultural movements sprouted. The Black Panthers born in the Jerusalem Moroccan Jewish neighborhood of Musrara, gave voice to issues of inequality in housing, economics, and education. They took their name (Pantarim Ha’Shorim) from the U.S. Black power movement of the 1960s. The Mediterranean music revolution, sometimes referred to as Panther music, was, although quite distinct from its US model, also a cry for inclusion in rather than for eradication of the mainstream.
The Panthers are Not for Broadcast
Consider the following newspaper article. The headline states: “The Panthers are Not for Broadcast.” What role does the print media have in bringing social and political issues to the Israeli population?
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