Call it the year of “blurred lines” in Israeli music.
From mixed genres to artistic renewals to unusual collaborations, 2016 brought us a slew of new tracks in which hip hop, pop, Mizrachi, dance, rock and other musical styles fused together in unique and amazing ways. Some artists changed direction, while others arranged surprising shidduchim (arranged marriages) to create some of the most interesting songs we’ve seen in a while.
Any way you slice it, 2016 was a fun year for Israeli music fans. Here are some of our favorites from each of the past twelve months. If you haven’t heard these songs, now’s a good time to check them out.
2016 started with a bang, bringing us a game-changing hit that remained hot throughout the entire year. Chanan Ben-Ari, a hip, kippa-wearing newcomer to the Israeli music scene, exploded onto the map with his hit “HaChaim Shelanu Tutim” (Our Life Is Berries), in which he complains about the government, the traffic, the taxes, terror attacks, the economy, the rent and all the other hardships of life in Israel…before changing gears completely and expressing gratitude for the simple pleasures of life. Add a Mizrachi rhythm, a catchy chorus and some pretty clever lyrics and you have one of the year’s hottest tunes – not to mention Galgalatz radio’s #1 song of 5776.
Also in January: the title track of Idan Raichel’s latest album, “HaYad HaChama” (The Warm Hand), his first solo project without the collaborative talents of the “Idan Raichel Project”. While some will argue that Idan is at his best while working with a large ensemble of musical artists, his new creation was very well received in Israel and abroad…proving, once again, that anything this man touches turns to gold. (ICYMI, check out my review of Idan’s solo concert in New York this past June.)
A match made in heaven…why didn’t anyone think of this sooner? This month, a very cool collaboration between Rami Kleinstein and Keren Peles brought us “Lichyot” (To Live)…in my opinion, the best song on their new album. If you take two of Israel’s most successful pop singers — both “easy listening” favorites, both voices easy on the ears, both incredible pianists, both talented composers — and lock them in a studio together, you’re bound to get some good results. The talents of both artists are on full display, with great harmonies, beautiful piano playing and memorable melodies. And while I’ll always miss Rami’s collaborations with his ex-wife Rita, I think Keren Peles compliments his voice as well as (or even better than) Rita ever did.
Also in February: Call ‘em Tipex, call ‘em Teapacks, call ‘em whatever you want…it’s good to hear them together again. Kobi Oz and the gang brought us “Mi HaProvincial”, the first of a number of fun singles from the eclectic group’s new album “Avodot Kapayim” – their first new studio album since 2006. Complete with witty lyrics, a great beat and Kobi’s unique style…great to have you back, guys.
Shlomo HaMelech is back…and he’s brought friends along. Shlomo Artzi, who has attained God-like status in Israeli music, released his first new album in four years, entitled “Katzefet” (Cream). The songs are entertaining, but what’s most notable about this collection are the singers with whom he shares the stage – including Yishai Revo, Dikla, Amir Dadon and Yuval Banai. During an April interview with Banai, I was the first to share with him news that his duet with Shlomo, “LaNetzach Yachad” (Forever Together), had hit #1 on Reshet Gimmel radio’s weekly countdown (as did all subsequent singles from Shlomo’s album). Did you ever think you’d see the day when Mashina and Shlomo Artzi collaborated on a song? Listen and judge for yourself.
It’s official. Mizrachi music has finally gone mainstream. Perhaps this is not news to you anymore. But for me, immersing myself in the world of Israeli music at a time when many turned their noses at Mizrachi singers and their fans, I find it remarkable how times have changed. Despite cheesy, shallow lyrics, “Tisa 5325” (Flight #5325) by Moshe Peretz has taken the country – and the world – by storm. The song spent months at the top of the charts, has quickly become one of the most popular songs on the worldwide Israeli dance scene, and is even one of the most queried songs in the massive database at HebrewSongs.com. No, the song won’t make you think, but it will make you smile…and isn’t that what the world needs right now?
What an amazing year for Subliminal! Despite his roots as a right-wing rapper on a mission, his mission has changed. Subliminal, the artist formally known as Kobi Shimoni, now wants to single-handedly make the country happy…and it’s working. His three biggest hits this year – “Srutim” (Messed Up), “Yom Gadol” (Big Day) and this month’s hit, “Tzeva LaChaim” (A Color for Life) – have become huge crowd pleasers, and for good reason. These songs offer positive messages and an infectious beat. Not only is Subliminal spreading uplifting messages of fun, merriment and a positive mental attitude, but he’s also sprinkling references to God and faith…a bit unusual for a hip-hop artist, no? Oh, and remember what I said about Mizrachi music turning mainstream? Yeah, it’s happening with hip-hop too. Just ask your average middle-aged Israeli mom, who could probably rap these lyrics with the best of ‘em.
