To understand the ethnic Jewish music of Israel, it is essential to highlight the ethnic Jewish groups.
The Ethnic Jewish Groups In Israel
The ethnic music of Israel reflects the eclectism and multiculturalism of the country. Hence, Israeli music reflects the multiethnicity even inside Judaism. There are different religious-ethnic groups among Jews, such as Ashkenazic Jews, whose origin is European, Mizrahi Oriental Jews from Arabic countries, the Ethiopian and the Sephardic Jews, descended from the Spanish diaspora. Moreover, Yemenite Jews have unique religious traditions, and they are also named “the most Jewish of all Jews”.
- Ashkenazim are from Central and Eastern Europe, and their languages are Yiddish and Hebrew. Their music is klezmer which consists of dance tunes suitable for celebrations and weddings.
- Russian Jews arrived in Israel before 1935. The significant Russian immigration to Israel began in the late 1980s when the USSR’s borders opened, allowing Jews emigrate to Israel. Every year, more than 10,000 immigrants come from countries of the former Soviet Union.
- Ethiopian Jews have a cultural heritage dating back 15 centuries. Their ancient lifestyle was nomadic, and their traditions were mostly oral transmitted.
- Sephardim come from Spanish ancestry, and their original language was Ladino. Their music tunes are similar to Mizrahi music.
- Mizrahim come from Middle Eastern ancestry, and their cultural heritage is complicated because they come from different North African countries. Indeed, Mizrahi Jews include several subgroups with other languages and customs.
- Yemenite Jews come from Yemen, and their well-known as “the ones who have preserved the Hebrew language the best”. They belong to the Mizrahi cultural group even though they have assimilated the Sephardic customs.
The Ethnic Jewish Music Of Israel
Klezmer music has been and is the typical ethnic music of Ashkenazim. Their heritage is from Central and Eastern Europe. A typical dance is Hava Nagila and, violin and clarinet are the usual instruments. The classic movie Fiddler on the Roof gives an idea of klezmer music. Traditional klezmer music is easily recognisable, and it spread in the USA, Canada, Mexico and Argentina. The official language of klezmer is Yiddish, and in Israel, there are different ensembles such as the Klezmatics and associations like the Jerusalem Klezmer Association, i.e. JKA. The JKA is a learning centre, and the band performs Yiddish songs and klezmer music. Moreover, in Jerusalem, klezmer festivals are organised periodically, and every year a three-day Klezmer Festival takes place in Safed.
Mizrahi music is a mixture of Turkish, Greek, North African and Middle Eastern musical styles. Since 1950, in Israel, it started the immigration of Jews coming from Arab countries. They brought a typical Arab musical tradition playing Arab instrument like the Oud, a short-neck pear-shaped instrument similar to modern lutes. Another specific Mizrahi instrument is the Darbuka, a Middle Eastern goblet-shaped drum. Since 1960, electric and acoustic guitars sided the oud and darbuka. And starting from 1980, in Mizrahi musical performances, synthesisers started to be in use. Moreover, Oud Festivals in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem take place during the year.
The Ethiopian liturgical music consists of spoken and sung prayers. The language used is the Ge’ez, and the chants have different forms. It is usually performed by a soloist and a choir. For every circumstance, the style changes and hence it can be hemiola, antiphonal or responsorial. The instruments that are usually played are the nagarit, qachel or metke, kabaro and senasel.
Yemenite music was considered the melody of ancient Hebrews, and the Zionists believed it to have biblical roots. Most of the early Zionist songs were inspired by Yemenite tunes. The instruments played are guitar, violin, qanun, trumpet, trombone and percussion. Rabbi Shalom Shabazi was a medieval poet and mystic, who composed many Yemenite songs, mostly liturgical.
Russian Jewish Music
Russian music consists of Russian folks songs with Hebrew texts. Most of these Russian-style melodies are in a minor key, and the main instruments are the accordion and the guitar imitating the balalaika’s sound.
Blends Of The Ethnic Jewish Music
At the beginning of the 1920s, the early Zionist settlers created an eclectic musical style, which became the Land of Israel style. A harmonious blend of ancestral Hebrew components and new elements of other ethnic Jewish traditions such as Arabic, Yemenite and Eastern Jewish music. The German Zionist Youth movements combined German folk tunes with Hebrew words. Hence, among the several songs, Israel’s national anthem Hatikvah was composed. The Hatikvah melody finds its origins in eastern European folk music, and the Hebrew poet Naftali Herz Imber wrote the lyrics. The new Hebrew musical style became Jewish Israeli music as a combination of ancient Hebrew music with European, Eastern and Middle Eastern melodies. Israeli Jewish music had always been in continuous evolution since Israel is a young multiethnic and multicultural country. Israeli Jewish music never stops to amuse, and it influences other music genres such as pop, rock, jazz and classical.