Thursday, August 14, 2008
The "H" Song: Part One
I should be fair to “Hava Nagila.” The song has been good to us, the standard to beat all standards, theme music that can be used for any show. Plus, it’s been covered by everyone, from Belafonte to Celia Cruz and Dick Dale. Funny thing though is that the song most synonymous with traditional notions of Jewish identity– the Anthem of The Jewish Diaspora, really– is a modern tune cobbled together just after WWI in a Jerusalem musicology classroom by Abraham Idelson and Moshe Nathanson out of a European melody that had become a hasidic nigunim (warning: like the song itself, there are multiple versions of this history floating around and this is just one). Since then, the song has never been the same, changing hands and styles constantly. Its power is in its serious flexibility, its ability to go far beyond being a Hora stomper and cross cultural divides to fit the mold of any genre. The story of the H Song will keep unfolding on this site, so stay tuned. But for starters, check this stab at it by The Spotnicks, a group of sixties Swedes with a Yiddish-inflected band name who were best known for the space suits they often wore, not for managing to get the H Song on the English pop charts.