Tune of the century

Tune of the century

January 3, 2010 20:37
algir 248.88

algir 248.88. (photo credit: Yifa Yaakov)


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Going back to the year 2000, one can say that the decade began musically the way it did politically - rather bleakly. As Israeli youths learned to deal with a new reality of danger on buses and threats on the streets, they were also forced to give up on seeing the hottest acts of the moment live in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. After a decade jam-packed with acts from abroad, among them Radiohead, who played their first-ever overseas gig in Israel in 1993, the summer of 2001 began with the devastating cancellation of a much-anticipated Red Hot Chili Peppers performance. Over 15,000 tickets were refunded, to the shock and disappointment of thousands of fans. Thus began the decade in Israeli music. But with imported CD prices constantly on the rise and without the expense of concert tickets to see international bands, Israeli music lovers began to invest more and more in local acts. And, bolstered by the window of opportunity, Israeli bands began to look beyond their local fan base by recording and touring abroad. The war waged by then-tiny record label Hatav Hashmini, which advocated rights and royalties for artists as well as affordable distribution, against music giants Tower Records and the reigning labels only served as a boost to the artists themselves. Veteran musicians such as Shalom Chanoch, Arik Einstein, Rita, Yehudit Ravitz, Shlomo Artzi, Hayehudim, Knessiat Hasechel, Meir Banai, Berry Sakharoff and Rami Fortis (together and apart), Ehud Banai and Amir Lev were indeed especially fruitful in the '00s - but they were just the tip of the iceberg. The incredible wealth of music created here this decade can be found in all genres and languages, from urban, underfunded underground scenes to rising pop stars who learned the tricks of the trade at professional schools like Rimon. The past decade saw a change in Israeli pop culture. The computer emerged full-force as an instrument unlike any other and created an influx of trance, house and techno music, readily embraced by a generation that wanted more than anything to dance till dawn. The Mizrahi genre - until then a footnote in Israeli music, rejected by mainstream radio - burst onto the scene with influences ranging from Mediterranean rhythms to MTV. Performers such as Eyal Golan brought the genre far beyond the low it had reached when Zohar Argov died a debt-ridden, drug-addled death in 1987, while rebel Amir Benayoun struck a chord with listeners of all backgrounds. IN OTHER aspects, mainstream radio echoed worldwide trends. As record companies attempted to combat piracy by recycling the pop star mold, the Israeli crowd demanded acts a little more sophisticated than the likes of Roni Superstar. Transsexual songstress Dana International's revolutionary Eurovision win in 1998 was followed in the '00s by a decade of pop divas and star vocalists, among them Keren Peles, Miri Messika and Middle Eastern-influenced pop artist Dikla. And let's not forget Kochav Nolad, which churned out such stars as Harel Skaat, Shiri Maimon and, of course, the perennially controversial, abundantly talented Ninette Tayeb. A more understated songwriter and vocalist, Rona Kenan - daughter of famed columnist and novelist Amos Kenan - released her anticipated debut album, Counting Down to Zero, in 2004. Written masterfully and presented with no shortage of emotion, the album fulfilled every expectation. Singer-actress Efrat Ben-Tzur and singer-cellist Karni Postel released two albums each this decade and began performing together. And piano-blues artist Ruth Dolores Weiss left her Texas home to record an unexpectedly sunny all-Hebrew album, aptly titled Be'Ivrit. All in all, this was a great decade for singer-songwriters. Noam Rotem, of Kerah 9 fame, followed up his 2004 solo debut Hom Enoshi with the more somber Ezra Badereh, in which he documented his wife's struggle with cancer. The album diverged from the common sound of Israeli rock, heavily referencing Lou Reed's Magic and Loss and Johnny Cash's posthumous American V: A Hundred Highways . Israel's experimental music scene did not disappoint this decade, either. Minor but industrious record labels such as Ak-Duck, Fact and Uganda (the Jerusalem pub's label) released great albums that generally slipped under the radar but were great in their own right. One notable project which emerged this decade was Mujahideen, a Jerusalem-based trio which creates explosive electronica, as its name implies. Garage-rock lovers witnessed the inception of the Sshaking RecordsS label, home to such artists as shoegaze duo NX2, punk-rockers Monkey Son of a Donkey and surf-core garage pioneers The Astroglides. Charlie Megira and Michal Kahan, meanwhile, undertook the daunting task of bringing '80s Berlin to Tel Aviv. Sumbliminal Ve'hatsel, self-styled "architects of Israeli hip hop," gained widespread popularity among the younger crowd with their catchy, angry Zionist rap. Jerusalmites Hadag Nachash, on the other hand, created easily accessible hip hop that treated Israeli culture with a healthy helping of humor and funk. Written by author David Grossman, their recording of "The Sticker Song" - composed entirely of bumper stickers slogans - was one of the decade's best tracks. JEWISH HIP HOP also paved the way for a unique amalgam of Middle Eastern melodies and Jewish liturgical poetry, a formula used with increasing frequency by some of Israel's most prominent musicians near the end of the decade. Berry Sakharoff, whose exploration of his Jewish-Turkish roots had begun years earlier, recorded poems by 11th-century Andalucian poet Shlomo Ibn Gabirol. Banai began recording Jewish Sephardic poems, while Etti Ankri presented a fresh take on the writings of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. On the whole, the popularity of alternative rock bands such as Eifo Hayeled and Monica Sex declined in the '00s as ethnic rock took center stage. Banai, Punch and Yossi Babliki continued to hone their craft of Oriental-tinged rock music. Algir, a rock band of North African descent whose music had emerged in the '90s from the Negev periphery, reunited in 2003 to record what was in this reviewer's opinion the greatest Israeli album of the decade in Manoim Kadima (Engines On). Although they began on a discordant note, the later '00s were slightly more tranquil. Aviv Geffen began to stray away from the politically-charged piano anthems that had become his trademark, instead exploring other musical avenues. His collaboration with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson in 2004, under the name Blackfield, was embraced by those same youths who had sung his songs during midnight vigils at Rabin Square a decade earlier. Geffen was not the only artist to branch out across the ocean this decade: Rockfour released several English-language albums - one of which was produced by Neil Diamond - and promoted them with US tours; Asaf Avidan & The Mojos and The Monotonix received international recognition and by summer 2009 were playing to massive crowds at European festivals; Assaf Tager, who at one time toured with Elliott Smith, released several experimental folk albums under the alias "Katamine" and co-founded New York-based noise rock group Ex Lion Tamer. Finally, gypsy outfit Balkan Beat Box gained international success with its colorful rhythms. ULTIMATELY, it comes as no surprise that a decade that began with such a devastating cancellation by a world-famous rock band would end with several summers jam-packed with everything from local indie music festivals to international acts flocking to Israel to give the demanding local crowd everything it had been deprived of in previous years. It's hard to believe the sheer volume of unforgettable musical moments that occurred here this past decade and which could only have happened in the '00s. Roger Waters mixed music and politics by demanding to perform in a remote humous field near coexistence community Neve Shalom, Paul McCartney sang "Let It Be" and "Yesterday" in Israel several decades after our government refused to allow The Beatles to perform here, garage-rockers Black Lips played shows in such unlikely locations as Kibbutz Givat Brenner and a Haifa street. At the same time, performances by Madonna, Kaiser Chiefs, Lady Gaga and other MTV-age stars gave young people a chance to feel cutting-edge again. And finally, there came that incredible moment at Ramat Gan Stadium when some 50,000 Israelis raised their green stick-lights heavenward and followed Leonard Cohen's lead in a triumphant chorus in their own tongue - "hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah."

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