Israeli Popular Music

A unique sound emanating from a unique place

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In 1982, Argov's crossover hit "The Flower in My Garden" legitimized a new genre – known as "mizrachi," or "Oriental" music. The music was hugely popular with Israelis hailing from the Middle East, many of whom were from Israel's the working class. Some intellectuals criticized  the lyrics as overly simplistic. But Middle Eastern and Mediterranean melodies and musical motifs continued to be fused with pop and rock by bands like Ethnix and Tipex, resulting in mainstream popular music that now had a uniquely Israeli sound.

The advent of cable television in the early 1990s brought MTV to Israel for the first time, and opened up the country's youth culture more than ever to the cutting edge of popular music from abroad. From Europe, Israel imported the pulsating electronic techno and transe music popular in clubs. Electronic music became the backing motif of Israel's third Eurovision victory, in 1997: Viva LaDiva, which was sung by Dana International.

From the U.S., Israeli kids absorbed the rising popularity of hip-hop music from the African American ghettos. Israeli hip-hop rose to popularity just as the dreams of peace symbolized by the 2000 Camp David peace conference disintegrated in the outbreak of the second Intifada. Israeli hip-hop artists took their music in different political directions. Mookie scored the first hip-hop hit by singing an anti-establishment anthem about peace and justice.

But Subliminal and the Shadow released albums praising Israeli strength in the face of adversity and displaying the Star of David on their album cover. As if coming full circle, the patriotic hip hop lyrics had returned the disaffected post-Oslo Accords teenagers to the themes popular with their parents and grandparents 55 years ago, at the birth of the country.

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Joshua Mitnick is a freelance journalist living in Israel. His articles have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, The Toronto Star, The Newark Star Ledger, and The Washington Times.