The Politics of Israeli Popular Music

In Israel, even the musical is political.

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In Israel's politically charged climate, music can often make a political statement.  Reprinted with permission from Ha'aretz Daily. This article originally appeared on March 11, 2003.

Astar Shamir says she wrote the songs for her upcoming album, due to be released in mid-April 2003, out of a sense of urgency. After years of pursuing other interests (she is a voice therapist) and watching from the outside what was happening in Israel, she felt the need to go back and write. One of the results is the beautiful song, "After the Sun Sets," in which she wrote: "Maybe she'll sing a song of peace / In a strong and resonant voice / Maybe she'll sing a song today while they are shooting ... Will our children have paradise / Or will we leave them a hell?"

The song, which Shamir calls "an open letter to the prime minister," joins a large array of songs released in the past few months that may be signaling the start of a new wave of political dissent in Israeli music.

In Your Face, With Style

The songs include Chava Alberstein's "The Shadow," which criticizes the way Israeli society treats foreign workers; "Innocent Criminals," a duet between Aviv Gefen and Israeli Arab rapper Tamer Nafar; and Hadag Nahash's "Numbers Song." Even Tippex, a band hard to accuse of using especially biting lyrics, chose to revive "The Other Days," a Haim Hefer song about Israel at war and under siege.

The bubble in which Israeli singers are accustomed to cloistering themselves seems to be showing a crack or two, and performers seem less wary about rocking the boat of consensus. 

astar shamir

Israeli musician Astar Shamir

NMC Records recently signed Habiluyim, a band whose first album will be chock-full of harsh political statements. The radio stations, especially Army Radio, will be put to an interesting test when one of the songs on the album, "Shaul Mofaz," is released. [Shaul Mofaz is a right-wing Israeli politician and former military leader.] Blunt texts and a desire to make a statement is characteristic of hip-hop, as well, which has picked up a lot of fans in the past year. Subliminal and Hadag Nahash did not shrink from extreme statements even in their first songs released for radio play, sometimes to the chagrin of record company executives.

Gadi Gidor, the repertoire manager at Helicon Records (which produces Subliminal's albums), says: "If we were deterred by the idea of releasing political albums, they would not be released. This in fact happens. If a major, well-known artist has an interesting statement to make, he will make it, even if the record company executives have reservations about the contents."

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Michal Palti is a journalist with Haaretz.