Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 2: Sephardim putting the “rock” in Israeli rock n’ roll music!

Author and Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi is perhaps one of the most well know and respected writers in Israel and the U.S. when it comes to analysis of Israeli politics. But tonight after his presentation for our group at the S.E.C. here in Jerusalem, I was impressed with the depth of his knowledge and passion for Israeli rock music. At the same time I was more surprised to learn that Sephardic music in Israel, since the birth of Israeli rock n’ roll in the late 1960s, has gradually become the main influence for today’s rock music in Israel. “Israeli music is now a nice mixture of Sephardi and Ashkenazi music,” said Halevi who is also a fellow Shalom Hartman Institute. “In the 1960’s and 1970’s, there was a music revolution that brought Sephardi music and culture into the mainstream Israeli society”.

Halevi explained that before the 1967 “Six Days War” no Sephardic music was played on Israeli radio stations and Israeli rock n’ roll music was extremely secular. “After that war, young Israelis put down their accordions and picked up the electric guitar,” said Halevi. “There was a slow push back from Sephardi musicians with the introduction of Greek music and other ‘cassette’ Sephardic music from outside the mainstream”. Halevi also said that Israeli rock in 1977 also became more influenced by Sephardic music after the election of prime minister Menachem Begin who really had embraced Sephardic Jewry as a part of the fabric of Israeli society. Since then Halevi explained, Israeli rock music has gradually become infused with a greater message of spirituality as well as a Sephardic melodies, instruments and poems.

Halevi “rocked” out with us by playing various Sephardic influenced Israeli rock n’ roll songs for our group. This is video footage of Halevi discussing the impact of Iranian-Israeli rock singer Meir Banai on contemporary Israeli rock music and his most recent hit song “Lecha Eli” which is originally a religious song typically sung during Yom Kippur…

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