Category Archives: Reviews

Original Review: Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic

Amy Horowitz. Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010. 251 pages.

 Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic

Reviewed by Samuel R. Thomas (Graduate Center of the City University of New York)

This book is a welcome addition to the growing literature in English on music in Sephardi and Mizraḥi communities in Israel. Amy Horowitz sheds light on a popular musical genre, focusing on key artists involved in its development and the role that their music played in negotiating a complex and volatile terrain for identity politics in Israel during the 1970s and 1980s. Horowitz systematically charts the seemingly unruly nature of Mediterranean Israeli music – also known as Musika Mizraḥit – by providing important historical, sociological, and ethnic context and by exploring many of the streams of influence that discombobulate listeners seeking to define the parameters of the genre. But rather than looking at Mediterranean Israeli music as being based on a collection of asymmetrical, perhaps haphazard appropriations, Horowitz advances and successfully supports the thesis that the musical genre was developed by artists with the express intent of drawing together “appropriate appropriations” (30). In so doing, these artists contributed to advancing a pan-ethnic identity in Israel – of a Sephardi, Mizraḥi, Oriental nature – that could stand in contradistinction to a hegemonic Ashkenazi ethnicity. Horowitz’s study adds a welcome statement about the integral role of notions of inheritance and appropriation on identity formation. These notions are all too often employed in the service of political ideologies. She challenges this binary structure and the ideologies that accompany it, instead offering a strong example of how the recognition of a continuum between inheritance and appropriation is actually more germane for appreciating the role of musical expression in the formation of identity. With this book, Horowitz adds a resonant voice to the scholarly discourse about Mizraḥi identity. Continue reading

Original Review: Like Joseph in Beauty: Yemeni Vernacular Poetry and Arab-Jewish Symbiosis

Mark S. Wagner.  Like Joseph in Beauty: Yemeni Vernacular Poetry and Arab-Jewish Symbiosis.  Leiden: Brill, 2009. 354 pages.

Reviewed by Asher Orkaby (Harvard University)

The origins of modern forms of poetry, music and the arts are often contentiously debated issues on communal, religious, and national levels.  In Like Joseph in Beauty, Mark Wagner follows the evolution of Yemeni humayni poetry from its Sufi origins in 14th Century Yemen to its contemporary form in the music and national identity of Yemen and Israel. Through his study of this relationship and the ways in which both Muslims and Jews dealt with the controversial elements of humayni literature, he attempts to define the parameters of the genre itself including structure, linguistics, eroticism, musicality, symbolism, and imagery. Continue reading