The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (Courtesy IPO)



The early pioneers brought their songs with them, translating the original lyrics into Hebrew or setting new Hebrew words to treasured tunes. Since then, thousands of songs have been written, with melodies incorporating elements of the musical styles brought by consecutive waves of immigrants, ranging from Arab and Yemenite traditions to modern rock and pop, sometimes set to biblical or traditional texts or to the modern verses of Israeli poets and lyricists.

While it is difficult to define a typical Hebrew song, Israelis differentiate between songs written in Hebrew, on various themes and in a variety of styles, and the Shir Ivri (‘Hebrew Song’), whose words transmit the voices, values, and moods of the country and whose melodies are dominated by Slavic influences. Accompanying the major historical events in the national life of the Jewish people over the past century, these songs have recorded the  nation’s dreams, pains, and hopes. While expressing universal sentiments like all folk songs, they also strongly articulate Israeli feelings such as love of the country and its landscape. These are the songs everyone knows, the songs which have become an integral part of the nation’s cultural legacy.

Israelis love to sing their songs, from those of the pre-state period to ones just written. Community singing takes place in public halls and private homes, in kibbutz dining rooms and in community centers, during hikes and around bonfires, often under the guidance of a professional song leader, accompanied by piano, accordion, or guitar. Participation in such group singing generates a sense of togetherness, evoked by patriotic sentiments as well as by nostalgia for the early pioneering days and the struggle for independence, for wars won, friends lost, and recurring moments of hope and love.

"The Song to Peace"

Let the sun rise
And give the morning light,
The purest prayer
Will not bring us back.
He whose candle was snuffed out
And was buried in the dust,
A bitter cry won’t wake him
Won’t bring him back.
Nobody will return us
From the dead dark pit,
Here – neither the victory cheer
Nor songs of praise will help.

So – sing only a song to peace,
Do not whisper a prayer.
Better sing a song to peace
With a big shout.

Let the sun penetrate
Through the flowers,
Don’t look backward
Leave those who departed.
Lift your eyes with hope,
Not through the rifle sights.
Sing a song to love,
And not to wars.
Don’t say the day will come,
Bring the day,
Because it is not a dream,
And within all the city’s squares,
Cheer only peace.

Lyrics: Yaacov Rotblit
Music: Yair Rosenblum

"Songs so far"

Tears and laughter
Voices of men, stars of time.
The sun and the sea
Bread, the world,
The bitter, the sweet
And everything that has been
we shall leave
To live within the song.

Lyrics: Natan Yonatan

The contemporary music scene in Israel is hugely varied and often audacious. Hip hop band Hadag Nahash, for example, uses music to display political cynicism. One of their most famous hits is "Shirat Hasticker ("The Sticker Song" in English), written together with Israeli novelist David Grossman. The song’s lyrics are an amalgamation of slogans seen on Israeli bumper stickers. The opposing political slogans are juxtaposed to create a furious, ironic, and often absurd portrait of Israeli life.

Other ensembles such as the Idan Raichel project have fused the Ethiopian musical heritage with Middle-East soul and liturgical influences. Bands such as Teapacks, Mashina, and Knisiyat Hasechel, as well as solo artists Ehud Banai, Shlomo Artzi, and even Sarit Hadad are all veterans on the mainstream Israeli music scene, but have maintained their popularity.

Idan Raichel (Courtesy Israel 21c)

Many of the newcomers to Israeli music’s pop scene have emerged through the TV program Kochav Nolad (A Star Is Born), Israel’s answer to the U.S.A.’s American Idol. Ninet Tayeb, Harel Moyal, and Yehuda Sa’ado are just some of those who have launched their music careers through  this popular program. 2007’s winner was Boaz Mauda, whose Israeli Yemenite family tradition can be heard in his music.