Whatever naysayers may claim, Middle Eastern people (and others) delight in Middle Eastern-sounding music. This is one thesis behind a sympathetic new study from Wayne State University Press, “Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic” by Amy Horowitz.
From the 1950s to the 1990s, Horowitz explains, North African and Middle Eastern immigrants to Israel created a market for a “pan-ethnic Mizrahi style of music.” Star Israeli performers like Haim Moshe, Zohar Argov and Zehava Ben have all fit into this category, although not every listener in Israel was pleased to hear them.
In 1992, the daily Ma’ariv fretted that the music of Zehava Ben, born Zehava Benisty in Beer-Sheva to a Moroccan Jewish family, sounded too Turkish. The alarmist reviewer even claimed that “the Turks have conquered [Tel Aviv].” Horowitz more optimistically points to the rich cultural interaction symbolized by such stars as Ben, much loved by Arab listeners for her recorded tributes to the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum. Or the gifted Israeli Arab singer Samir Shukry, who pleases fans in Israel as well as in Arab countries.