Notes of the nation

Yoav Kutner's book is a retrospective of song that goes back even further than 60 years of statehood.

Yoav Kutner 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yoav Kutner 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If, as W.H. Auden once said, "people do not sing when they are feeling sensible," then as a country and a nation, we have never really been very rational. Over the years Israelis may not have won too many Olympic gold medals, but we have never been short on musicians, in any genre you care to mention. Among the plethora of coffee table sized tomes celebrating the country's 60th anniversary, Yoav Kutner's new book about the music that has provided the soundtrack of our burgeoning nationhood, offers a fresh and entertaining and, yes, balanced look at some of the songs that have stood as musical sentinels of the last six decades. Shiur Moledet is far more than just an aesthetically designed chronicle of hits and their writers. The design exudes a witty charm - much like the book's celebrated DJ/ author - and mixes photographs that would not be amiss in any chronicle of the annals of Zionism with some tongue-in-cheek shots of "real life" in this part of the world. The first section of Shiur Moledet starts out some 70 or so years before the founding of the state. The opening entry, fittingly, is about the national anthem, "Hatikva," written by Naftali Hertz Imbar in 1877. The book then wends a merry trail through such pre-state songs as "Alei Givah," dedicated to the life and heroic death of Joseph Trumpeldor, Mordehai Za'ira's "Havoo Labanim," written for a Purim celebration in 1931, and continues on to the here and now. While he may not have been around to learn some of the older songs first hand, there can't be many Israelis as qualified to produce a book like Shiur Moledet as 50-something Kutner. "Basically, I have been researching the development of Israeli songs since I started out in radio over 30 years ago," he says from the studio at Radio Tel Aviv where he now broadcasts a daily pop and rock show. Prior to founding the Channel 24 TV music station, which he now combines with his deejaying at Radio Tel Aviv, Kutner was the country's foremost rock and pop radio show presenter, with a prime time program on Army Radio that ran for 29 years. There is also a very personal reason for Kutner's decision to take on a project trawling the history of our popular music. "When I started out at Army Radio I had no musical past of my own." When he was a teenager, Kutner had a bad fall on a walking trip through the Alps, and lost all memory of everything that had happened to him before the accident. "I wanted to make up for what I'd lost. You could say I have been doing that - looking for my own past and the country's musical past - obsessively for over three decades." In that time Kutner produced an acclaimed TV series about the history of Israeli pop and rock called Sof Onat Hatapuzim (End of the Orange Season) and is a driving force behind the Mooma Web site which contains information about hundreds of Israeli artists. "I love my wife and kids, but I also love this country and the music it has produced. Israeli songs are an important part of my DNA. I wanted to do something patriotic." That comes through loud and clear in Shiur Moledet. The handsome 272 page tome includes songs written by such notable scribes as Haim Hefer, Natan Alterman, Alexander Penn and Ehud Manor, and performed by the likes of Shoshana Damari, Yaffa Yarkoni, Hava Alberstein, Shlomo Artzi and Arik Einstein. But this is not just a roll call of our musical icons of yesteryear. True to his own "finger-on-the-pulse" ethos, Kutner also includes contributions by '70s and '80s rock and pop outfits like Tislam and Kaveret, and he brings us right up to date with songs by Hadag Nahash and a somewhat contentious entry from Habiluim, which came out just last year. Each song comes with a brief description of the song, performing artist and lyricist and some of the historical, social, political and cultural circumstances to which the song pertains. "All our religious and national holidays, all our wars, and all our significant and even everyday events have their own soundtrack," Kutner notes. "I think Shiur Moledet gives us a little bit of insight into that. I purposely brought the book right up to the present day and didn't stick with nostalgia. There's a lot of protest and pain in our history. But that is part of love too."