Imagine this: you’re lying on the beach in Tel Aviv on a summer afternoon, and blaring on the radio are the words, ““there’s no summer like this in any other country.” Truer words could not be spoken. Just in time for summer 2016 came the undisputed song of the year: “Silsulim” (Trills). Seemingly out of nowhere emerged Static (aka Liraz Russo) and Ben-El Tavori, two young hip-hop artists who, in 2016, owned every Israeli radio station, playlist and music collection. Named #1 song of 5776 by Reshet Gimmel, this song was EVERYWHERE. How could you not love it? With an incredible fusion of pop, Mizrachi and hip-hop styles, patriotic lyrics and a melody that is sure to put a smile on your face, “Silsulim” became THE song everyone was listening to, and held on tight for several months afterwards. Something tells me it will remain an official song of summer in Israel for many years to come.
Also in June: Wanna dance? Popular Mizrachi singer Dudu Aharon celebrated his engagement to fiance Shir Rosenblum with the release of a new song, “Sam Tabaat Aleha” (Put a ring on her) – one of my favorite Mizrachi-style songs of the year.
In this year of unusual collaborations, one still has me scratching my head. Early one Sunday morning in July, a new song by legendary Israeli rocker Shalom Hanoch hit my inbox. His musical partner for this endeavor? Sarit Haddad – a woman with whom he shares very little, except for the same initials. The result, an upbeat song called “Eich Zeh At” (How is this you?), has the trademarks of the typical Sarit Haddad song, right down to the beat of the darbuka. But Shalom Hanoch? He sounds out of place here, like a square peg in a round hole. Perhaps the title of the song should be modified to “Eich Zeh Ata”… Shalom, how is this a song for you? Listen and judge for yourself.
Who even knew there were Indian Israelis? Liora Yitzchak put Indian-Israelis on the map with “Maala Maala” (Up and Up), featuring a fun video of Bollywood-style dancing in the shuk. Born in Israel, Liora returned to India with her family at a young age to study classical music. She was quickly discovered by the Bollywood film industry, and her voice was featured in several Bollywood films. Now back in Israel, Liora combines Israeli music with her Indian heritage, and the result is a lot of fun. The Israeli public obviously agrees, as “Maala Maala” was sitting pretty at the top of the charts for several weeks this past fall.
In this year of unexpected collaborations, “Sim Ayin Aleinu” (God Watch Over Us) was a welcome addition by Hatikva 6 and Mosh Ben-Ari. I’ve enjoyed music from both over the years, and both stay true to their musical styles on this new song. Released just before the Jewish High Holy Days, this timely song expresses pessimism over the condition of the world, while asking God to fix things. The song reflected the mood of many Jews, from religious to secular, during this annual period of reflection: “God Watch Over Us / In the days and in the nights / Guard over us / The world is making trouble…As the world revolves on the axis of evil / Love of others in waning / There are good people on the run / And they have nowhere to go….” A great collaboration among two of today’s most successful Israeli artists.
Muki is no stranger to blurred lines in Israeli music. He emerged onto the music scene in 1992 as a member of Shabbak Samech, a successful rap/hip-hop group that disbanded in 2000. In the years that followed, Muki began crossing over – slowly – from rap to pop. But by 2014, Muki solidified his place in the “mainstream” music scene with the release of two smash hits, “Lev Chofshi” and “Yeled Shel Aba”, both of which propelled this scruffy, tattooed rapper-turned-pop star into one of Israel’s biggest musical celebrities. Muki returned in 2016 with the release of “Daber Iti” (Speak to Me), notable mostly due to its role as a follow up to the biggest hits of Muki’s career. Will history repeat itself?
Also in October – Personally, I’m no fan of Dikla, but it appears I’m in the minority. She’s had another amazing year in 2016, and her latest, “Bediduti HaNehederet” (my wonderful loneliness) has kept her at the top of the Israeli music charts. And although not new, I just learned of her interesting cover of “Here Comes the Rain Again”. I’m usually not big on Israelis singing in English, but Dikla puts a unique spin on this 1983 Eurhythmics hit song – definitely worth a listen.
Shimon Buskila is an Israeli music veteran; Eliad is a new superstar who’s had an incredible year. The two typically have very different musical styles. But Shimon, 50, has never shied away from singing with artists much younger than he (e.g. his ongoing collaboration with Shiri Maimon), and now he’s teamed up with 26-year-old Eliad for “Linshom” (To Breathe). The result is an upbeat song that switches, not-so- seamlessly, between Shimon’s musical style and Eliad’s, creating a song that feels just a bit disjointed. It almost sounds like a mashup of two different songs…but then again, this is Israel, where life is one big mashup of cultures, flavors, beliefs and traditions…and 2016 is, after all, the year of blurred lines.
Remember when you had to rent out a studio to record a hit song? The oh-so-adorable husband and wife team “Yonina” have proven that the rules have changed. Every Friday, Yoni and Nina Tokayer whip out their iPhone and their guitar, sit on the couch with or without their baby daughter, hit “record” and make beautiful music together. Their voices and harmonies fuse together perfectly, and their amazing covers and creative mashups have earned them thousands of fans throughout Israel — and the world. So simple, so pure, so effective. Spend some enjoyable time browsing their YouTube channel and see what all the fuss is about. Having launched a successful crowdsourcing campaign to record their first album, expect much more from Yonina throughout 2017.
Join Josh Shron live on Sunday, January 1, 2017 at 11 a.m. Eastern as he plays back the greatest hits of 2016 on Israel Hour Radio, online at wrsu.org.