I love it when great pop music springs from unlikely sources. And I have to admit the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) is a surprising source, but hopefully the series of clips featured as part of the Anywhere But Here Today project will be a revelation, especially if like me your knowledge of Israeli pop music is limited or maybe extends only as far as Esther & Abi Ofarim.
The clips are all from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and are made by army groups formed of young people doing their compulsory national service. The Israeli tradition of military music groups is a long established one, but during this timeframe things got interesting as ‘rock’ elements began to creep into the sound. Well, that’s ‘rock’ in a very loose sense as there will be a lot here to appeal to fans of the Free Design, Swingle Singers, bossa nova, choral, easy listening pop music.
I guess some may feel a slight unease at featuring ‘military’ oriented Israeli music, but it is worth remembering these were young people doing their national service. I know that even in this music there were subversive messages promoting peace. The army groups also were a valuable apprenticeship for many artists who would go on to become successful as the individual replaced the collective approach.
These clips remind me of how in very different times when I was a kid it was quite a cool thing for ‘right on’ young people to travel to Israel and volunteer to work on a kibbutz as part of a socialist/collectivist back-to-the-land ideal. In fact there is something of an overlap between the army groups and the collective settlement idea. The Nahal Band (or Lahakat HaNahal) which is responsible for a number of the stunningly beautiful clips featured comes from the Nahal (which is, I believe, the Hebrew word for stream though in this case it is an acronym – just to confuse Google translations!) military tradition of developing settlements. This helps explain the gorgeous song about the Nahal settlement in Sinai, which is one of my particular favourites and makes me think of Nancy Sinatra’s This Town transported to a kibbutz.
Musically, given the time and the collective approach, the influence of Hair is a perfect fit. But more fascinating is the very pronounced bossa/Brazilian flavour. Several of the clips seem strongly informed by Brazilian music, and there is plenty of evidence that later Israeli pop retained this influence through to the end of the ‘70s as you will see. I absolutely love it when music in one country is seemingly illogically shaped by sounds from another culture. King Sunny Ade’s use of Hawaiian guitars springs to mind. I know the Anywhere Else But Here Today approach gives a weirdly distorted impression of things, but I think these two clips speak volumes ...