Israeli Mizrahi musicians reclaim centre stage

Musicians Djamchid and her husband Gilad Vaknin are third-generation Mizrahi Jews, whose families came to Israel not from Europe but from the Middle East and north Africa.

The music they seek to reinterpret, through their group Ecoute, is what their parents and grandparents once listened to in cities across the Middle East, from Cairo to Baghdad; a style that slipped out of mainstream Israeli Jewish cultural life amid the long years of discrimination – economic, cultural and political – against the Mizrahi by institutions long dominated by Ashkenazi Jews of European origin.

As a result the music has echoed the wider story of the Mizrahi, who came to Israel after independence in 1948 – either expelled from Arab
countries or choosing to immigrate to Israel – and arrived to confront both racism and marginalisation, problems that have not disappeared despite Jews of Arab descent constituting roughly half of the total Israeli population.

“For us it was a process of wanting to connect with a Jewish culture that had come from Arab countries. To say a sense of that connection is present, alive and exists” explains Djamchid. In this way, the musicians seek a connection with places where, in many cases, Jews have been rejected and expelled; where a sense of belonging is no longer possible but where a desire for some relationship still exists.

If there is a distinction between musicians like Ecoute and an earlier generation of Mizrahi musicians – who were barely accepted by the dominant Ashkenazi culture – it is foregrounding of the link to an Arabic culture and language often airbrushed out by their predecessors.

~ This is an extract from an article by Peter Baumont that first appeared in the Guardian Newspaper 17-01-2017

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