No Fear: Israeli Band Plays in Muslim Countries

Central-American yeshiva artist, Israeli metalhead, African reggae star and Muslim rapper talk about boycotts & music.

Ben Bresky,

Alpha Blondy, Kobi Farhi, SAZ & Shyne
Alpha Blondy, Kobi Farhi, SAZ & Shyne
Shlomo Taitz

A group of musicians rejected the idea of boycotting Israel at a Jerusalem Music Conference panel discussion. Artists "should come here and donate money to causes," stated Moshe Levi, who was born in Belize and studies at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. Levi gained fame as the hip-hop artist Shyne.
The session was moderated by Kobi Farhi of the Israeli band Orphaned Land. Farhi sited singer Leonard Cohen as an example of someone who performed on Israel despite calls to boycott and then donated proceeds to charity.
Visiting performer Alpha Blondy was on the panel as well. The reggae musician is from the Ivory Coast and played at the recent Jerusalem Reggae Festival with Barrington Levy, another famous reggae performer. The third panelist was SAZ, an Israeli-Arab rapper from the Israeli city of Ramle. 
The panel discussion took place at the Jerusalem Venture Partners Media Quarter as part of the 2012 Jerusalem Music Conference. The conference featured hundreds of music industry personnel from Israel and around the world.

Arutz Sheva's Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast was there to cover the panel discussion. To download the show including audio excepts click here.


Farhi's band plays heavy metal and often uses traditional Sephardic and Mizrachi melodies and instruments in their music. Their album Mabool is about the Biblical account of the flood. 
"Despite the fact that we are Israelis and Jews, we are extremely well-known in the Arab and Muslim world," Farhi stated. With his long flowing hair he described his experiences with Arab fans.
"I was in Turkey a few months ago with my band singing a Jewish poem from the synagogue. The crowd consisted of people from Iran, Lebanon, Syria, etc. They were all there with flags. They know that we are Orphaned Land from Israel. We were singing a Jewish piyyut [religious poem] and they were singing along in Hebrew."
Farhi continued, "Last year we played in Istanbul in front of 4,000 people from different Arab countries. That same weekend there was an attempted lynching at the embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Outside of the embassy there were 4,000 people who wanted to burn, kill, and lynch anything in sight. The story in Egypt was covered by all media outlets, but our story only got two minutes at the end of the 6:00 PM news and the press told me I should be grateful for just that," the singer related.
Sameh Zakout, who goes by the hip-hop name SAZ stated that he was disappointed by boycotts. "I represent myself. At the end of the month I am they one who has to pay the bills, so those that boycott are just talking," he stated. He described a gig that was cancelled, due to political considerations. 
"We had a show in Jordan, an Arab country. I am an Arab and I am a Muslim, so I am welcome," he said. "They cancelled our show five hours before we left. We lost money and got frustrated. How could it be that our brothers could be boycotting us?"
Levi, who ten years ago sold millions of records as Shyne and hung out with the most well-known hip-hop and rap personalities, today sports a beard, payos, black kippah and tzitzit. He called for understanding of all parties including journalists and politicians. "These politicians used to be young men and women too. They might be a fans," Levi stated. He also related that music "saved my life" in his youth when he grew up in underprivileged neighborhoods in New York.
Reggae singer Alpha Blondy, sporting long dreadlocks, described his experiences as well. Born in Africa to a Muslim mother and Christian father, the singer's most well known song is Jerusalem. He also has a  song called Masada,  a tribute to the Jewish fighters of the Roman era and a song called Yitzhak Rabin. Many of his other songs deal with social justice issues and spirituality.  
"I played Jerusalem in Morocco. I just played in Tunisia. Once, before a concert in Tunisia, a promoter came to me and said, 'Alpha, we want you to come, but don't play Jerusalem, Masada or Yitzhak Rabin because there are too many extremists.' I said, 'sir, if you invite me, you take me as a bloc.' So he said ok. An hour before the concert, he came to my room and said, 'Alpha, if you play Jerusalem or Masada or Yitzchak Rabin, I cannot guarantee your safety.' I said, 'don't worry, I have a very strong bodyguard. My bodyguard is called G-d.'"

The singer continued, "so when we started to play Jerusalem, no problem. We played Masada. No problem. When we started to play Yitzchak Rabin, I saw three guys in the front row who got up and walked away. Just three out of thousands."
For audio from the panel discussion download the Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast by clicking here.



All photos: Shlomo Taitz.

For a video interview with Alpha Blondy click here.
For an article on the 2012 Jerusalem Music Conference click here.
For a video interview with Moshe "Shyne" Levi click here.

Ben Bresky is a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem. He hosts The Israel Beat Jewish Music Podcast every Sunday from 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM Israel time. For Facebook click here. For Twitter click here.

Shlomo Taitz is a professional photographer living in Jerusalem. He has previously conducted projects for the Diaspora Museum and is the co-author of Jews in Arab Lands Today: Photographs. For more information click here.