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Reviewed by:
  • Popular Music And National Cultures In Israel
  • Jehoash Hirshberg (bio)
Motti Regev & Edwin Seroussi , Popular Music And National Cultures In Israel, University of California Press, 2004 298pp.

The field of scholarly study of Israeli music in the broadest sense of the term (including the music of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine prior to 1948) has been proved to be extremely multi-faceted and complex. Israel represents an extreme case of a society of immigrants and refugees grouped together under extreme pressures and traumas, particularly the Holocaust. Music, as the most social and active art, has acted as a powerful social and psychological agent. Immigrants and refugees from Europe craved a Vision of the East and searched for a new musical style absorbing influences from the East—whether real or imaginary. At the same time, they brought along with them their cherished musical traditions which acted as a cushion to soften the trauma of resettlement. Conversely, the Jewish immigrants and refugees from the Middle East and the Magreb preserved their own traditions within compartmentalized communities while searching for the creation of a unifying Israeli style. Thus, all kinds of music in Israel represented the dialectic conflict which I have named The Vision of the East and the Heritage of the West.

The studies of music in Israel so far have focused on two large topics:

  1. 1. The music of the numerous Jewish ethnic communities, which has been studied by too many excellent scholars too many to enumerate here, starting with the venerable A.Z. Idelssoh, and followed by Edith Gerson-Kiwi, Robert Lachmann, Amnon Shiloah1 and several younger scholars.

  2. 2. The almost equally complex and broad field of the history and sociology of art music in Israel, which I have been studying and following for many years.2

The third—and indeed, largest topic—that of popular music, has been much less studied, although it is frequently touched on in studies of the [End Page 168] two previously mentioned topics. Many publications on Israeli folk songs were nostalgic and popular rather than scholarly in nature. The new book, Popular Music and National Cultures in Israel, constitutes a significant and welcome breakthrough. The book emanated from a fruitful collaboration between ethnomusicologist Edwin Seroussi (Musicology Department, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and sociologist Motti Regev (Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication, The Open University of Israel). As the co-authors indicate in the preface, they approached the huge field of popular music in Israel from totally different angles, with the happy result of complementing one another and producing a well-organized and systematic book which combines the disciplines of history and sociology. The research included numerous interviews with composers, performers, and producers, a highly systematic research of the sources (mostly hundreds of recordings) and a thorough survey of printed sources, especially in the daily press.

The concise introduction provides a sound theoretical basis for the book. The authors have made a thorough survey of the extensive and up-to-date theoretical literature relevant to popular music in the fields of anthropology, sociology, and musicology which they fitted to the special case of modern Israel. While the introduction provides the framework for the division of the discussion into the three main categories discussed in the book:

  1. 3. Folk music

  2. 4. Rock

  3. 5. Musica mizrahit (Eastern music),

they are still careful to indicate that the three categories unavoidably intermingle and overlap in the contemporary context of globalization and mass communication.

Throughout the book the authors are careful to indicate the complexities of the cultural phenomena in Israel, which they term as 'hybrid.' In chapter 1, entitled 'Short Introduction to Israeli Culture,' they discuss the transition from the imposed concept of Hebrewism (Tarbut Ivrit) during the Yishuv and roughly the first decade of statehood, which then branched off into that which they term 'Globalized Israeliness.' It is indeed a befitting term for the attempt to merge elements of world culture, such as rock music, into the elements of Hebrewism which the establishment strove to preserve. The authors then discuss the highly significant emergence of Mizrahiyut (Ethnic Israeliness) by which they imply the assertion of the [End Page 169] individual nature...


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pp. 168-174
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