CD Reviews

CD Reviews

Subliminal and The Shadow
The Light and The Shadow
2002 Helicon Records

Kobi "Subliminal" Shimoni's second album continues to mix heavy beats and heavy attitudes developing a solid sound of his own. Like his previous album, the Arab-Jewish conflict is a frequent topic. It currently has singles in Galei Tzahal Radio's top ten.

Also returning is the raspy voiced HaTzhal, or The Shadow. He is on every track, alternating versus with his more plain spoken partner. Only a couple of tracks contain English. Non Stop features Jewish-American Sneakas and is a light ode to rap music and the bouncy Bounce is supposed to be the hit single.

The CD opens with Banu Choshech Legaresh, an old Hanukah song but with lyrics of today's conflict. The beat and bass is heavy and the chorus sounds like an ominous chant topped off by wailings. Other songs also rework familiar Israeli tunes.

Most of the CD sounds like traditional R&B laden hip-hop in the vein of Tupac Shakur. Street Child is sad with sound effects of gun shots and screams and ending with powerful trumpets. Other standouts are Hope and the last track, The Light and the Shadow which has a DMX style rhyme scheme, with each verse beginning with the word "the".

Another standout track that is gaining attention is Divide and Conquer. "They are persecuting me, my enemies are united, they want to destroy me, we are nurturing and arming the enemies ... together we will survive, alone we will fall."

The cover art of a muddy fist clenching a star of David necklace is brought to life with both in both the lyrics and the feel of the music.

There is no hidden English or French track at the end of this CD, however inserting it in a computer will open a custom-made player complete with track listings. This album as well and A Light from Zion, the first album, can be purchased online at http://www.israel-music.com.

Political hip-hop making inroads among Israeli youth
Cox News Service

Posted on Thu, Oct. 24, 2002

The CD cover is hardly subtle. It shows a muddy fist clutching a silver Star of David pendant. The message might be that if Israelis stay strong, they'll come through hard times shining.

Inside, the liner notes show the defiant snarls of the singers, with his heavy necklaces and obscene hand gesture. The music is slightly martial, with Hebrew chanting in low voices backed by sampled horn fanfares.

This is the eclectic world of Subliminal and The Shadow, a hip-hop group in Jerusalem that mixes heavy bass with right-wing Israeli lyrics.

Hip-hop has come to Israel packing not only its rhythms but its social commentary, too. After all, this is a country that dwelt on politics even before the recent bloody conflict with the Palestinians, now entering its third year.

Much like in the United States, mainstream rock is still the standard-bearer for contemporary music in Israel, which included imports and originals.

The country's No. 1 commercial music radio station is run by the Israeli army and pumps out the latest Bon Jovi as well as a regular flow of REM, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Oasis.

But it also plays Eminem, the Atlanta-based OutKast and old rap hits.


Israeli youth went through the grunge phase along with Americans. They're famous for the hyper-techno trance music -- along with the drug Ecstasy that so often accompanies "raves." But hip-hop has been growing in popularity.

"To like hip-hop now in Israel is cool," said Ari Ktzora, a music critic for Ynet, the Web site for the country's largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronot. "Everybody has caught on to it in the past few years."

Israelis can see American rappers on cable and satellite television on MTV and other music-video channels.

In the song, Hope, the lyrics read, "The hope in our hearts is locked, a strong people, we will not give in because no SOB has yet been born who can stop Israel."

Muki's latest CD is called, Hear, Israel, also the first two words to a seminal Jewish prayer.

"Everybody is talking about peace, nobody talks about justice, for the one it is paradise and for the other hell, how many fingers on the trigger?'' he says in the song, Talking About Peace.

Fans like hip-hop as much for the music as for the politics.

"I like hip-hop because I like the rhythm and the groove," said Yair Mendelson.

Mendelson, 18, organizes hip-hop parties, but his partner recently began his mandatory army service.

"The Israeli hip-hop tends to have only political messages. What I'm looking for is the music not the politics," said Tal Harda, also 18. "Music is music and politics is politics. But that is the reason the hip-hop is popular here."

Israelis Use Hip Hop to Support Zionist Position

Israeli hip-hop takes on Mideast politics By Joshua Mitnick, Special for USA TODAY story.news.yahoo.com/news...y/11941611

Thousands of teenagers shrieking at the sight of Israel's hottest pop idol packed a soccer field in this Tel Aviv suburb late this summer, two days after twin suicide bombings killed 15 and wounded dozens.

