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Putumayo Presents - Israel

Released on Putumayo Records, 8/25/07

Israel may be at the center of the Middle Eastern conflict, but despite the stereotypes, the country is incredibly culturally diverse. Jews, Arabs, and Christians live and work together with more harmony than the media would have you believe. This is especially true in the musical community where sounds from Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, North and South America and the Arab continuum blend to create a vital, international sound. This collection presents 12 Israeli bands and artists that are making groundbreaking music.

Singer Hadas Dagal bases her song “Seret Eelem” on a soft swaying samba rhythm, and the tune slowly devolves into an extended percussion and piano jam that has elements of Cuba, Turkey and American blues in the mix. Gidi Gov was part of Kaveret (Beehive) one of the most popular Israeli bands of the 70s and hosts his own TV show. Rona Kenan is a folk rock bandleader who bases her music on traditional themes. They trade off on lead and harmony vocals on “Ha’rikud Ha’muzar Shel Ha’lev”, a waltz with an Eastern European vibe that features a backing track marked by Kenan’s jazzy electric guitar, klezmer flavored accordion and a backbeat with a slightly funky feel.

Mosh Ben-Ari is a member of Sheva, a world music outfit that includes Muslim and Jewish musicians that uses texts from Sufi poetry and the Bible for their lyrics. “Eem Rak Na’iz” is from Ben-Ari’s recent solo project, and blends a booming reggae bass line, a traditional Hebrew melody, South African Township penny whistle and percussion that sounds like it was influenced by Brazilian afoxé rhythms.

The diverse elements come together for a smooth, rocking track sure to get heads bobbing. Sheva shows up with “Ashrey Ha’ish” an instrumental that rides a one-drop reggae rhythm complimented by some impressive oud playing. Idan Raichel, of the Idan Raichel Project, is another visionary who makes music that crosses cultural, racial and religious lines. “Mi Ma’amakim” from his eponymous debut album, is less eclectic that much of his music. It brings to mind the progressive rock balladry of Peter Gabriel with its densely layered vocals, moody instrumentation and mid tempo groove.

Zafa is a band of Yemenite Jews that play a funky, club friendly music that sounds as Arab as it does Jewish. Singer Sharon Ben Zadok’s dynamic vocals on “Tariki” compliment the band’s forceful rhythms. There are also Israeli takes on reggae, samba, singer/songwriter and late night lounge style music, that make for interesting, but not always compelling listening.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars