The Evolution of Israeli Music

The Israel Journal at NYU
4 min readDec 12, 2023

By Eitan Noy

Ofra Haza (Photo: Hed Artzi/Haaretz)

The variety and diversity of music coming out of Israel is nothing short of astounding. Songs like “היי בייב” by Tuna gaining almost 13 million streams in a country of 9.3 million people is mind-boggling.

The history of music in the State of Israel is a story that reflects the nation’s rich culture and its dynamic evolution over the decades. From the early days of its establishment in 1948 until today, Israeli music has witnessed remarkable changes, embracing diverse genres and styles that mirror societal shifts and artistic innovation. To understand Israeli music today, a historical background is necessary. Starting from the 1950s until today, each decade reveals a new era of music and also reflects the politics and culture of the nation.

In the 1950s, as Israel was establishing itself as a nation, France became a key partner, especially during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. Contemporaneously, French songs overwhelmed the radio in Israel, along with the song “Beaviv At Tashuvi Hazara” (You Will Return in the Spring) by Mali Bronstein. This song is a classic in Israel, but most people don’t know that the song is of French origin and originally written by Charles Aznavour. This song and waive of music in Israel reflects the international conflict and partners of Israel during the 50s.

In the 1960s, Israel was heavily influenced by traditional Jewish melodies and Middle Eastern rhythms, creating a distinct sound that resonated with the newly-formed Israeli identity. One prominent example from this era is Naomi Shemer’s iconic song “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold), which beautifully captures the spirit and longing for Jerusalem. This is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic Israeli songs of all time, written about the Six-Day War in 1967. When paratroopers first liberated the Western Wall, they sang the original poem in triumph. The album “Jerusalem of Gold” was the most widely sold in Israel, and any Israeli could sing it to you today.

Moving into the 1970s, Israeli music underwent a significant shift towards rock and pop influences. As Western culture started to infiltrate Israel, local musicians embraced these new sounds while infusing them with Hebrew lyrics that addressed relevant social issues. A notable example from this period is Arik Einstein’s hit song “Ani Ve’Ata” (You and I), which combined catchy pop melodies with introspective lyrics about love and relationships.

Arik Einstein (Photo: Moshe Shai/Flash90/Times of Israel)

By the 1980s and 1990s, Israeli music had diversified even further with the rise of Mizrahi music. Mizrahi Jews, originating from Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq or Morocco, brought their unique musical traditions to Israel. This fusion gave birth to an energetic blend of Middle Eastern beats with modern pop elements. Ofra Haza’s breakthrough hit “Im Nin’alu” perfectly represents this genre’s evolution with its infectious rhythm accompanied by Haza’s powerful vocals.

As we approach the present day in Israeli musical history, we witness thean increasing influence of global musical trends alongside a revival of traditional Hebrew sounds. Artists like Idan Raichel have gained international recognition for their ability to seamlessly merge various genres such as world music, reggae, and jazz into their compositions while maintaining a distinct Israeli character. Raichel’s song “Mima’amakim” (Out of the Depths) exemplifies this fusion, combining Hebrew lyrics with a captivating mix of African rhythms and contemporary electronic elements.

Café Shahor Hazak (Photo: Facebook)

In more recent years, rap has also overtaken the music scene. Most notably, in 2015, Café Shahor Hazak released their first rap album “Rak Laalot”. The two are an Israeli hip-hop duo of Ethiopian origins, whose music discusses everyday life in modern Israel and the beauty in the mundane. In an interview with Haaretz, the two singers’ sources of inspiration include Americans Tupac Shakur, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, and LL Cool J, as well as other Ethiopian-Israeli artists such as the Axum rap ensemble and singer Ester Rada. Their most notable song, “Ihiye Beseder” (It will be alright), is a combination of soft rap and hip-hop that has gained over 25 million views on YouTube and set a new precedent for the music industry of the country. The song reflects the influence of the rap industry in the U.S. and the close relations between the two countries in the past few decades. The Israeli music industry continues to grow and adapt to the fast-paced environment of the nation and international influences. While broader communities will continue to affect the music made in Israel, It will always be special because of its Hebrew roots and cultural uniqueness.

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The Israel Journal at NYU

The Israel Journal at NYU is an explanatory journal dedicated to clearing up the conversation around Israel.