One thing that I’ve noticed about Americans who come back from traveling to Israel is that they frequently talk about how they yearn to return to that culture, the hustle and bustle where ancient and modern clash quite literally on the streets, where different languages and accents can be heard daily.
When you take some time to stop and think about it, Israel really is at a unique point in terms of cultural influences. It is right in the center of the Middle East, only 1 country away from Africa, plays in sports leagues with Europe, watches American movies and has plenty of immigrants from all over the former Soviet Union. It makes for a one of a kind blend that really has to be experienced to be understood.
This cultural blend is perhaps best exemplified in Israel’s rich music scene. Since spending time living over there while I was in college, I’ve always been jealous of the breadth and diversity of music that all fits in to the “popular” realm of music in Israel. Everything from techno, reggae, and rock to rap, funk and traditional Middle Eastern styles can be heard regularly on Israeli radio stations. Axum’s self titled debut, released through J Dub records, perfectly exemplifies this phenomenon.
The group, hailing from Netanya and composed of Judah (Gilor Yehuda) and Tedross (Reuben Aragai), combines elements of dancehall and hip hop with distinct Middle Eastern and Ethiopian vibes for a bold, upbeat sound. They would fit in on a bill with artists as diverse as Damian Marley, Dr. Dre, or maybe even Israeli hip hop heroes Hadag Nachash. David's Voice highlighted Axum earlier when they were in the U.S. for an extended tour in April. Now, courtesty of J Dub records, we finally had a chance to hear the whole of their new record.
The album is 14 tracks of big, danceable beats that seem to celebrate the melting pot of cultures the group was raised with. Songs like “Ma Im HaKesef” and “Laba Hama” work perfectly whether riding in the car with speakers on high or at a bumping dance party. The lyrics are sung and rapped mostly in Hebrew, but a few English verses appear sparingly throughout the album as well, contributing to the international feel of the record.
One thing that remains constent throughout the course of the album is the eneregy. Persistent and full of hooks, this album is dangerous. Listening to it too much could result in multiple songs getting stuck in your head for days, even if you don't speak Hebrew!
If there is a drawback to this album, it is only that it has to compete with a wide variety a really special artists across the Israeli musical landscape. The dancehall/rap/world music mashup kind of thing is being performed at jaw-dropping levels by amazing groups like Balkan Beat Box (also affiliated with J Dub) and Hadag Nachash already. And did I mention they are really good at it?
I don't think this necessarily hurts Axum. In fact, on their own, Axum stand up as a legit group that have that same "makes you want to shake your booty and think at the same time" quality that a group like Public Enemy has.
However, at this moment, there are literally dozens of artists in Israel doing something similar, and also with some success. If this young group can push forward, cut through the pack and emerge as something really unique and special, they will go far. And if Axum's debut album is any indicator, I believe they have a real chance to do so. I know I'll definitely keep listening to this album and watch closely how the group progresses.
To learn more about Axum and hear their single, "Ma Im Ha Kesef?" (What's with the money), check them out on J Dub records here
To check out our exclusive interview with fellow J Dub records artist The Wailing Wall, click here.