“…says Marshall, who is not Jewish.”

Jewish immigrants to Israel after World War Two singing Hatikvah as their boat pulls in

The Jewish Chronicle – Britain’s leading Jewish newspaper – just interviewed me about Israel’s anthem Hatikvah, the song of hope that built a nation.

You can read the piece here. It’s actually a great read, and we talk about everything from the alcoholic poet behind the song, to how it was sung during the Holocaust; the rapper Tupac to what it says about Israel’s future.

The interview was done to promote a talk of mine at Milim, Leeds’ Jewish literary festival. It went great so if any other Jewish organisation or festival fancies having me along to redo it, get in touch!

Rap’s bizarre obssession with the Israeli national anthem

Israel’s Hatikvah is one of the world’s most beautiful national anthems, one of the few in a minor key – a song that yearns for the creation of a “land of zion”.

Which suggests it isn’t the most sensible sample for a rap record, but why should that stop a producer, eh?

2Pac, Troublesome ’96

Hatikvah was written by Naphtali Imber, a Ukrainian poet living in one of the first Jewish settlements in Palestine. What’s lesser known is he was actually a gangsta who wanted to rap “these scams are plotted over grams and rocks, outlaw motherfuckers die by random shots” over the same tune. Thank the Lord, then, that 2Pac came along 100-odd years later and did just that.

Anderson .Paak, Come Down

If you don’t know who Anderson .Paak is, he’s a rapper/singer with an incredibly poor knowledge of how full stops work. He was also all over Dr Dre’s Compton last year.

Come Down starts with a sample of Hatikvah that’s oddly not in Hebrew. I once tried to ask Mr .Paak why he did that but he didn’t fancy a chat – something that tells you EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HIM, doesn’t it conspiracy theorists?

[“Er, no” – conspiracy theorists everywhere]

Remedy, Never Again

Who knew the Wu-Tang Clan had a line in anti-holocaust songs? Who knew the Wu-Tang Clan had a white, Jewish, associate member? Probably not even Remedy himself. But here’s something that proves all exist. It’s quite serious. I probably shouldn’t be flippant about it. Hatikvah comes in during the chorus. Enjoy!

Update: I forgot Louchie Lou and Michie One’s Rich Girl! How could I? HOW. COULD. I? I’m off to give myself a thorough telling off.

If that makes you want to head off to listen to the Gwen Stefani version. Don’t. Go and listen to Hollaback Girl instead. That sh*t’s bananas. B. A. N. A. N. A. S. (Yes, that is a lyric quote!)

Update 2 (March 2017): If you run a Jewish book festival and fancy a talk on Hatikvah – its history and what it says about Israel’s past and future, get in touch. I did one this month for Milim, Leeds’ Jewish Book Festival, and it went really well, so I’d happily do it again.

The secrets behind national anthems in 1,000 words…

…and a poor joke about Coldplay.

A piece I’ve done for the BBC went online today (above’s a picture of it on the front page).

I’ve somehow crammed 18 countries into it. Although apologies to anyone from Oman or Zimbabwe, who I seem to insult!

If you know of any secrets it doesn’t mention, please let me know.

Please Rise for the National Rap Song

What if governments tried to update national anthems?

(That’s a link to a piece I’ve done for the International Herald Tribune. I suggest you read it! Thanks to Raquel Marín for the image)

The Jewish question

There’s been a lot of fuss in Israel over the last few months about their anthem, Hatikva (The Hope).
It started in February, when one of the country’s Supreme Court judges refused to sing the anthem at a swearing-in ceremony. The man, Justice Salim Joubran (that’s him looking happy in the picture), kept silent when the anthem was played, presumably because he’s an Israeli-Arab and can hardly sing lines about how his “Jewish soul…yearns”.
His silence was met with unsurprising criticism. But it also led to several calls to change the anthem so it actually means something to the 25% of Israel’s population who aren’t Jewish.
A couple of weeks ago, the magazine Forward even talked an Israeli pop star into recording a new version of the anthem with several lines changed.  If that were adopted, Salim would just have to sing about the yearnings of his “Israeli soul”.
Clearly, Hatikva’s going to stay as it is (sample YouTube reaction to Forward’s video: “F**k you you stupid leftwing scum!!!”), but the debate illustrates a wider movement to make anthems inclusive.
Take Iraq, where they’re considering a new anthem. The leading suggestion right now is apparently just to add words in Kurdish and Turkmen to the existing Arabic tune Mawtini.
Politically, great, but musically, it’s an appalling idea. Most anthems are too long as it is. Adding lines is just going to make them worse, and fewer people identify with them.
Why not just start again entirely? Israel, for one, has plenty of musicians it could ask to write a new anthem.
(No, this post wasn’t just an excuse to link to a video of transsexual pop star Dana International. Well, maybe a bit…)