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The following interview with Israeli folk music expert Eliezer Adoram was broadcast May 25 & 28, 1963 from New York City on worldwide short-wave radio. This historic radio interview was transmitted from the studios of Radio New York Worldwide on the show Folk Music Worldwide ALANed by newsman Alan Wasser. This is interview #1 of 2 with Mr. Adoram. (The second interview can be found here.)

Featuring three song performances: "Vayenikehu"; "Chiri-Biri-Bam"; and an Israeli Yemenite song.

hava nagila
From the Hava Nagila album


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MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): Here is Radio New York Folk Music Worldwide. A program devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world. Showcasing the top performers and authorities in the field. Now your host for Folk Music Worldwide, Alan Wasser.

ALAN WASSER (HOST): Our show today is an Israeli show. We have with us one of the finest Israeli singers that I know, and also an accomplished musician on the accordion and several Israeli instruments, Eliezer Adoram.

Before we talk to Mr. Adoram, let's hear a modern Israeli song, the words of which are taken from the Bible, but the music is new. It's called Vayenikehu.

(Song performance 1 of 3: Israeli song "Vayenikehu", by Eliezer Adoram)

ALAN: That was Vayenikehu as done by Eliezer Adoram and the players of the Aviv Theater, it says here on the record, called Hava Nagila. The word is from the Bible. What does that word mean?

ELIEZER ADORAM (GUEST): "And he let him suck honey from the rock." It was composed by Gil Aldema, who is a relatively young Israeli composer.

I think today, there is a kind of trend for young Israeli composers to go to the Bible to find lyrics and compose with the new spirit of Israel. Musically, most of the time the songs tend to be very popular also.

Many times there are even folk dances composed to the songs. I know in the United States a lot of Jewish youth and youth movements sing this particular song and dance to it.

ALAN: Before we leave it, in case any of our listeners are curious, where in the Bible it is. It's in Deuteronomy 32:13.

[ He made him ride on the high places of the earth, and he did eat the fruitage of the field; and He made him to suck honey out of the crag, and oil out of the flinty rock; - Deuteronomy 32:13 ]

Does this song show any of the roots of the Yemenite or Hasidic folk music background in Israel?

ELIEZER ADORAM: This one I don't think in particular. This one I don't think has any of the roots. It's a kind of, as far as I see it, Western approach.

The rhythm is not quite one kind of rhythm. There are two kinds of rhythm. The first part and the second part.

But if you will go a little back in Israel history, we will see that one of the main roots in today's Israeli culture started with the first migration to Israel about 80 years ago. Most of the pioneers that came to the country at that time came from Eastern Europe, Russia, Poland, and of course they had their own culture.

They brought with them this Eastern European Jewish culture. They wanted to modernize it a little bit, but what I found out when I was in my early teens, this Eastern European music was influenced a lot by the Hasidic movement, or the Hasidic "happiness".

Hasidism, really, if I can say it in one sentence, they said, "Let's worship joyously" and not fearfully.

They really enjoyed worshiping. They sang. They danced. They had fun doing those things.

There are beautiful melodies that really came out melodic lines. They didn't need words to express themselves. They could say "bi-bi-bi" or chiri-biri-bam or any kind of expression that would just let their feelings come through.

And those songs really caught us, at least me, in my childhood. Though I had been in a kibbutz, still. those young kibbutnikers, the boys, friends, we used to sit around the campfire, and sing Hasidic folk songs.

There are a few examples on this record, Hava Nagila. I used some of those songs because first of all, I really like it. I think the melody is very, very nice and it's very, very catchy.

This is one culture that really influenced me, and I think a lot of the independence war when it started, the spirit still was basically an Eastern European type. There is a song here, for example, "Chiri-Biri-Bam" [or "Tziribam"], it has only a few words in it.

"Chiri-Biri-Bam" really doesn't mean anything. It's only a kind of expression. But this is a Shabbos song.

Each Friday evening, even in a kibbutz, which is not religious, but the religious Jews, the Hasidic Jews sit at home around a table and have very marvelous dinner. After the dinner, they would sing, with the candle lighting.

This song is a Shabbos song, "Chiri-Biri-Bam", since the Shabbat, I'll say it in Hebrew, not Shabbos, [Yiddish], the Shabbat, was considered in Jewish tradition as the bride. The lyrics will say, the leader will say, when I will tell you, "Go my beloved."

You will answer, "Chiri-Biri-Bam," and I will say, "Go to the kallah" which means the bride, in this case Shabbat. You will answer, "Chiri-Biri-Bam."

ALAN: Now that song about the Sabbath, called "Chiri-Biri-Bam", which is an old Hasidic folk song.

Eliezer Adoram album, eBay
Adoram's album
photo: eBay

(Song performance 2 of 3: Israeli song "Chiri-Biri-Bam" or [or "Tziribam"], by Eliezer Adoram)

ALAN: Now that was the Hasidic melody, "Chiri-Biri-Bam". Now, the Hasidic movement, as we said, came mostly from Eastern Europe.

ELIEZER ADORAM: It started in Eastern Europe, really.

