Does Arik Einstein's Revolutionary Passion Translate Into English?

New singles: Dana Ivgy’s new song fails to cross the line between nice and good; Maya Johanna remains elegant while going full throttle and Yael Borger’s singing gets the job done.

Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev
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Legendary Israeli singer Arik Einstein.
Legendary Israeli singer Arik Einstein.Credit: Menachem Saks
Ben Shalev
Ben Shalev

Dana Ivgy – “On the Bus”

The new song meant to launch actress Dana Ivgy’s musical career has a certain sweet charm. But it fails to transcend the line that separates nice from good. Musically, it’s too monotonous and thus quickly becomes tiresome. The same brief harmonic progression recurs over and over again throughout the song, with no deviations or surprises. I didn’t count, but it felt like it was repeated about 20 times in three minutes. This is a bit much, especially as the harmonic progression in question is not clever and original enough (It’s not all that dissimilar to the opening progression of “Just” by Radiohead, in fact) for the endless repetition not to be a problem And the video is overly cinematic. The cinematography, the script, the dancing in the bus, Ivgy’s presence amid the urban tumult – It practically seems like a scene from a musical. And that’s not good. Ivgy clearly wants to be judged here solely as a singer and songwriter. Her status as a leading actress is irrelevant. So why forcibly insert her into the video this way?

Arik Einstein – “Waiting for a Better Day”

Unlike “What’s Going on Here?” – a wonderful yet fairly unknown song from the “On the Lawn with Avigdor” sessions that came out a few weeks ago – the English version of “Ani Ve’Ata,” released last week, isn’t much more than a novelty. It’s nice to hear it once or twice, but that’s plenty. Still, the English text raises an interesting thought. One would have expected the translation to stick more closely to the original. Not necessarily to be exactly “You and I Will Change the World,” but something more along those lines. Something that contains some sort of dramatic action in the world. But we get nothing of the kind – no action, and nothing the least bit dramatic. The English text is completely passive. Einstein is just lying on the sand, waiting for a better day. Lying in the sun and dreaming about a different reality. Tell me what the answer is, he asks, if you know what I should do. What happened to the revolutionary passion he showed in the Hebrew? Apparently, the revolutionary passion of the original song wasn’t really true to Einstein’s character. For a moment, the idealist in him had reared its head and shaken off the other, more conservative personas. But this was only fleeting. When it came time to translate the song into English, Einstein must have felt compelled to hand the reins back to the lazy conservative in him, the one who may dream of a better world but isn’t about to do anything to make that dream come true. One wonders how much Robb Huxley, Einstein’s British guitarist at the time, was involved in the translation.

Maya Johanna – “When the Sky”

Johanna’s new single is a good song that convinces you on its own terms. A couple of months ago, I saw Johanna (known from her appearance on “The Voice”) in a Bob Dylan tribute show featuring numerous performers. As a whole, the event was not a big success, but Johanna was wonderful, giving a quiet performance suffused with confident tenderness. I was hoping that this winning tranquility would also be a hallmark of her new single, and when the song got off to a quick gallop, my first instinct was to be disappointed. But before long there was no trace of that disappointment. It was completely supplanted by feelings of pleasure and admiration. The momentum felt at the start of the song kept growing, becoming more and more intensive, and it was very impressive to hear Johanna going full throttle without losing her elegant clarity. At the start of the song, she sounds like a Dolly Parton-style country singer, but from mid-point on, the next flattering association that comes to mind is none other than Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane. Relax – I’m not really comparing the two. There are no airplanes or white rabbits in Johanna’s new song. But it is a very good song, and the mere fact that it brought Slick to mind is a huge compliment.

Yael Borger – “The Rage”

There’s quite a disconnect between the text and the music in Borger’s new single, “The Rage.” The text includes lines like “Anger fills my veins” and “Like a bleeding animal I become prey.” You’d expect the music to be wounded and aggressive, but it’s bright and optimistic. On paper, this contrast between lyrics and music would seem problematic, but it turns out not to matter. What matters is that “The Rage” sounds good. It has drive, and a sweet melody that unfolds skillfully and patiently, and Borger’s singing, though lacking depth and devoid of pyrotechnics, gets the job done. The production, overseen by Borger’s brother, known as Borgore, is quite polished, though it could have been improved with the use of a slightly more interesting and aggressive approach to suit the text. An accomplished electronic producer, Borgore knows how to create a forceful, even sleazy, sound, but he doesn’t do so for his sister, at least not this time. This uncharacteristic restraint doesn’t really help the song. But it’s still a good single.

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