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Israeli hip hop set to rhyme in the U.S.

Posted By Jenny Hazan On October 10, 2004 @ 9:00 pm In | No Comments

Hadag Nahash is bringing their mix of socially relevant hip hop to American audiences.Hip hop has taken Israel by a storm with artists like Subliminal and Mook E creating a unique blend of the American-born rhythms and Israeli-bred social commentary. And now, the most popular band of the genre – Hadag Nahash (Snake Fish) – will be for the first time bringing their message to American audiences.


The seven-member Jerusalem-based band will be on tour from October 15 to 28, playing to audiences in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Tucson, Seattle, Boston, Minneapolis, Washington DC and New York.

Lead rapper Sha’anan Streett couldn’t be happier. “I’m very excited,” he says. “We have performed everywhere we can in Israel, and now we get to perform away from home!”

Streett admits that he is a bit surprised to discover that Hadag Nahash has gathered an American following, especially since most of the band’s lyrics are in Hebrew.

“Popularity abroad is a new thing,” says Streett. “The fact that people are paying to have us there is amazing.”

Hamon Volume Booking Agency executive Yael Margalit, who arranged the tour with financial assistance from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, is less surprised.

“[Hadag Nahash] is playing [a genre of] music that’s very popular in the U.S. now,” says Margalit, noting that the upcoming tour is the biggest one the company has ever handled. While most requests from the U.S. for Israeli bands are generated by Jewish organizations, Hadag Nahash appeals to an audience beyond the Jewish Diaspora, adds Margalit.

Indeed, Israel’s hip hop scene has expanded rapidly since its modest beginnings. Today the landscape is fertile with lyrical artists including Subliminal (a.k.a. Kobi Shimoni), Mook E (the ex-lead singer from Shabak Samech), Masika and Killa 6. But top rapper Sagol 59 (Chen Rotem)can still remember a time when there was no such thing as an Israeli rapper.

“I grew up on American Rap because there was no
Israeli Rap at the time,” Rotem told ISRAEL21c. He points to the East-Side/West-Side rivalry between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as an example of the continued American influence on the Israeli Hip Hop scene.

“But, once you spend a few years [in Israel], you know everybody in the scene and you can’t be pretentious [like that] because people bring you back to earth all the time,” says Rotem, himself a gangster-style rapper. “Sha’anan is the epitome of the whole thing; he’s one of the biggest stars in Israel. But, you wouldn’t know it from being with him.”

According to Rotem, the American influence on the
Israeli scene is dwindling. “Israeli kids today seem to be much more interested in Israeli rap,” he says. “It’s nice to see because as kids, rappers of my generation didn’t have anyone local to look up to. We had to invent the whole genre ourselves.”

17-year-old Jerusalemite and aspiring MC Asaf Snapiri agrees. “My main influences are Israeli rappers,” says Snapiri (a.k.a. ’02′) who lists Shabak Samech and Hadag Nahash among his favorites.

Snapiri’s repertoire includes a song about hummus
called ‘Hummus Makes You Crazy,’ in honor of a song by the same name by one of Israel’s first rappers, Nigel Admor; ‘Bad Education,’ a ditty criticizing the Israeli school system; and his newest concoction of beats called ‘Bible,’ which involves retelling bits and pieces of Old Testament stories.

“If I do a song from my feelings, it’s usually a good song,” he told ISRAEL21c. “I love Rap because it entails a lot of self-expression.”

That’s why, says Snapiri, Rap appeals to all sorts of people. “In the end, there are all kinds of people rapping; you have the people who really have problems and want to sing about it and you have the people who really like the style of music and do songs about everything, or about nothing. You can rap about anything, and anyone who has something to say and knows
how to say it in rhyme can be a rapper.”

Just as it is in the United States, Rap in Israel has become a popular medium for commenting on the country’s political and social ails – from Hadag Nahash’s biting and witty left-wing commentary, to Subliminal’s notorious right-wing stance.

Even aspiring rapper, 17-year-old Noa Ben Gur, chose to use rap to discuss the situation in Israel. The first rap she ever wrote was about the January 29 terror attack on a bus on Gaza Road in Jerusalem.

Ben Gur (a.k.a. Cookie Girl) was on a bus only a
street away at the time of the attack. “I heard the blast, but I didn’t see it,” she says. “It was like a movie. At the time, I felt as though I was hallucinating.”

A classical voice student since age nine, Ben Gur got into American rapper Eminem several years ago.

“Whereas singing is more like beating around the bush, Rap is more in your face,” she says. “When you sing a [regular] song, you get to express yourself, but the essence is for you to know and not anybody else. In rap, you just get to say it.”

Streett was inspired to rap about the loss of his close friend and colleague, 25-year-old Benjamin Blutstein, who was among the nine people killed in the Hebrew University Frank Sinatra cafeteria terror attack on July 31, 2002.

Streett released ‘Remember Ben’ (Levantini), a
compilation of fresh electronic Hip Hop tracks by
fellow funksters David Klemes (Hadag Nahash’s
keyboardist), DJ Guy Mar, Yaya Cohen-Harounoff,
Subsoniq, Hujaboy, Binya Reches, Finkelstein’s Aviad Albert, Yayehe Simon, Sagol 59 and the man himself, Benny the B — one year after the music scene lost the musician Streett calls “one of the best DJs in Jerusalem”.

“I think when you listen to the album, you feel
something,” says Streett. “Ben was the only guy who I believed when he said that he believed that music could change the world.”

As it turns out, Blutstein is not alone. Festival
B’Shekel (One Shekel Festival) organizers also believe that Hip Hop can change the world. That’s why for the first time this past summer, they organized a series of professional Hip Hop workshops for underprivileged youth in Jerusalem. In this case, the medium is the
message, since the Hip Hop program recipients are
themselves a reflection of Israel’s dire economic
situation.

“That’s what’s so good about this particular style of music,” comments Rotem. “You just mold it around the issues of the country; you just use it as a platform. The platform is very simple, so you can take it and shape it into whatever you want to reflect.”

It is Sha’anan’s hope that despite the language
barrier, the band’s “global sounds” will resonate for its new American audience. “Hearing Hip Hop from Israelis is something exceptional for American audiences,” he says. “I assume that the big hits here [in Israel] will be the big hits there [in America].

“Beyond that, there will be seven of us onstage, and that’s what will really make it an amazing party.”



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