How Israeli Music Changed After October 7 – Kveller
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How Israeli Music Changed After October 7

Music has been an important way for the nation to grieve and find its voice after an unspeakable tragedy.


via YouTube/Canva

In Israel, grief and pop culture are intimately connected.

On both remembrance days, Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron, TV channels stop their programming to display a simple mournful graphic or air the somber ceremonies honoring the dead and surviving. On radio stations, especially on Israel’s most popular radio station, Galgalatz, the IDF’s official music station, the music stays solemn and mournful on those days. Whenever the nation is shaken by a terror attack or a tragedy, every radio station mutes its pop tunes and happy songs, a part of a practiced Israeli mourning ritual, though usually a short-lasting one.

So what happens when the biggest attack on Israeli civilians sweeps the country into an unprecedented war? When the country is burying more civilian dead than it ever has, and losing more and more young people to war every day? When it is still fighting for the return of over a hundred Israelis held captive in Gaza and hundreds of thousands still displaced?

The answer is a whole lot of mournful music. Professor Shayna Weiss, senior associate director of Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, tells Kveller that she’d been monitoring the Galgalatz playlist and it was nothing but sadness for six weeks.

In the days after October 7, music was the only source of comfort for many. Israeli singers went from hotel to shelter to hospital, bringing their songs to the injured, displaced and traumatized. On Israel’s Kan TV, the five veteran comedians in the cast of the comedy sketch show “Zehu Zeh” got together with iconic Israeli musicians to cover their classic songs of comfort and strength. On 88FM, the national radio station, a program immortalized each one of the people who died on October 7 by playing their favorite song or a song that symbolized them. The solemn but hopeful “Yihiye Tov” (“It Will Be Alright”) by Jasmin Moallem became an unofficial anthem, holding in it all the wishes and hopes that things would get better.

And then began a veritable avalanche of new music solely focused on October 7 and its aftermath. It’s hard to think of a single musical artist in Israel who hasn’t made new music to meet the moment.

Of the songs that have risen to the top, at least in international coverage, “Harbu Darbu,” a militaristic rap anthem by Ness and Stilla, seems to stand out the most, with its YouTube views approaching 20 million.

Ness and Stilla very much represent a younger generation of Israelis, who grew up running to shelters to avoid Hamas rocket fire, with Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister for most of their lifetime, and with a leadership that didn’t speak of peace. “Harbu Darbu” is as nationalist and angry as they come.

The song is sort of a roll call of IDF units, and is dedicated to soldiers fighting. It is a song of revenge, calling Hamas “rats that have come out of their burrows” — a reference to the terrorist organization’s use of tunnels — and urges revenge on all those who wish Israel harm, both physically and to its image, from Hamas to Dua Lipa and Mia Khalifa, the latter two celebrities who spoke against the country, telling them their day will come by using the Arab expression “every dog meets its day,” one that many in Israel use to wish comeuppance upon those who anger them.

Weiss points out that the kind of talk in the song — about destruction and “bnei Amalek,” referring to the sons of Amalek, the people who attacked the ancient Israelites after leaving Egypt — is a normalization of a violent dialogue for a generation that didn’t grow up in the more hopeful days of the Oslo Accords.

For those who don’t have a connection to Israel (and for some who do), it’s easy to focus on songs like “Harbu Darbu” that affirm a revenge tactic that echoes the images of destruction we see out of Gaza. Yet the story of music in post-October 7 Israel is about a lot more than just one admittedly massive rap hit.

And many of the new songs released from the small and insular country take a more personal approach to what happened in October.

There’s Maor Ashkenazi and Noam Cohen’s “Noam’s Song 2,” which tells Cohen’s story surviving the Nova music festival by covering himself in bodies and running for his life. There’s “Ze Beseder” (“It’s OK”) by Benia Barbi along with Nova survivors, with lyrics that affirm “it’s OK not to be OK.”

Mia Leimberg, one of the hostages whose iconic image of being released from Hamas captivity with her dog went viral, is a gifted musician in her own right, and was brought on to sing with Aviv Geffen in his song “Black Sunrise.”

From hostages to victims, there are so many songs about the ones who aren’t here. Dana Weiss released an impossibly moving ode to hostage Omer Wenkert, captured from the Nova party. Odaya dedicated the song “White Angel” to May Naim, who was killed at the Nova party. Miri Mesika sang “Mapal” for Nova victim Mapal Adam, sister of TV host Maayan Adam who wrote the lyrics for the song. Infected Mushroom and Omer Adam released an unlikely duet, “Tirkod Lanetzach” (“Dance Forever”), another ode to the victims of the Nova. One of the songs that remains still in the charts is “Tirkedi” — “Dance” — by Osher Cohen.

