March 23, 2005
Sha! does Tamuz
Sha!: Friday Miscellaneous Pop Culture Entry provides an encyclopedic look at Tamuz, the band that gave us one album -- and launched several great careers:
When asked to list the greatest Israeli rock albums of all time, a lot of critics point to one record in particular: Sof Onat Hatapuzim ("The End of the Orange Season," 1976) by the band Tamuz. The album -- a collaboration between some of the greatest musical and writing talents in Israeli rock -- was a one-off by a supergroup of sorts. Since its release in 1976, the album has influenced at least two generations of musicians and still sounds fresh nearly 30 years later.
The record was revolutionary in terms of its sound. As Yoav Kutner, the dean of Israeli rock critics, writes in an article (Hebrew link) about the band, Tamuz did not strive to make "nice" music. In this, they stood in direct contrast with the other great Israeli band of the '70s, Kaveret, whose sound is entirely cuddly. Instead, "The End of the Orange Season" is filled with heavy riffs and complicated arrangements directly influenced by progressive rock.
The album also marked a turning point in the creative direction of the man at the center of the band, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Shalom Hanoch. Hanoch is widely considered to be one of the fathers of Israeli rock. His reputation over the last three decades is almost unrivalled, and he is still considered to be one of the most influential musicians in the country.
March 2, 2005
Subliminal gets his groove on in LA
With his angry-young-man lyrics that court controversy, two multi-platinum albums and a third on its way to platinum, his own clothing line and record label, legions of fans and glittering religious jewelry, he could easily be mistaken for a mini P Diddy.
But the diamond-encrusted jewelry isn't a cross, it's a Star of David; the lyrics are mostly in Hebrew (although he's now branched out into English, French and Arabic); the record label has spawned a plethora of new artists; the clothing line has a Star of David on every item, and his fame (or notoriety) is bringing him to US shores this week.
At 25, Kobi Shimoni, aka Subliminal, is the king of Israeli hip-hop. And right now it appears he can do no wrong.
Less than eight months ago Subliminal was officially un-invited to the Prospect Park bash in Brooklyn NY, by Jdub Records, a non-profit Jewish record label. Deemed too right wing for the event, Subliminal apparently didn't fall under the concert's banner of "openness and peace." Therefore it's poetic justice indeed that his seven-state North American and Canadian tour, which kicks off in Los Angeles on March 2, has come about as a result of backing by Israel's Foreign Ministry and the prime minister himself.
"It's great," Subliminal told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last week. "For the first time the Israeli government is pushing us and supporting us. We're being sent as ambassadors for Israel. And even though that's what we're trying to be on a daily basis, to get official support from the government, that's a huge recognition. We're really grateful for that."
The concert tour, under the banner, "The Architects of Hip-Hop " will see Subliminal accompanied by his ever-present sidekick Yoav Eliasi, aka The Shadow, and 10 other upcoming hip-hop artists.
In the five years since the release of his first album, Subliminal and his TACT team of record producers and artists have revolutionized the Israeli music industry. "Crazy" is a word that Subliminal uses a lot to describe the roller-coaster journey that has seen TACT branch out into a clothing line, five recording studios, a back-to-school line of merchandise, a radio show and a number of clubs in Tel Aviv. Oh yeah - and more recently its very own record company.
Subliminal launched his first two albums The Light from Zion, and The Light and the Shadow, as joint ventures with Helicon - then the country's biggest record producer.
All that changed, however, with the release of TACT's first disc, the All-Stars album, and also by the arrival of David Levy, once the vice president of American giant Interscope Records, who packed his bags for Israel to become Subliminal's partner - such was his faith in the young artist.
It's a gamble that paid off, with the TACT company now master of its own record distribution - 15 times bigger than Helicon, "which is crazy," reiterates Subliminal. "We are now the biggest record distributor in Israel."
He says this so casually, but the idea of being a music mogul was never the intent, he insists. The whole company came about, he says, due to bootlegging.
"Israel is the bootleg capital of the world," he reveals. "For every 'real' CD an Israeli artist sells, there are three or four bootlegs sold, but with us, the numbers were 1:20. And we sold 80,000 original CDs. So that's almost a third of Israel's population with our CDs in their homes."
In addition, over the past 18 months, the TACT team played 26 concerts with 34,000 attendees in Tel Aviv, 27,000 in Haifa, 12,000 in Ashdod, 15,000 in Beersheba and 17,000 in Kfar Saba.
"That's the equivalent of one million people attending a concert in New York! That's [you guessed it] crazy!"
So it makes sense, he says, that TACT now has its own distribution label.
"And," he adds, "we've created a revolution because our latest album is a double CD but costs half the price. And that's because we're the talent, the recording company and the distribution company. We can sell straight from the artist to the retailer."
But can Israel sustain such a huge boom? In such a tiny country, how long before the hip hop bubble bursts?
Subliminal says he sees no end to where things can go, especially seeing that his work is being recognized around the world. However, he does admit that "Everyone and their mama is trying to rap in Israel, and everyone and their mama is trying to have a hip-hop label, and every producer is trying to produce a hip-hop artist, and every commercial tries to advertise through hip-hop.
He pulls no punches, stating that, "There's a lot of Israeli hip hop that ain't worth nothing, but there's also a lot of very talented rappers, producers, graffiti artists and break-dancing crews. There's a whole hip-hop movement in Israel now that's very big."
And for him personally, there appears to be no let-up.
"I just recorded two tracks with Wyclef," he states matter-of-factly. "And we're working now with Ashanti. We have a couple of meetings in the US with Wu Tang Clan's Killah Priest and Remedy."
He pauses, suddenly aware of what he's saying.
"I grew up on these artists," he states incredulously. "Knowing that they recognize and appreciate what we are doing here, and to have these guys calling me on the phone and going 'Yo, you gotta come to New York, bring us more of your beats, I want to feature you on this and that song.' For us, it's like a dream come true. It's... crazy!"
Oh, and he's also currently recording with Miri Ben-Ari, the Israeli hip-hop violinist who just won a Grammy for her collaborations with Kanye West.
So does Subliminal hope to win a Grammy some day? He laughs hard at the suggestion.
"I wish!" he says.
I guess that'd just be... crazy.
Yoni Rechter keeps spreading the joy
Bechol paam sheani menagen
Yoni Rechter has made a great contribution to the Israeli music scene in a career spanning more than 30 years. But his name, for some reason, is rarely mentioned with the greats: Arik Einstein, Shlomo Artzi and Matti Caspi. Perhaps it is because his work is not "sing-alongable," as this double-disc collection proves. His music constantly shifts tones and beats, and his classical piano training (and penchant for jazz, Bach, Bartok and Shostakovich) is evident.
An accomplished singer, his main impact has nonetheless been as a composer. His 1977 "Atur mitzhech" (Wreath of gold") to the words of poet Avraham Halfi and performed by Arik Einstein has, on several occasions, been voted the most popular Israeli song of all time.
March 1, 2005
Loolwa Khazzoom's Jewish MultiCultural Corner - Culture features his coverage of Israeli hip hop, which has been published in Rolling Stone, the Forward and JTA.