ALAN: Started in Eastern Europe. But I know there is another main thread in the rope of Israeli folk music that comes not from Eastern Europe but from the Orient, the Yemenite thread.

ADORAM. Yes, well when we are talking about the Orient, we are talking about the Middle Eastern Orient, not the Far East.

There is the other extreme, or another root, that makes today's Israeli culture is, I would say, the Yemenite. Yemen is a small kingdom in the south of Saudi Arabia.

They are very unique. The main reason for it probably is because, we believe, that the first Jewish Yemenites went to Yemen after the destruction of the First Temple [586 BCE].

ALAN: That was a good 5,000 years ago, maybe 4,000, by now.

ELIEZER ADORAM: No, about 2,000.

ALAN: Well, somewhere between 2 and 4,000 years ago. A small little difference. (Laughs)

ELIEZER ADORAM: We know that they have lived mostly separately from any outside communication. They have lived in their own ghetto. They kept their own traditions.

They got very little mixed up with their neighbors around there. So with their return to Israel, when the state was born, they brought with them mostly what we believe had a lot of the old Biblical "Hebraic", if I may call it this way, traditions.

The melodies, even their Hebrew, the way they're speaking Hebrew, is very, very peculiar.

I, as an Israeli, as my language is Hebrew, my mother language if I may put it this way, I have many times difficulties understanding them.

Of course, they have been very, very primitive, talented, but really primitive. I mean, many of them didn't know really how to wear even a pair of shoes. Or how to use a modern bed. Running water was very... (chuckles).

I want to say this one thing. They had a legend that one day the Lord will return them to the Promised Land on the wings of an eagle.

Of course, when the airplanes came to Yemen to take the Jewish community from Yemen to Israel, they saw in the airplanes the fulfillment of the legend, the promise or the prophecy.

They had never seen an airplane before in their life, but they went on it like this is really what had to happen.

ALAN: Is that where the name El Al came from? I understand that same legend is where the Israeli airline took their own name.

ELIEZER ADORAM: Yeah, no, but "Al" means high. And El Al, "el" means to, there are two words, it means going up.

(??) ALAN: But isn't that an excerpt from that show Take You Up High on the Wings of an Eagle?

ELIEZER ADORAM: Yes. But literally, the two words mean that thing.

Though the Yemenite music is very simple, but it's very, very melodic. It's very likeable. And I thought it would be very, very nice to put at least a short medley in my album, of Yemenite music.

This is a real, authentic Yemenite melody played only on flute and Israeli drums, and I think it would be nice to hear it.

ALAN: One question. Who is doing the fluting and who is doing the drums? Do you remember off hand?

ELIEZER ADORAM: The drums is being played by an Israeli boy, Mikhail Kagan (sp?). The flute is being played by an American, Lang Davin (sp?).

ALAN: Alright, well, Lang Davin and Mikhail Kagan doing his Yemenite music.

(Song performance 3 of 3: Israeli Yemenite song.)

ALAN: Those Yemenite songs certainly are awfully catchy. One thing, we haven't heard what most people think of as the standard Israeli folk music, the hora. We haven't heard any of them yet.

ELIEZER ADORAM: A hora is a kind of an adopted Israeli national dance and song. It really was picked up by the immigrants on their way from Eastern Europe to Israel when they passed through the Balkans, Romania, other states in the Balkans.

The very interesting thing about the hora is that the music is mostly written on a rhythm of either 4/4 or 2/4, and the dance, the circle dance, the hora, is being danced in 6 ... 1,2,3,4,5,6.

So each bar you are kind of off, and you are coming back to the music with the rhythm.

ALAN: What would be a good example of a hora from one of your records?

ELIEZER ADORAM: A good example could be a very traditional melody. We call it Rad Halaila but the original melody comes from the Hasidic nigunim, which means melodies which you are to sing Friday night.

They used to sing it, of course, in a little different treatment. Something like... [Adoram sings a traditional sounding refrain], and of course we are doing it... [Adoram sings a faster, modern sounding beat]. It's written for the dance.

Here it is Rad Halaila. We put Hebrew words to it: "Night is coming. We are joing hands, dancing in a circle."

ALAN: We all want to hear this, but I just realize we're out of time. If you can come back next week, I promise faithfully to play Rad Halaila right at the very beginning of next week's show so our listening audience can hear it.

I wish we had more time. Can you come back next week, Eliezer Adoram?

ELIEZER ADORAM: I will be happy to.

ALAN: Well, fun. Then next week we'll have Eliezer Adoram in again. And again we'll be discussing Israeli music.

Maybe we can find out something about Eliezer Adoram himself, beside the country he comes from. And the first thing we'll do is play Rad Halaila.

MEL BERNAM (ANNOUNCER): This has been Folk Music Worldwide. Devoted to the best in folk music throughout the world and spotlighting top performers and authorities in the field. If you have any suggestions, request requests or comments why not write in to Folk Music Worldwide, Radio New York WRUL, New York City 19 USA. This has been a Music Worldwide presentation of Radio New York Worldwide.

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