The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Israelis hang on to hip hop

Jerusalem, Dec. 25 (Reuters): “The land absorbs our blood and tears... but the SOB has yet to be born who can stop the state of Israel,” raps a local hip hop star.

Hip hop, rooted in the urban ghettos of the US, has become the voice of defiant Israeli youngsters whose social life has been jolted by suicide bombings in cafes, pubs and discos during a Palestinian uprising for statehood.

“Hip hop used to be too out there, too extreme, too non-conformist for the Israeli public,” said Gad Gidor, artist and repertoire manager at Israel’s Helicon Records. “Nowadays, it is like the rock and roll of Israel because (hip hop performers) dare to speak about things commercial artists don’t.”

Take Subliminal and the Shadow, whose black album cover shows a muddy hand clutching a Star of David, a symbol of the Jewish state. “United we stand, divided we fall” is the theme of the popular album.

More mainstream Israeli singers do not ignore the more than two-year-old uprising but prefer to raise issues in a less confrontational style.

“They are not using it to raise the flag. Established artists are afraid of doing that because the country is too divided and they are bound to lose some audience if they are too clear about their opinions,” said Gidor.

Shalom Hanoch, a rocker in his 50s, recently left an exit sign lit on stage for an entire concert, pointing to it and noting: “That is what we should do, but this is not a political concert.” Hanoch was referring to an Israeli withdrawal from land it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

Young hip hop artists, however, can be more vocal than musicians like Hanoch since they have little to lose and can establish a following by sounding a political note.

Subliminal and the Shadow strike right-wing themes in their music. Their album incorporates a folksong from Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, celebrating the victory of the biblical Maccabee rebels over the Greek Syrian Seleucid empire.

“We have come to banish the darkness,” the song goes.

On the other side of the political spectrum, rapper Mook E slams Israel’s occupation of land which Palestinians want for a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “Everyone is talking about peace but no one is talking about justice,” note the lyrics of one Mook E song.

Israel, “a small country with a lot of people with very big mouths”, should prove fertile ground for the further development of hip hop now that the genre has broken into the mainstream, said Ari Ktorza, music editor of an Internet news site.

While hip hop is popular among the youth, older Israelis are looking for more escapism in their music, said Izhar Ashdot, a top recording artist and producer. Pop songs written 10 to 20 years ago are seeing a comeback, a phenonemon Ashdot attributes to a hunger for “a period in memory that seems better than today”.

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