Wearing baggy sweat pants, a baseball cap pushed off-center and a glittering, rhinestone-studded Star of David necklace, Kobi Shimoni (known by the stage name Subliminal) swaggered on stage as if he were the Israeli incarnation of Eminem (news - web sites). With a booming rhythm track and an Israeli flag draped from the DJ stand, the show turned out to be as much a patriotic pep rally as a rapper's delight.

"Who has an Israeli army dog tag, put your hands in the air!" Subliminal called out in a mix of Hebrew and English. Hundreds of hands shot up. "Who is proud to be a Zionist in the state of Israel, put your hands in the air! Hell yeah!"

The patriotic appeal at the concert won chants of support from the rocking crowd, mostly adolescents grappling with weekly terrorist attacks and a crippling economic recession.

With sidekick Yoav Eliasi (aka The Shadow), Subliminal has parlayed nationalist themes into a chart-topping album, transformed the Star of David into a fashion statement and helped integrate the music of urban America into the fold of Israeli pop.

A voice for teens

For Subliminal, the music has generated tens of thousands of record sales. For Israeli teens, it has given voice to their outrage at the state of affairs in their country. Hip-hop, a quintessentially American art form, is helping bolster national morale in a country bruised by three years of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.

For most of the past decade, Israeli hip-hop artists operated on the margins of mainstream Israeli music, which has generally been a mix of Hebrew-language rock and Mediterranean crooning. But when hopes for Israeli-Arab peace disintegrated three years ago amid a violent Palestinian uprising, rappers such as Subliminal moved beyond schoolyard party lyrics to rail about the turbulence overwhelming their country.

"Before I started listening to him, I wanted to move to Canada," said Eden Yair, 12. The braces-wearing youngster leaned over a police barrier in hopes of getting a glimpse of the rap star before the show. "We need something that will encourage us. He sings that there's still hope," she said.

Filling a void

Music critics say the hip-hop lyrics have filled a void left by Israel's top pop artists, who have shied away from mixing music and politics for fear of losing their audience.

Hip-hop "made a revolution because before them Israeli music wasn't honest. It was escapist music," says Sagi Bin-Nun, a music writer for the daily Ha'aretz newspaper. "The songs talked in clues, and people hid their honest feelings. People spoke in metaphors." With hip-hop, Israeli rappers get a chance to offer their own narrative of current events, which makes the music a kind of "CNN of the people," Bin-Nun says.

Of the top hip-hop acts, Subliminal's grim prognosis seems most in sync with the nationalistic shift in Israeli sentiment over the years. On the cover of his hit album The Light and the Shadow, an inferno engulfs Subliminal's head. In the song Divide and Conquer, Subliminal and The Shadow sneer at the 1990s peace accords that aspired to create a Palestinian state, and capture the outrage over the violence that erupted three years ago:

To think that an olive branch symbolizes peace
Sorry, it doesn't live here anymore
It's been kidnapped or murdered
There was no peace, my friend
Handshakes fake smiles Treaties signed in blood
Where is G-d

The angry lyrics and Subliminal's political convictions have drawn fire from Israeli cultural critics, who call him a nationalist. Subliminal, whose fluent English is peppered with slang imported from the USA, rejects the labels. He says his songs reflect the daily realities and feelings of Israeli youth.

"In America, hip-hop is the fastest way to get rich, to talk about the 'bitches, cars and money,' " he says. "In Israel the words are very militant, like the situation we're living in. You open the newspaper in the morning in Israel, and this is what you get."

With a trio of best-selling albums in the last year and hourly radio play on Israeli pop radio, hip hop has established a beachhead on the local music scene.

Record companies say they've been swamped with demos from artists hoping to become the next Subliminal. But because politics has become an inseparable ingredient of the genre, record executives say they judge new talent on the manifesto as much as the music.

"There's no reason to release an album of hip-hop unless it has something to say. If the artists don't establish an identity, I won't release it," says Gadi Gidor, an artists-and-repertoire executive at Helicon, the label that produced Subliminal's album. "Let's move the debate away from the parliament and onto the streets. If we're not going to say anything, let's go back to Mozart and Bach."

Terrorism Strikes Chord in Israeli Music - Reuters
by Gwen Ackerman
Dec. 24, 2002

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - "The land absorbs our blood and tears... but the SOB has yet to be born who can stop the state of Israel," raps a local hip hop star.