Released hostage Maya Regev recalls singing to herself the song “Yihiye Beseder” by the band the Blue Pill (HaPill HaKahol) to survive captivity, and they came to sing it with her at the Hostages Square in Tel Aviv to call for the return of her friend Omer Shem-Tov, still in captivity. The band also released a song “Malkat HaShemesh” (“Queen of the Sun”) to remember 20-year-old Shahaf Nissani who was killed on October 7, and whose family they knew from their hometown of Ashkelon.

“Machar Ze Yigamer” (“Tomorrow It Will End”) by Loren Peled and Noam Horev incorporates the families of victims of Israel’s wars — including Shelly Shem-Tov, whose son is still in Gaza, and Iris Chaim, whose son Yotam was killed by IDF fire after being captured in Gaza, who all lip sync in the video. The song’s lyrics recount the stories of the wars the two millennial creators endured, the Gulf War and the current one. Through the horrors, they sing, their mothers still find a way to say “tomorrow it will end.”

“Fauda” actor and musician Idan Amedi’s songs became popular again when he was injured in battle and gave what is perhaps the most memorable speech of this current moment. The 35-year-old star talked about getting to the hospital so charred and unrecognizable that he was labeled as a 22-year-old anonymous man.

Meanwhile, through their hawkish pronouncements during post-October 7 performances, a few Israeli singers were unwittingly “drafted” by South Africa into a campaign charging Israel with genocide. Eyal Golan and Chanan Ben-Ari, two of the biggest singers in the nation, both talked and sang about flattening and returning to settle Gaza. “Harbu Darbu” itself, along with the perhaps even more roughly militant song “Shager” (“Launch”), became an example to some of how revenge-driven the country was and a lack of care for the civilians of Gaza.

Inside Israel, Golan became most iconic for his chart-topping song “Am Yisrael Chai,” a song about unity which speaks to an insular and protective instinct. The people of Israel lives, he sings, if we just always remember how to be united. These kind of songs, with appeals for unity, are very typical of wartime societies, Weiss says, where there are calls for “the home front to be involved.”

“All societies after attacks, or in early days of war, feel a sense of unity that obviously very much excludes plenty of people, and Israel is no different than that… the fact that Israel is a small country heightens everything,” Weiss says.

Many of these post-October 7 songs mention aba, Hebrew for father, a term many use when referring to spiritual conversations with God. There’s a lot more religiosity in these post-war songs than in the music that came out of wars past. In “Chatzaiyot,” one singer talks about becoming more modest during the war, but many more are about the difficult conversations we have with faith and God in these moments of crisis.

Eviatar Banai, who Weiss says is almost a rabbi-like figure in Israel (I would concur), played into the tension of religiosity and secularism when he released an album of comforting covers of songs that he loves, but that he used to feel like weren’t compatible with his growing religiosity. The album includes the music of his brother, Meir Banai, who passed away in 2017, which was about his own contemplation with grief.

In the early days after October 7, many brought up the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War that had just taken place, previously the most painful moment of Israeli history. There are so many echoes in the new post October 7 music of older songs that were inspired by that war. In new songs like “Shibolim” by Adar Gold and “Lo Levad” by Jane Bordeaux, the musicians imagine the fields of the destroyed kibbutzim verdant and flowering again, a more hopeful echo of “HaChita Tzomachat Shuv” — “The Wheat Grows Again,” a post Yom Kippur War classic sang by the kibbutznik folk group the Gevatron. The band reprised the song in a version that incorporated the call for the return of the hostages.


Odaya Azoulay released an EP of three songs in the aftermath of October 7 – the most resonant of them was called “Horef 23,” (“Winter ’23”), a call-back to the song “Winter of ’73.” In that song from 1994 about the generation who were children during the Yom Kippur War, the refrain goes, “You promised a dove/An olive branch/You promised peace in our home/You promised spring and blossomings/You promised to keep your promises.” But Odaya’s song doesn’t talk about the promises. “We are the children of the winter of 23,” Odaya sings. “Compassion whose house was burned/Morals that were beheaded.”

In Haaretz, Alma E. Hofmann points out two main instincts in post-October 7 music that I, too, can clearly see — two visions of a future beyond tear and fury-stained eyes. One is hope, and one is that of revenge and destruction. It’s the vision in Ness and Stilla’s dark rap and a newly released song called “Everyone Who Hates You Will Die,” which Hoffman compares to Israeli songwriter Yoni Bloch’s “From the River to the Sea,” perhaps one of the only songs that mentions peace beyond unconditional Israeli unity, which imagines something over the sky of Gaza that is more than just destruction. 

Will Israelis sing about peace again? About a last war, as they did after Yom Kippur? It’s hard to say, and maybe a question that’s too soon to answer as the songs of mourning are still coming out, and the wounds are all still too open to heal.

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