The Oranim Zabar Troupe featuring Geula Gill orchestrated and performed many of the classic 1950s and 1960s Israeli songs that are known to Israeli folk dancers around the world. Look for "Shalom!" "Hora," and "On the Road to Eilat," all originally Electra recordings. This music, like Israel itself, was a synthesis of old and new traditions.

For the truly authentic stuff, look up ethnomusicologist Deben Bhattacharya, who compiled a wonderful four-record collection of traditional Israeli musicians from Morocco, Uzbekistan, Bukhara, Yemen, and other lands called In Israel Today (Westminster Recordings).

Israeli popular music reflects a lively, unusual blend of Western and Middle Eastern styles and sensibilities. Among Israel's all-time favorites to look for are Ethnix, a group that does Orientalized versions of Western dance rock; Zehava Ben, a wildly popular songstress of Jewish-Moroccan ancestry (her song, "Ketourne Massala," in collaboration with Ethnix, was one of Israel's biggest hits in recent years); the legendary Ofra Haza, who died suddenly in 2000, one of the first Israeli singers to break into the international market, with a repertoire that included both traditional Yemenite songs and rearrangements of these pieces into disco (Shadai is her most popular album: Desert Wind is geared to the dance market); and Yehuda Poliker, the son of a Holocaust survivor from the Greek community of Salonika, whose bestselling Enayim Sheli (My Eyes) opened the door to Hebrew interpretation and rendition of Greek music. Finally, of special interest to Westerners is Ahinoam Nini (outside of Israel, she's know as "Noa"), who grew up in the United States and has returned to Israel to dazzle her homeland with her extraordinarily pure voice (she was invited to the Vatican to perform "Ave Maria" before the pope). Her original songs and renditions of classics range from witty to dramatic and reflect lively New York, English-language, Yemenite-Israeli sensibilities that are absolutely dynamite. Bustan Avraham (the Garden of Abraham), a group of Jewish and Arab Israelis that does gentle interpretations of traditional Middle Eastern music, is also very worth checking out.


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