Hip hop, rooted in the urban ghettos of the United States, has become the voice of defiant Israeli youngsters whose social life has been jolted by suicide bombings in cafes, pubs and discos during a Palestinian uprising for statehood.

"Hip hop used to be too out there, too extreme, too non-conformist for the Israeli public," said Gad Gidor, artist and repertoire manager at Israel's Helicon Records. "Nowadays, it is like the rock and roll of Israel because (hip hop performers) dare to speak about things commercial artists don't," he said.

Take Subliminal and the Shadow, whose black album cover shows a muddy hand clutching a Star of David, a symbol of the Jewish state. "United we stand, divided we fall," is the theme of the popular album.

More mainstream Israeli singers do not ignore the more than two-year-old uprising but prefer to raise issues in a less confrontational style.

"They are not using it to raise the flag. Established artists are afraid of doing that because the country is too divided and they are bound to lose some audience if they are too clear about their opinions," said Gidor.

Shalom Hanoch, a rocker in his 50s, recently left an exit sign lit on stage for an entire concert, pointing to it and noting: "That is what we should do, but this is not a political concert." Hanoch was referring to an Israeli withdrawal from land it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

Young hip hop artists, however, can be more vocal than musicians like Hanoch since they have little to lose and can establish a following by sounding a political note.


Subliminal and the Shadow strike right-wing themes in their music. Their album incorporates a folksong from Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, celebrating the victory of the biblical Maccabee rebels over the Greek Syrian Seleucid empire.

"We have come to banish the darkness," the song goes.

On the other side of the political spectrum, rapper Mook E slams Israel's occupation of land which Palestinians want for a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Everyone is talking about peace but no one is talking about justice," note the lyrics of one Mook E song.

Israel, "a small country with a lot of people with very big mouths," should prove fertile ground for the further development of hip hop now that the genre has broken into the mainstream, said Ari Ktorza, music editor for the Internet news site Ynet.

Discussion questions:

At a time when Israel is so divided, do you think it is appropriate that Israeli musicians are speaking out through their music against what Israel is doing?

Would hearing a song about the situation change your opinion about the subject? Would hearing one of these songs make you change your opinion on how the Israeli government is dealing with the situation with the Palestinians?

How do Israeli's singing out about hard times growing up compare to how Americans express their views through their music?


Verse 23:
You shall not follow the customs of the nation which I am expelling before you. For they have done all these above mentioned sins and I became disgusted with them.

Verse 24:
And I have said to you [that] you shall inherit their land, and I shall give it to you that you may inherit it, a land flowing with milk and honey, I am Ad-noy, your G-d who separated you from the [other] peoples.

Discussion questions:

Should Israel be a secular or a religious state?

Based on the verses above should Israel be a secular state?

How is Israel in its Government and laws different from that of the countries surrounding it?

Israeli Popular Music
A unique sound emanating from a unique place
By Joshua Mitnick

This article, written by a journalist in Israel, explores the evolution of Israeli popular music from the days of the pioneers in the pre-State period until today.

The story of Israeli popular music is intimately interwoven with the country's history and culture. From the young country's embrace of Zionist folk songs to the blossoming of Middle Eastern-tinged ballads, to the "Israelization" of imported hip hop songs, the music reflects the development and challenges of a young struggling country.

Land of Israel Songs

The earliest genre of Israeli popular music is known as "Shirei Eretz Yisrael," or "Land of Israel" songs. The poetry and music were written during the 1930s and 1940s, the years leading up to the establishment of the state. The ideology of the nation-in-making centered on pioneering youth reclaiming the ancient land of their forefathers. For this reason, many of the songs included romantic themes about the new and mysterious natural surroundings of the new immigrants. A good example can be found in Natan Alterman's Shir Ha'amek (Song of the Valley), which is a dark lullaby about Jezerel Valley in the voice of a pioneer. Although the lyrics spoke of building and defending the new land, the actual music was based on the folk music brought by many of the pioneers from Russia.

During Israel's first two decades of existence, the country found itself perpetually threatened by hostile neighbors, and the Israel Defense Forces, which functioned as the country's security blanket, was revered by the public. By organizing a handful of military bands whose job it was to travel throughout the country and entertain the troops, the army made a singular contribution in the history of Israeli music.

Adopting the names of the various units, the army entertainment troupe performed tunes that glorified battle and emphasized collective vales of the country like self-sacrifice. The Nahal Entertainment troupe's "Hora He'achuzut" lionized the farmer-soldiers who set up the agricultural outposts near the country's frontiers that served as military bases as well. When Israel captured the Sinai in the 1956 war against Egypt, the Nahal troupe performed "Before Mt. Sinai," a tune that begins with a flourish of trumpets and a proud victory march, proclaiming "it is no dream" that Israel's army had conquered the Egyptians just like in the Bible.

