various artists,
(Putumayo, 2007)

Here's an idea: the religious and ethnic diversity at the root of so much conflict in Israel has also produced a richly varied musical scene. Putumayo's latest release offers 12 tracks that explore the full range of styles and genres that make up contemporary Israeli music, from pop to folk, bossa nova to reggae.

In other words, if you thought you didn't like Israeli music, this CD is likely to prove you wrong.

As with most Putumayo compilations, Israel is breezily downtempo and easy on a foreign palate. It opens with "Nilkach Meemeni Sod," a sauntering pop piece in which Etti Ankri's smooth alto purrs against laidback percussion. Pretty much all 12 songs share this relaxed, feel-good sound; it's as evident on Hadas Dagul's sophisticated "Seret Eelem" with its sultry vocals and chilled piano as it is on David Broza's acoustic, vaguely Paul Simon-esque "Srochim."

Other standout tracks include Mosh Ben Ari's "Eem Rak Na'iz," an infectiously sunny combination of Hebrew lyrics and reggae rhythms, and Zafa's "Tariki," a high-tech blend of electronica, Middle Eastern instruments and Arabic vocals. The disc ends with the coolly ambient, multicultural groove "Mi Ma'amakin" by the Idan Raichel Project. Only "Ha'rikud Ha'muzar," the duet between Gidi Gov and Rona Kenan, has me reaching for the skip button: the charming Parisian accordion on the track is weighed down by a clumsy, disruptive beat straight out of the 1980s.

Although it is united by neither language, genre, nor cultural background, the CD works remarkably well as a whole, simultaneously creating a cohesive mood and celebrating the multiculturalism of Israel. Not surprisingly, several of the songs deal with themes of tolerance and peace -- but if didacticism isn't your thing, you can always ignore the liner notes. There's no need to speak Hebrew or Arabic to appreciate the musicality and musicianship of these pieces.

World music snobs may pan Putumayo compilations for being too mainstream, but these brightly coloured CDs offer accessible and enjoyable introductions to music we might not otherwise come across. Chalk up Israel as another success.

review by
Jennifer Mo

8 December 2007

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