The evening news usually depicts Israel as a country dominated by conflict with its Arab neighbors. As a result, most outsiders have little insight into what daily life is really like for its inhabitants. Comprised largely of immigrants, modern Israel is home to diverse groups of people who have come from around the world to settle in this cultural melting pot.
Jews, Arabs and Christians live and work together in Jerusalem, a city whose ancient history and mysticism are held sacred to all three religions. In the bustling cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, nightclubs, boutiques and beachside bars are more common than bus bombings and missile strikes.
Nowhere is the diversity of Israel more evident than in its music. A beguiling fusion of European and Middle Eastern melodies with other elements from the vast Jewish Diaspora, Israel’s music reflects the multiple influences of its inhabitants.
On September 25, Putumayo World Music will release Israel – a collection highlighting a new generation of Israeli musicians who transcend the political strife depicted on the evening news. From Yemenite chants to Jamaican reggae, this collection represents some of the diverse sounds affecting impacting the popular music of modern Israel.
One of the most recognizable voices on the album is that of David Broza, an internationally acclaimed singer-songwriter whose influences range from traditional Israeli folk music to the Spanish flamenco and American blues he picked up while living and working in Spain and the U.S. Broza, who’s performed alongside Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Sting, delivers “Srochim” (Shoelaces) from his 2006 “Best Of” album.
Amal Murkus has been steadfastly determined to have her music appreciated by Israelis and Arabs alike. A Palestinian citizen of Israel living in Galilee, Murkus is part of the community of Arab descent that comprises twenty percent of Israel’s population. Her music borrows largely from Palestinian folklore and the broader Arabic music scene. Though she has faced many obstacles in her homeland, “Ta’alu” (Come On) is one of the songs that has helped make her a recognized figure in the international world music scene.
Based in Tel Aviv, Idan Raichel has become one of the most inspiring success stories in Israeli popular music, thanks to his innovative collaborations with musicians from local Ethiopian, Arab, Yemenite and Caribbean communities. With its Ethiopian melodies, Middle Eastern instrumentation, and lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic and the Ethiopian language of Amharic, Raichel’s music celebrates Israel’s cultural diversity and calls for love between all people. “Mi Ma’amakim” (Out of the Depths) incorporates the melody of a traditional Ethiopian folk song as performed by regular Project participant Wagderass Avi Vese, who emigrated to Israel from Ethiopia when he was fourteen.
Founded in 1996 by seven young men, Sheva – which means “seven” in Hebrew – has members of both Muslim and Jewish backgrounds and has developed a wide following for its fusion of reggae and world music. They deliver the Biblically-based “Ashrey Ha’ish” (Blessed is the One/Psalms 1), while group founder Mosh Ben-Ari, who is one of the best-selling artists in the country at the moment, goes solo for “Eem Rak Na’iz” (If We Just Dare), a plea for peace and understanding.
Rona Kenan, a successful singer-songwriter and the daughter of well-known writer Amos Kenan, collaborates with famous veteran entertainer Gidi Gov for the hit single “Ha’rikud Ha’muzar Shel Ha’lev” (Strange Dance of the Heart).
Other featured artists on Israel include Tea Packs, the irreverent Israeli selection for the 2007 Eurovision song contest, the popular Etti Ankri, who is of Tunisian descent, and the up-and-coming singer-songwriter Itay Pearl, who, like many musicians, originally picked up a guitar hoping it would help attract girls.
Zafa and Moshav Band, the Israeli contribution to the international jam band scene, round out this culturally-rich collection.
Putumayo recently opened an office in Israel run by Nomi Zysblat, an Israeli/Canadian who graduated from the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
Two percent of Putumayo’s proceeds from the sale of Israel will be donated to Latet – Israeli Humanitarian Aid, in support of its efforts to provide assistance to needy populations in Israel and around the world, and to A New Way, which strives to develop tolerance, friendship and cooperation among Jewish and Arab children and parents in Israel.
A benefit concert with many of the featured artists will be held in Israel in conjunction with the album’s release.