Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Mizrahi Subaltern Counterpoints: Sderot's Alternative Bands

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Mizrahi Subaltern Counterpoints: Sderot's Alternative Bands

Article excerpt


This article addresses Mizrahi (or Oriental) identity in Israel by focusing on a well-known musical scene in the town of Sderot, in the south of Israel, populated largely by low-income Mizrahim. This group has undergone a unique Orientalization process in Israel. This process triggered the crystallization of a diverse musical scene in Sderot that exposed three practices of molding Mizrahi identity. By engaging with a dialectic model that appears in the later writing of Edward Said, I argue that the Mizrahi subversion of Israeli Orientalism encompasses a re-creation of it in different degrees of intensity. [Keywords: identity; Israel; Mizrahim; Orientalism; popular music]

Music, like any other cultural product, is not an autonomous sphere. Political, social and economical forces play a significant role in its crystallization (Copian 1985; Frith 1996; Hesmondhalgh and Born 2000; Stokes 1994). An analysis of musical activity in Israel, as in any other society, reveals the interplay of forces that exist between the various ethnic groups and the dynamics that mold ethnic and national identities.

This article focuses on a unique and well-known phenomenon in the popular Israeli musical field that emerged during the 1990s: the formation of a diversified musical scene in the marginalized town of Sderot, in the south of Israel, mostly populated by low-income Mizmhim (or Orientals).1

Mizmhim are Jews who migrated to Israel/Palestine from Middle Eastern and North African countries mainly after the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948; they have become one of Israel's subaltern groups. The EastWest dichotomy was employed by the founders of the state-ZionistJews from Europe (especially Eastern Europe), and from America, who are defined as Ashkenazim-to "Orientalize" Mizmhimand acquire a hegemonic position in Israeli Jewish society. Thus, the Orientalist discourse and practices as performed by Ashkenazim define Mizmhim both as part of the Israeli collective, but also as an Other, expected to efface their inferior Arab Jewish identity and adopt the quasi-Western Israeli Ashkenazi identity (Alcalay 1993; Khazzoom 2003; Lavie 1996; Shohat 1988, 1989, 1999a, 1999b, 2003).2

To understand the unique musical scene that took shape in Sderot, we need to look at the intensive re-socialization process undergone by the Mizmhim in the town, and the resulting rupture of their Arab Jewish identity. Applying a dialectical model that appears in the later writing of Edward Said on the notion of the "counterpoint" of Western classical music, I present three subversive musical practices that took place in the town of Sderot, which I will refer to as "electrifying the past, ""re-Orienting the mainstream, "and "rocking hegemonic hybridity." This article will present a dialectical structure of the construction of power by exposing the ways in which, through musical activity, Mizrahi subversion of Israeli Orientalism engenders a re-creation of the hierarchies of this Orientalism in different degrees of intensity.

Orientalism and Subaltern Agency

Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) is a key text in postcolonial studies. It has been employed not only to understand the Orientalism of European literacy of early modernity, but as a tool for the study of hegemony and subaltern response to it, in different times and places around the globe. The debate between Said and Homi K. Bhabha, at the core of the field, exposes two different dialectical models: a horizontal model and a vertical one; each of which presents a different power relation between the ruler and the ruled.

One of the main problems of Orientalism, according to Valerie Kennedy (2000), is the conflict inherent in combining Michel Foucault's discourse theory with Antonio Gramsci's notion of hegemony. Through Foucault's theory, Said illustrated how the West constructed a self image through the shaping of an Orientalist discourse. The unintentional result was the presentation of the Orient as a constituted entity lacking essential characteristics. …

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