Mizrahi music

This article is about the music of the Mizrahi Jews. For the main article on secular Jewish music, see Secular Jewish music.

Mizrahi music (Hebrew: מוזיקה מזרחית múziqa Mizraḥít  [ˈmuzika mizʁaˈχit], "Eastern/Oriental music") refers to a music genre in Israel that combines elements from Europe, North Africa and the Arab world, and is mainly performed by Israelis of Mizrahi descent.[1] It is usually sung in Hebrew, literary Hebrew, or colloquial Arabic.[2] The literal translation of Mizrahi from Hebrew is "Eastern".

Emergence of Mizrahi music


Israeli Jews who immigrated from the Arab countries have, over the last 50 years, created a unique musical style that combines elements of Arabic, Turkish, and Greek music. This is not to be confused with the New Hebrew Style, as the Mizrahit style is more spontaneous.[3]

After World War II, many Jewish families made aliyah to the new state of Israel, founded in 1948.[4] The Muzika Mizrahit movement started in the 1950s with homegrown performers in neighborhoods with a high concentration of Jews from Arab countries who would play at weddings and other events. They performed songs in Hebrew, but in an Arabic style, on traditional Arabic instruments—the oud, kanun, and the darbuka. In the 1960s, they added acoustic and electric guitar to their sound and so their sound became more eclectic. Vocalists usually decorated their singing with trills, and delivery was often nasal or guttural in sound. Intonation was typically Western, however; singers did not use the quartertone scales typical of Arabic music. Into the 1980s synthesizers and electronic instruments made their debut in Mizrahi music.[5]

Lyrics were originally texts taken from classic Hebrew literature, including poems by medieval Hebrew poets. Later they added texts by Israeli poets, and began writing original lyrics as well. An example is the song "Hanale Hitbalbela" (Hannale was confused), sung by Yizhar Cohen. The lyrics are by the modern Israeli poet and lyricist Natan Alterman, to a traditional tune. Singers also translated childhood favorites from Arabic to Hebrew and added electronics and a faster tempo.[6]

The 1970s and onward

Two of the first popular Mizrahi musicians were Zohar Argov and Avihu Medina. Argov grew up singing in his synagogue with a very defined Middle Eastern melisma. His definitive Mizrahi hit was Haperah BeGani (פרח בגני) ("Flower in my Garden").[7] After his suicide he became an icon in Israel for what happens when one is cheated by society and a political activist. A play ha-Melekh was written about his life story, portrayed his fall to drugs and his troubles with the law. It was extremely popular.[8]

Avihu Medina was a singer and composer. He composed many popular hits for Argov. Women also began to play a significant part in popular Mizrahi music. A popular artist was Zehava Ben. Because of her ties to Morocco and the Middle East she began her career singing Umm Kulthum.[9]

Because Mediterranean Israeli music was so popular within the Eastern Jewish communities, which were quickly becoming a large percentage of Israel, the natural outcome would be a continuous playback on the local radio station. However the national government restricted the play of Mizrahi music because it was not considered ‘authentic Israeli.’ The social researcher, Sami Shalom Chetrit, wrote "The educational and cultural establishment made every effort to separate the second generation of eastern immigrants from this music, by intense socialization in schools and in the media,".[10]

The penetration of Muzika Mizrahit into the Israeli mainstream was the result of pressure by Mizrahi composers and producers such as Avihu Medina, the overwhelming, undeniable popularity of the style, and the gradual adoption of elements of Muzika Mizrahit by popular Israeli artists. Yardena Arazi, one of Israel's most popular stars, made a recording in 1989 called "Dimion Mizrahi" (Eastern Imagination), and included original materials and some canonical Israeli songs.

The acceptance of Muzika Mizrahit, over the 1990s, parallels the social struggle of Israelis of Sephardic and Mizrahi origin to achieve social and cultural acceptance. "Today, the popular Muzika Mizrahit has begun to erase the differences from rock music, and we can see not a few artists turning into mainstream. This move to the mainstream culture includes cultural assimilation," writes literary researcher and critic Mati Shmuelof.[11]

It is a widely accepted fact by now that the invention of the recordable cassette by the Philips Corporation and the commercial cassette distribution network in the Tel Aviv train station had a large impact on the popularity of Mediterranean Israeli music. Cassettes allowed the Mizrahi population create and distribute their own music within their communities. They also allowed for more musical integration. One could have Umm Kulthum and a neighbor who is an emerging singer. Cassette tapes were a predominant factor in the growth of Mediterranean Israeli music in the 1970s. After first being a favorite at community celebrations, such as weddings and birthdays, the recording of one particular wedding party became a desired commodity in the Mizrahi ma'abarot ("transit camp"). These cassettes are what caused ethnomusicologist Amy Horowitz to start researching this blossoming new music style.[12]

After Reuveni’s friends and neighbors started offering to buy the cassettes he realized he might have a great opportunity on his hands.[13] He and his brother later went on to become one of the major Mizrahi cassette companies in Israel.

Fusion genres

During time fusions of Mizrahi music with other genres emerged, including oriental rock, hip hop and pop.

Rock and metal

Rock Mizrahi ("oriental rock") is an Israeli musical style combining rock music with middle eastern instruments, compositions and singing techniques. The outcome usually resemble progressive rock. Lead musicians in this genre are Yossi Sassi, Orphaned Land, Knesiyat Hasekhel, Algir (and lead singer Aviv Guedj) and Dudu Tassa. The song "Shtika" by Aviv Geffen and some works by Teapacks could also count though.

The fusion of Mizrahi music and metal music is a type of oriental metal.

Other developments

Today, music in Israel continues to change whilst still incorporating stylistic elements of the artist's home country. However, progress towards an authentic Israeli style continues with the passage of time.[14]

Well-known Mizrahi singers


  1. Horowitz, Amy (1999), pp 452-453 , "Israeli Mediterranean Music: Straddling Disputed Territories".
  2. Horowitz, Amy (1999)
  3. Regev and Seroussi (2004), pp 191-235
  4. "Israel". State.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
  5. Horowitz, Amy (2010), "Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic pp 1-155
  6. Friedman, Thomas (1987), “Using Songs, Israelis Touch Arab Feelings” pp 1-3
  7. Regev, Motti (1996), “Musica Mizrakhit, Israeli Rock and National Culture in Israel” pp 275-284
  8. Horowitz, Amy (2010)
  9. Horowitz, Amy (2010)
  10. Chetrit (2004)
  11. Shmuelof (2006)
  12. Horowitz, Amy (2010)
  13. Horowtiz, Amy (1999)
  14. Regev, Motti (1996)

Further reading

External links

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