Monday, May 3, 2010

Lots of Strands

Yesterday I introduced Zohar Argov, the hero of Shirim Mizrachi'im, the Sephardi wing of Shirim Ivri'im which has long since become one of the lanes of the main highway.

The Shirim Mizrachi'im tend to gravitate towards two types of content. Personal songs of love, anguish after love and regret about love, in a manner that might be called the Israeli version of American Country music (though that's where the similarity ends); and religious songs. Remember, the Sephardi Jews tend to be less fanatic at religion than some Ashkenazis, but also much less secular - or if, then a secularism deeply informed and living alongside religion. The songs I brought yesterday belonged to the first group; here's an example of the second.

Shabechi Yerushalayim (Jerusalem, Praise the Lord) is verses 12-13 of the 147th Psalm, so it's been around for a long time. Here's a possible translation of the Psalm, though Google will offer you many others. The two verses in Hebrew, as they've been adapted to the song are here, and the English song-structured version is

Jerusalem praise God
Tzion praise God
Jerusalem praise God
Tzion praise God

For He made your gates locks strong
For He made your gates locks strong

For blessed the sons that sit in your city
For blessed the sons that sit in your city
For blessed the sons that sit in your city

Praise God Tzion
Praise God Tzion

Tzion is of course Zion in English.

The fellow who rendered the ancient Pslam into a modern song is Avihu Medina, born 1948 in Tel Aviv, one of the most important creators and occasional singer of Shirim Mizrachi'im. Badad, for example, which we saw yesterday, was written by him for his friend and protege Zohar Argov. I've linked to three You Tube versions. The first is by Avihu Medina himself, a few years ago. It's quality isn't very good, but it demonstrates how such shirim are often performed: at some local event, in cramped quarters, with everyone singing along. This particular recording is poignant because 11-year-old Roy Ginat, a blind child, got on the stage and played the accompanying keyboard. So it gives that aspect.

The second is by Hadag Nachash, a modern loud-noise band whom I've already introduced. In this case, they were giving a loud-noise concert at a Washington DC synagogue, when they launched into Shabechi Yerushalayim. I expect the original psalmist was spinning in his grave, but then, after 3,000 years of decay maybe there isn't enough coherent skeleton left to spin, so who knows. This video is interesting because by now (2006?) the Jewish-American Ashkenazi teenagers and students in Washington DC all know this Mizrachi song, and sing along, unsuprised that it's being offered by a band that normally does stuff that is not recognizably music if you were born earlier than, say, 1985.

I keep on carping on the point that Jerusalem is an important place for the Jews; this gives a surprising perspective on how that works.

The third recording is even more surprising. It's by Glykeria.

Glykeria is one of a few Greek singers, non-Jews from Greece who don't speak Hebrew, who have reciprocated to the Israeli public's love for Greek music and its incorporation into Shirim Ivri'im, by joining, and recording their own versions of the Israeli songs. Glykeria, born in 1953, first reached prominence in Greece in the 1980s, about the time Shirim Mizrachi'im were breaking into the Israeli mainstream. I don't know enough about such matters to say what her homeland stature is these days, but she was recording there for at least 20 years, and still visits Israel to sing the common music. (A stance which has gained her some enemies at home, of course). So here you've got a Greek woman, singing what is obviously Greek music, except that the words were written centuries before the heyday of ancient Athens, and unfortunately stand at the very center of international disagreements of the highest degree till this very day. The world never ceases to amaze, does it.


Anonymous said...

the first video doesn't show - mishap? or intention?

as to Greek feelings towards Jews
- I know nothing about what "better" folks think or thought but in the mid 70s on the holy island of Patmos "simple" folks then in their 60s would have nothing but obviously deeply felt compassion for what my forebears did to Jews. One story which obviously kept haunting them was that they were thrown by us into ships' furnaces.

Implied in these talks was always that they couldn't synch their perception of me as an anixtos anthropos (open human) with what they knew Germans were capable of. They would also ask me why? to which I have no answer to this day.
I'd guess that contemporary "simple" folks in the same area would side with the people of Sderot.


Yaacov said...


Barry Meislin said...

Seems that Ofra Haza should be mentioned in this thread, with this particular song?....

Avram said...

Ofra definitely needs to this list ... and perhaps a song (or two) from the likes of Shoshana Damari, Boaz Sharabi and/or Yehoram Gaon

zionist juice said...

dear yaacov,
would you consider inbal perlmuter being shirim ivriim (of the 90s)?
if so, maybe you can do a song of her....