Israel has achieved much on the international scene and in many different fields – agriculture, science and technology, to name but a few. However, when it comes to music, most popular Israeli musicians haven’t managed to build an international career. Some of them, such as Arik Einstein, Rita, and Shlomo Arzi did try, but all of them ended up returning to Israel. Yet there are some that did make it.
Moshé Brand, the Israeli singer who knew the most success internationally, was born in Cyprus to two Holocaust survivors. He grew up in Haifa and started singing at the age of 17, singing in hotels and nightclubs in Tel Aviv and Haifa. His big breakthrough came when French singer Sylvie Varten heard him sing in Tehran, Iran (before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 there was a good relationship between Israel and Iran) and helped him start performing in France. He changed his name to Mike Brant, which sounds more international. His first song ‘Laisse-Moi T’aimer’ (‘Let me love you’) was a huge hit. His sudden success had its price: unable to handle the pressure, he committed suicide in 1975, at the age of 28. He was buried in Haifa.
Esther Ofarim was born in Safed and grew up in Haifa. In the early sixties she became famous in Israel, mainly singing poems and folk songs. Singing with her then husband Avi, they went under the name ‘The Ofarims’. After her success in Israel she moved to Switzerland, which she went on to represent in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1963. In 1966 she was voted singer of the year in Germany and performed in the first color broadcast on German TV. Her success in Germany was not accepted in Israel and she was banned from the country for a couple of years. In 1968 she scored a great success in Britain with the hit ‘Cinderella Rockefella’. In the early seventies she started performing in Israel again. She lives in Germany and performs mainly in Europe.
Of all the best-known Israeli singers, Ofra Haza had the most international success. She was born in southern Tel Aviv to parents who came from Yemen. She started singing at the age of 14 and her big breakthrough came when she acted and sang in the hit movie ‘Schlager’. She was the most successful singer in Israel in the early eighties, winning the title singer of the year for four years straight. In 1984 she came to the world’s attention with her album ‘Yemenite Songs’. She was a pioneer of the ‘world music’ genre, mixing traditional Yemeni songs with Western music. In 2000 she died of an Aids-related illness.
Erez Eisen and Amit Duvdevani grow up in the Krayot, not far from Haifa. They started playing music at a very young age and in 1996 began to collaborate under the name ‘Infected Mushroom’. The duo has enjoyed a lot of success, both in Israel and around the world. They play mainly trance and electronic music. The language barrier doesn’t exist in this kind of music, making it easier for Israeli musicians to succeed worldwide.
Skazi is the stage name of Asher Swissa. He grew up in Jerusalem and began his music career in a punk band, but his big success came when he turned to psychedelic trance, when he was 20. He is widely known in South Africa and South America.
Orphaned Land is a progressive metal-folk band that combines different Eastern musical influences with metal. Their music is listened to in many different Middle Eastern countries: in those Arab countries where it is illegal to listen to Israeli music, it is classed as underground music. Although the band members are constantly changing, Kobi Farhi (vocals) and Uri Zelcha (bass) have remained constant fixtures from the band’s inception in 1991 until today. Songs from their last album, ‘All Is One’, are often played on Israeli radio.
Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan, two Israeli musicians, started the band in 2003 in Brooklyn. Tomer Yosef joined them as a singer and together they make a kind of Mediterranean music blending Balkan and gypsy influences.
Asaf Avidan was born in 1980 and grew up in Jerusalem. He sings all of his songs in English and his vocals are the most prominent feature of his music: he sings in a rough female voice reminiscent of Janis Joplin. From 2006 until 2011 he performed with his band ‘The Mojos’. A remix of his song ‘Reckoning Song (One Day)’ brought him to wider attention and, with more than 150 million views on YouTube, he is the most successful Israeli musician playing today.