In Israel today, Mizrahi, or “Eastern,” music is ubiquitous. In fact, to many it is practically synonymous with Israeli music. But that wasn’t always the case. For decades, Israeli radio stations exclusively played tunes rooted in Ashkenazi traditions. That began to change in the 1970s and early ’80s, due in no small part to a few veritable trailblazers.
Prologue: “A Mona Lisa Called Abanibi.” Exactly 40 years before Netta Barzilai’s feminist hymn “Toy” won the Eurovision Song Contest and propelled thousands of fully clothed Israelis to jump into the pool in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, another Israeli youngster conquered Europe with a set of bizarre utterances. He was skinny, had dark skin, black curly hair, and a million-dollar smile. His name was Izhar Cohen. Mishy Harman brings the story of the ongoing love affair between Israel and the Olympics of cheesy pop melodies.
Act 1: “The Flower of My Garden.” You may never have heard of Zohar Argov, but to Israelis he’s a kind of mix between Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, and Billie Holiday. “The King,” as he was called, forever changed the face of Israeli music. But he also paid for it with his life. Yochai Maital brings us the tragic rags-to-riches-to-rags story of a sparrow who flew too close to the sun—a man whose angelic gift thrust him into the national spotlight and whose demons brought him crashing down. This story was produced together with Judah Kauffman.
The original music in this episode was composed, arranged and performed by the Mixtape Band, led by Ari Wenig and Dotan Moshanov, together with Ruth Danon, Eden Djamchid, and Ronnie Wagner-Schmidt. The final song, “Ad Matay Elohay” (Till When, My G-d) was written by Uzi Chitman and sung by Zohar Argov. The episode was recorded by Tony Hernandez at the Off Record Studios in New York, and mixed by Sela Waisblum. It is based on Israel Story’s latest live show tour, “Mixtape.” You can listen to Part I of the miniseries here and Part II here. Thanks to Dani Dotan and Dalia Mevorach, the creators of the excellent film trilogy “The Sad and Foretold End of Zohar Argov,” and to Bar Sananes, Chrissy Rinehart, and Carlos Montero of Palm Beach, Florida, Yael Bermano and Jon Mills-Winkler in Princeton, New Jersey, and Valentina Khomenko, Rachel Schy, and Rebekah Steinfeld in Amherst, Massachusetts. A special thanks to Dalit Ofer, who advised Israel Story on the music selections, as well as to Sheila Lambert, Hanoch Piven, Naomi Schneider, and Shlomo Maital.