What can Israeli music give the world?
Asaf Gover is a musician and the artist manager of “The Angelcy” and other successful Israeli bands. YOMYOM asked Asaf to tell us whether the international boycott against Israel affects the local art scene, how to break through the Israeli cultural bubble and what place Israeli music is about to take in the world.
The text was prepared with the support of Yandex Music. The app is now available in Israel. Our Israeli readers may get three months subscription for free using the code YOMYOM.
What place does Israeli music have in the world now?
— It’s very small for now. I believe that there is strong music in Tel Aviv. Some of it got lost in translation; some of it is suffering from the inexperience of the artists and their managers and from lack of networking outside the borders of Israel. But if people keep doing what they’re doing, its place will be bigger. It’s the process that I’m proud to be part of.
What could Israeli music potentially give the world?
— Israeli music is a great mix of different cultures. North Africa, Western and Eastern Europe, Turkey, Greece, Iraq and Middle East, Asia — music from all over the world was planted in this small land. In Hebrew we call it Kibbutz Galuyot — Ingathering of the Exiles. Because of our history, Israeli music is composed of many different styles and genres. Musicians today are both connected to what’s going on in the world and studying their roots and traditions, finding much beauty there. Take A-WA for example — Yemenite sisters singing in Yemenite Arabic. Or Balkan Beat Box, who managed to mix balkan music with klezmer and hip-hop. Israeli music has so many flavors! Besides that, there are many genuine free thinkers here. That is what is so special about our music.
Many say that Israeli culture is a bubble and that it’s hard to reach out to an international audience. How do you manage to break through?
— Most cultures and countries are such bubbles. Israel is not unique in that sense. Some bubbles are just more internationally known; they’re on the main stage. Besides that, Israel is a place where you can’t get in your car and drive very far. We’re in a physical and geographical bubble as well. But in the 21st century distances aren’t such a big issue any more. Cultural gaps are getting smaller. Today, it’s more about what you like and how you live than where you physically are. I believe that nowadays everything depends on the artist.
Of сourse there’s a great challenge for us to present the art we love to the world. The infrastructure needed in order to export music is missing in Israel. It’s a small and very young country. When the musical industry was built, it was local. It takes time to look outside rather than inside. We still don’t have enough strong connections, producers, managers and links around the world, but this has been changing in the last few years. A lot of work has been done in this field, but it just takes time.
There have always been unique international stars like Ofra Haza and Mike Brant. But they were exceptions. We are not Sweden — a country with a small population that exports much more music than many big countries. To be like them we need to build infrastructure. I feel that it’s happening now, maybe not as fast as people would like, but we’re on the way. People around the world are looking at Tel Aviv more and more; they see that there is a lot of talent here. Believe me, in 10 more years things will look different.
Is it easier for Arabic Israeli music to spread around the world? It doesn’t have the political geographical limits that Jewish music does
— I know some really cool Palestinian bands. But I don’t know their ways of moving around. It’s a shame, but it feels like a different country, as if we were separated by the borders.
Did you ever experience the boycott of Israeli goods and culture when promoting music abroad?
— I feel it. Less than you would expect, but it’s in the air. Everybody here feels this pressure. Everytime a major artist cancels a show in Israel it becomes headlines. But life goes on, and that’s the funny thing about politics.
It’s a very confusing time for people in Israel. Everything you say is transferred to the field of politics. If you are left — you’re a traitor, if you are right — you’re a nationalist. There is nothing left in between, everything is black or white. That’s why I really don’t want to take a certain side in public. I’m trying to concentrate on my work. Thank God we’re not in the time of “glorious” leadership and big ideologies that was during the first part of the 20th century. A lot of things are going on on many levels in parallel. So we keep making our music and we try to use our microphone and our stage to amplify good things and not deny that there are also bad things going on here. In their situation, Israeli musicians have to work twice as hard.
Many Israeli musicians have started singing in English. For example Netta, the Eurovision winner, sings in English. Is English a better strategy nowadays to be successful internationally?
— I don’t think anyone becomes successful like that. You have to have the voice that is sincere and true to you. Even in pop music. Musicians that do good pop just like pop. For them it’s genuine. I don’t believe in first choosing the expedient direction, making a strategy and then going out there. I think it can only come from inside out. Our generation grew up listening to songs in English. At the same time we have our roots and our ancestors DNA in us. People search within themselves. It doesn’t matter that much what language you are singing. If the art is real — people will feel it, even if they don’t understand the words. Netta is very talented, she did a great job, and people in Israel are very proud of her.
I have the impression that the modern Israeli art that gains success in the world has one main focus — its criticism of the Israeli occupation and militarism. We can see it clearly in movies, But also in music it works. Does this come from the artists or does the world expects only these kinds of topics from Israeli art?
— It’s both. Local artists really want to talk about military problems, because they are real. It’s a very big topic is local art, though not the only one; and the outside world wants to see the non-conformist point of view, especially in art.
We are living in a country where people are perceived as oppressors while they feel that they are under attack. This situation creates different points of view. There are also voices saying: “Hey, we are trying to protect ourselves!”. But it’s true that today the spotlight of international interest is on the left-wing, anti-military side of Israeli art. I try to remain able to perceive ideas and voices from both sides.