Songs of Peace and Songs of War

Out of the Six-Day War in 1967 came "Ammunition Hill," a song in which paratroopers retell the story of the bloodiest battle in the unification of Jerusalem while a frenetic accordion rhythm gives the listener the feeling that they're alongside the soldiers hopping in the trenches. But the song most often associated with the Six-Day War, "Jerusalem of Gold," didn't come out of the military. The song, written by Naomi Shemer and performed by Shuli Natan in the month preceding the war, romanticized the beauty of the city. But when the paratroopers sang the song in the shadow of the Western Wall, it vaulted into Jewish consciousness as an almost liturgical anthem to the liberated capital.

The Six-Day War victory did more than expand the borders of Israel; it opened up the country's cultural horizons to influences from around the world. In the early 1960s, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion refused to allow the Beatles to visit Israel, fearing the messages brought by rock music would contaminate the minds of Israeli youth. By 1970, young musicians who had been listening to the music for the past decade finally got what they had been waiting for. "Shablool, (snail)"--a collaboration between Arik Einstein and Shalom Hanoch--was rich with the psychedelic effects and humor of the Beatles. The album became the foundation stone of Israel's homegrown rock scene. Around the same time, Yair Rosenblum and Yaakov Rotblit wrote the country's first war protest song. Even though the rest of the country was still intoxicated by the 1967 victory, "Shir L'Shalom" (A Song for Peace) urged listeners to "sing a song for love and not for wars."

Over the next decade Israeli popular music both imported and exported hits. A Hebrew translation of the Beatles' "Let it Be" was infused with a new melody and helped propel the singer Chava Alberstein to local fame. Israel joined the annual Eurovision popular song contest. The competition became a showcase for Israel's most popular young stars, like the group of army buddies "Kaveret" and the singer Shlomo Artzi; Israeli entries won in 1978 and 1979. The second winner was "Hallelujah," an ecumenical song of praise sung by Gali Atari and a group called Milk and Honey.

Coming Full Circle

As Israelis shed the collectivist national themes from the earlier years, a new anti-establishment trend emerged. For years, the music of the Sephardic immigrants from the Mediterranean countries and the Middle East was ignored by the Ashkenazic elites, who owned the record companies and filled the roles of music critics. But in the late '70s, a Yemenite Jewish singer named Zohar Argov--who cut his vocal chops in the synagogue of his childhood--was building his popularity from the bottom up. His fame spread through appearances at local community centers and through cassettes sold at Tel Aviv's rundown Central Bus station.

In 1982, Argov's crossover hit "The Flower in My Garden" legitimized a new genre - known as "mizrachi," or "Oriental" music. The music was hugely popular with Israelis hailing from the Middle East, many of whom were from Israel's the working class. Some intellectuals criticized the lyrics as overly simplistic. But Middle Eastern and Mediterranean melodies and musical motifs continued to be fused with pop and rock by bands like Ethnix and Tipex, resulting in mainstream popular music that now had a uniquely Israeli sound.

The advent of cable television in the early 1990s brought MTV to Israel for the first time, and opened up the country's youth culture more than ever to the cutting edge of popular music from abroad. From Europe, Israel imported the pulsating electronic techno and transe music popular in clubs. Electronic music became the backing motif of Israel's third Eurovision victory, in 1997: Viva LaDiva, which was sung by Dana International.

From the U.S., Israeli kids absorbed the rising popularity of hip-hop music from the African American ghettos. Israeli hip-hop rose to popularity just as the dreams of peace symbolized by the 2000 Camp David peace conference disintegrated in the outbreak of the second Intifada. Israeli hip-hop artists took their music in different political directions. Mookie scored the first hip-hop hit by singing an anti-establishment anthem about peace and justice.

But Subliminal and the Shadow released albums praising Israeli strength in the face of adversity and displaying the Star of David on their album cover. As if coming full circle, the patriotic hip hop lyrics had returned the disaffected post-Oslo Accords teenagers to the themes popular with their parents and grandparents 55 years ago, at the birth of the country.

Joshua Mitnick is a freelance journalist living in Israel. His articles have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Newsday, The Toronto Star, The Newark Star Ledger, and The Washington Times.

CD Reviews

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