When hearing the term “Israeli music,” the first thing that probably comes to the minds of our parents and grandparents are hopeful chalutzim marches and folk singers like Naomi Shemer. While the poignant pitches of Yerushalayim Shel Zahav and Al Kol Eleh are undoubtedly timeless classics, it is important to recognize the revolution that is taking place on the Israeli music scene. It is no secret that Israel is a cultural melting pot; the unique sense of Middle-Eastern diversity is palpable in everything from the sounds to the signs on the streets. The greatest musical breakthrough in the past decade, combining the likes of ethnic beats and western pop, is arguably the strong surge of hip hop.
In 1996, the radio program Esek Shachor (Black Business) got started on the popular station Galgalatz to promote the American beat throughout Israel. Many Israeli artists were guests on Esek Shachor to show off their English rapping skills – many more, though, recognized that English rap should be left to native English speakers and they therefore attempted Hebrew rap. By 2000, the program was the most popular nationwide, granting big breaks to many artists, and nurturing the rise of Israeli hip hop.
Both within the state itself and throughout the international community, HaDag Nachash has become one of the most renowned Israeli hip hop groups. A mixture of jazz, funk and world music, the group continues to pick up speed as it discovers the excitement of new fans.
In a unique interview opportunity, Shaanan Street, lead singer of the band, explained to me how the band got started in 1996: “I had written, recorded and printed a rap song in Jerusalem early that year. After a month or two, an acquaintance of mine [David Klemes] heard the song and told me he loved it,” explains Shaanan. Klemes invited Shaanan to “jam with this funky instrumental band he was part of.” Shaanan did just that and, with Atraf Moshe Asraf on drums and Yaya Cohen Harounoff on bass, “HaDag Nachash came to be.”
Growing up, the type of music Shaanan was into was mainly American. “As a teenager, the music I listened to most was Woodstock era hippie sort of stuff.” That’s not to say he wasn’t influenced by Israeli singers. In fact, he explains, there are so many that “there’s no way I could list all of them.” He does, however, name three Israeli icons he particularly admires, one from each generation: Arik Lavi, Berry Sakarov, and Peled and Ortega.
Although it stemmed from American hip hop, Israeli artists rap about politics rather than sex and drugs. Why the difference? “Israel is a very politically charged place,” Shaanan says. “Writing songs about political, financial and social topics is just us ‘keeping it real’ Israel style.” While it may be “keeping it real,” discussing politics, especially with Israelis, can get pretty heated. But Shaanan doesn’t worry much about controversies over the band’s generally left-wing statements: “I’m just calling ‘em the way I see ‘em. This country has kind of lost its direction, and I think that should be pointed out. Besides,” he adds, on a lighter note, “I’m a pretty bad liar so it’s not like I can really say anything other than what I believe.”
One of the band’s most popular songs is Shirat HaSticker, the Sticker Song. Compiled by David Grossman, the lyrics are basically a list of well-known bumper stickers representing many different topics and standpoints in modern Israel. Another well known song is called Gabby V’Debi. This more typical HaDag Nachash song follows these two children as they encounter notable people of the past, such as Herzl and Trumpledor, in a less idealistic light (Herzl, for example, is taking drugs). When I asked Shaanan what his favorite Hadag Nachash song was, he told me “everyday I have a new favorite…today I’ll go with ‘Gan HaTut’ (berry park) ‘cause it’s been a tough week and something in the song’s laziness is very appealing to me right now.”
Hadag Nachash is climbing its way up the ladder of worldwide status and we now know it’s led by well-rounded, down-to-earth individuals like Shaanan. For more information on Shaanan and the group, visit: http://www.hadag.co.il/press/press_kit.pdf
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