The early settlers of Israel looked towards their roots for musical inspiration. For many this meant the tones and tunes of Eastern Europe. However, there were were also those who wanted to create a new style of music that would belong uniquely to Israel and reflect their new country. The songs written in this new “Israeli” style combined familiar Eastern European motifs, traditional Sephardic melodies and more exotic Middle Eastern and North African influences. For many these more “Eastern” exotic influences seemed closer to biblical music and reflective of the land of Israel. This new musical style is generally known as Mizrahi music.
A pioneer of this new style of Israeli music was Josef “Jo” Amar. A noted Moroccan-born Israeli singer and hazzan, Amar began his singing career in the late 1940s in Morocco before he moved to Israel in 1956.
Jo Amar’s love of Arabic music was strong and he made several recordings in Arabic. But it was his Hebrew recordings which introduced Mizrahi music to mainstream Israeli culture and was responsible, to a great extent, for its growing popularity.
By 1970 he was living in New York singing professionally as a well-known cantor. He spent the last two decades of his life in his beloved Israel where his artistry brought him many honors and awards.
Ben Shalev wrote about Jo Amar in his July 2, 2009 obituary on Haaretz.com: “His songs still gladden the heart and bring excitement into the lives of many, just as they did decades ago, and they have been an important factor in the acceptance in Israel of Mizrahi music.”
The Judaica Sound Archives at FAU Libraries is pleased to share three albums by Israeli legend, Jo Amar, courtesy of Menorah Records:
(1) An Evening with Jo Amar
(2) Jo Amar Sings Only for You
(3) Chassidic Rhapsody with Sephardic Soul
Shoshana Damari was born in Yemen in 1923 and brought to Palestine by her parents as a toddler. As a young child she joined her mother as she entertained at family gatherings and community events. By the age of 14 Shoshana was already performing regularly on the radio.
Her exotic beauty, along with her distinctive husky voice and Yemenite accent brought a uniquely Middle Eastern flavor to mainstream Israeli music which had previously been totally dominated by Eastern European influences.
During the fight for Israeli independence she frequently performed for the troops. Her inspiring renditions of fighting songs made her a favorite of Israeli soldiers. She became especially well-known for her association with Israeli composer, Moshe Wilensky.
During her first American concert tour in 1949 she recorded Voice of Israel, an album of her favorite concert numbers. This album, along with several live performances recorded from Vistas of Israel radio broadcasts, comprise the JSA’s Shoshana Damari online collection of recordings.
When Shoshana Damari died in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2006 the Knesset honored her memory by proclaiming, “Her voice unified the whole nation, spreading optimism and hope.”
In celebration of Israel’s Independence Day (May 9, 2011) the JSA has compiled a special Israeli music mix to honor the spirit of the pioneers.
During the 1960s and 1970s the State of Israel produced Vistas of Israel, a series of original half-hour broadcasts which were aired on local radio stations throughout the USA. The programs featured popular Israeli performers of the day, topical discussions, and interviews with prominent government officials and academics.
The Judaica Sound Archives has been fortunate enough to acquire an extensive collection of these Vistas of Israel radio broadcasts. Over 400 of these recorded programs will eventually be available to you on this website.
The music and topics on these recordings represent an important time in the history of Israel and remind us of the eager pioneer spirit that founded the country.
This special JSA collection of songs from Vistas of Israel features the voices of Hendl and Eliran, Shoshana Damari, Theodore Bikel, and Yafah Yarkoni. Unfortunately, the specific dates of these broadcasts are not known.
The songs in this Israeli Music Mix are from the following Vistas of Israel broadcasts:
VZL 2: Folk Music of Israel
VZL 6: Folk Music of Israel
VZL 7: Folk Music of Israel
VZL 8: Folk Music of Israel
VZL 12: Folk Music of Israel
VZL 26: Folk Music of Israel
VZL 76: Songs of Israel
VZL 166: Folk Songs of Israel
VZL 172: Folk Songs of Israel
VZL 173: Folk Songs of Israel
VZL 199: Folk Songs of Israel
VZL 236: Songs of Israel
VZL 280: Songs of Israel