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HaDag Nachash: Atypical Israel band hip-hops to Hollywood

by Dikla Kadosh

November 12, 2008 | 5:44 pm

Adam Sandler, a.k.a. Israeli Mossad super-agent Zohan, saunters through the streets of Tel Aviv gyrating his cut-off-jeans-clad hips, delighting Israeli beachgoers with an exaggerated display of hacky-sack skills and putting on a super-human show of strength in a game of tug-of-war as a bikini-clad beauty perches on his shoulders.

The soundtrack playing throughout this opening sequence of "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," is the hip-hop/funk "Ma She Ba Ba" by one of Israel's top bands, Hadag Nahash.

Later, as Zohan faces his Arab nemesis, The Phantom, the band charges up a fast-paced chase scene with the rapid beat of "Hine Ani Ba." The catchy track, which translates to "Here I Come," repeats during the closing credits and is featured prominently in the film's trailers.

So how did a song released in 2006 by a 12-year-old Israeli band become the theme song of a major Hollywood release?


HaDag Nachash: Hine Ani Ba הדג נחש/הנה אני בא


The Jerusalem-based band, which will perform at Avalon in Hollywood on Nov. 17, first came together in 1996 and has toured the United States more than a dozen times. Its six members, known for their mix of funk, hip-hop, rock and reggae, rose to the top of the Israeli charts with smart, biting lyrics that reflect Israeli life and appeal to Israel's growing hip-hop scene.

The songs often express a leftist point of view and are critical of everything Israeli. "Only Here," juxtaposes positive and negative aspects of life in Israel:

Only here everyone speaks Hebrew
And curses in Russian, English and Arabic.
Only here people fight in turns
Only here everyone is in the army and wants to get out.
Some songs, like "To Move," are lighthearted club fare, while others, like "Jerusalem Praise the Lord," echo Israelis' spiritual side. Hadag Nahash's songs can be sophisticated or vulgar, local or universal, fun or furious.

"It's not the typical Israeli music," said David Azulay of Teev Events, the production company responsible for the band's multiple U.S. visits each year. "But it's very representative of Israelis."

And that's what caught the attention of American music producer Brooks Arthur, who compiled the soundtrack for Sandler's Israeli action spoof. Looking for fresh and groundbreaking sounds, Arthur consulted various music experts, such as the folks at JDub records, and hit the streets of Israel to hear for himself what was "happening."

"I liked their vibe and energy," Arthur said.

"It was a pleasant surprise to be included on the soundtrack," said Sha'anan Streett, the band's lead vocalist, main lyricist and unofficial leader. They played little part in selecting the four songs that would be included in the film and were thrilled to discover their prime placement at the Israeli premiere.

Increased traffic on their English-version Web site and a proliferation of YouTube clips from "Zohan" featuring their songs are early indications that the film has helped them reach new ears.

Their popularity among college-age audiences continues to grow; this nine-city American tour includes stops in Santa Cruz, New Orleans and Ann Arbor, Mich., for the first time.

It's not necessary to understand the lyrics to dance and jump to the band; that's what an enormous crowd did at Sinai Temple's Friday Night Live last May, when Hadag Nahash performed in an "Israel at 60" celebration.

"They were amplified, uplifting. They rocked the house," said Noah Gordon, 34.

"We play for new audiences because it's a challenge and a change," said Streett, an American citizen who was born and raised in Israel. Hammering away at a fifth album, which will include several songs in English, the band is constantly touring, mostly in Israel.

"We've played in every city in Israel," said Streett. "We go to new places to feel relevant."

Hadag Nahash will appear on Monday at 8 p.m. at Avalon, 1735 Vine St., Hollywood. $35 (advance), $40 (at the door). Tickets available through Keshet Chaim, (818) 986-7332. http://www.kcdancers.org.


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