Songs of the situation
The general mood is blue, and Israeli singers have come under the influence of the difficult circumstances the country faces.
In recent months, between one news broadcast and the next, Israeli radio stations are broadcasting sequences of melancholy songs. Under the influence of the security situation and the depressing atmosphere, it appears that the musical directors want to play only songs that arouse identification and that are full of atmosphere, which paint a familiar picture of the world.
These considerations, it would seem, leave no alternative to Israeli singers who put out new albums. Under the influence of the situation, they are electing to send quiet singles to the radio stations. Joyful and rhythmic numbers, written under the influence of British or American pop, do not stand a chance of getting onto the play lists. "There is no point in coming out with songs that aren't going to be played," say many.
There are, of course, other reasons for the selection of subdued songs: It is difficult for singers who have come out with new numbers during the past year to cut themselves off from the general mood. However, even if albums do include rhythmic and catchy songs, the marketing people choose to release to the radio stations the cuts that are more contemplative and connected to current events.
Thus, in recent months, the radio stations have received songs like "Sitting in a Cafe" by Tippex, which is the first single from their album of the same name and includes lines like: "What haven't we done, where have we gone wrong, this country is gone."
Yehuda Poliker has released "What is My Love Called," before songs like "In the Endless Traffic Jam," a catchy hit that in other times would have come out as the first single.
Other songs have been "Disquiet" by Tal Segev; "Staying Put" by Yuval Banai, and more. Upon hearing this depressing stuff, the question arises as to whether the catchier songs, the ones that could bring listeners into the music shops, have been replaced intentionally in a sequence that will not be annoying? And what does this indicate about Israeli radio's power to shape listening habits?
Bursting the London illusion
Kobi Oz, a member of the Tippex group whose album "Sitting in a Cafe" has already sold more than 30,000 copies, says that with respect to music the atmosphere and the security situation also have various implications. "It is impossible to plan ahead the release of songs to radio in the long term," he says, "and apparently the audience has no patience for hearing five songs before the album comes out. Before `Sitting in a Cafe' we released only two numbers, and in my opinion this hurt us - the critics did not know a great many of the songs, and they are not used to this when it comes to Tippex. We always release as many cuts as possible before an album comes out, and the more popular the songs become, the better it is for us. This time it did not work out this way."
It comes as no surprise to Oz to hear songs on the radio that have lines linked to current events. "It seems obvious to me," he says. "These are songs that were written not very long ago. He talks about his own methods of integrating current events into songs: "`Sitting in a Cafe' is not a happy song, but it has a strong beat and therefore is a bit deceptive, intentionally. I think that in principle the audience expects artists to be more involved, more Israeli. There is less patience for groups and for singers that I call `imported,' who want to play completely British or American rock. The Israeli audience can quickly and easily get to international music, and it will prefer the original. This compels artists here to cut themselves off from the London illusion, and, in my opinion, this is a good thing."
Another artist who takes current events into account when selecting songs that will be released to the radio stations is Sharon Moldavi, who recently completed the recording of his new album. "On the album there is a song called `We're at the Top When We Fall,'" he says, "which refers to the situation. Half the people at the record company thought it was an appropriate song, and the other half argued that the song was too depressing for these times. Meanwhile, it was decided that this song would be released to radio, but only later. It could be said that we have taken into consideration the radio's willingness to play the song, because its release has been postponed."
There is no point in sending songs to the radio that will not be broadcast says Moldavi. "Israelis apparently want to see artists more involved, and what the song says is important," he says. "I think that this is a huge advantage: After all pop music was intended to create brainwashing, but in Israel this doesn't exist, for better or for worse. Things that are cut off from the reality don't work here."
However, the head of the Hebrew division at the Hed Artzi record company, musical producer Yehuda Adar, argues that the singles that are released these days to radio stations are selected in an unprofessional way.
"In recent years people who the have title of musical producer haven't been doing their job, and the radio gets songs that don't have a `handle' to them," he says. "You have to understand what a song for the radio is - it has to connect as many people as possible to the artist and to reflect the artistic axis of the album. The political angle is a significant part of this, but only part."
According to Adar, since the beginning of the intifada a little more than a year ago, Israeli music has been dealing with several problems: "There is no longer a close connection between the number of times a song is played and sales. The connection that had been taken for granted has been broken. Those who have already `made it,' like Shlomo Artzi or Tippex, have branded themselves culturally and the intifada has affected them less. People are less emotionally open now to listening music - if they hear a certain song many times on the radio, it doesn't mean that they will also buy the album. It is possible that the choices made by the program directors, who are influenced by what is happening, do not reflect commercial success. This is very deceptive. As far as I'm concerned, if I succeeded in bringing an artist sales of 5,000 copies, I can also bring him a gold record [20,000 copies - M.P.]. The obstacles are so difficult that 5,000 copies sold when the album is released is already a good sign."
The head of the repertoire department at the Helicon record company, Gidi Gidor, says that the political situation first of all influences the people who write songs and only afterward the record companies and the radio stations. However, he says, "The record company has to go with the songs and with the work - a song is selected to be a single because it is a good song. The explanations that go beyond this are changing all the time."
Ronen Yarkoni, the market director at NMC, agrees with him. "Of course artists' songs are sometimes influenced by the `situation' but it seems to me hard to match songs to current events because things change so quickly in a country like ours. We, for example, released a song with a heavy beat like `I Won' by Dana International, but it came out at a difficult time." And indeed it has not been played very much.
"It was played less on stations like Galgalatz [the Army Radio station aimed at drivers - Ed.], but it does have presence on the regional stations." However, the song "Coffee Shops," by singer Ivri Lider, which describes the conscience-reckoning of a young generation that is cut off from the world, has recently been given a lot of air time. As a result, the release date of his album "The New People" has even been brought forward.
"Perhaps artists are bringing out more songs that show involvement," says Lider. "The situation sinks in. It is also important that a song you release be suited to the musical line that the programmers feel is appropriate for broadcast at certain times. Sometimes there is a desire to do the opposite, to escape from this and to use music with a stronger beat that will be broadcast to give an opposite reaction to the melancholy mood.
"The next single I will release is a catchy song and not in the `Oh my God' atmosphere. I try to see to it that the songs I release are songs that are typical of the album - it's hard to suit songs to the public mood."
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