Monday, September 15, 2008

Music - This is not your father’s Hava Nagila

Popular Jewish music has become an increasingly diverse market over the last sixty years. What was once limited to cantorial music and klezmer classics has evolved into single artists, boys choirs, hip-hop bands and a cappella groups.

Music has always played an important role in Jewish life. One of the best known sections of the Torah is the Shira, the song sung by the Israelites after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea) (Exodus 15:1-21). In fact, in ancient times one of the most important jobs of the Levites was to sing in the Holy Temple. King David was renowned as a musician.

Music, in fact, has been a means of spiritual connection with the divine throughout Jewish history. Indeed, the revolutionary Hassidic masters used music to uplift their souls and to inspire their followers to strive for spiritual heights. From niggunim (tunes without words) to Shabbat zmirot (songs sung at the Shabbat table) to the beautiful Psalms, music has always uplifted us.

The selection today is much more diverse, avant garde and bohemian, especially in Israel where the Jewish population is a melting pot of cultures from around the world. With influences such as Middle Eastern melodies (e.g. Yemenite, Syrian, Iranian), the rhythms of the former Soviet Union and the creativity of the Israeli culture, not to mention the impact of Western popular music, Jewish music choices are a veritable metaphor, reflecting the multi-dimensional history of the Jewish people through the vast realms of the diaspora.

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