Aris San (1940 - 1992) was a famous Greek singer who immigrated to
Israel and was one of the first to use electric guitar in a Greek music
“The status of popular Eastern music changed dramatically in the 1960s, with
the eruption of the “Greek” wave of popular music in Israel. “Greek popular
music” in this context should be understood as the sound of hybrid
nightclub music styles from Athens and Thessaloniki, generally referred to
as laika (DeBoer 1996). A dominant feature of this sound is the presence of
the bouzouki. This type of Greek music became a favorite style for Israeliborn
Eastern Jews as well as for many non-Easterners. This wave is particularly
connected to the rise to stardom of Greek singer Aris San. A
seventeen-year-old non-Jew from Thessaloniki, San began to frequent Israel
after 1956 and to appear in clubs in the port city of Haifa, which was populated
by many Jews of Greek origin. Following a love affair with an Israeli
girl, San settled in Israel and began to appear at the main venue of Greek
music in Israel, the Arianna nightclub in Jaffa, owned by Shmuel Barzilay,
a Thessalonician Jew. General Moshe Dayan, at the peak of his political
power and popularity in the 1960s, is said to have been a fan of Aris San and
even to have intervened to formalize the singer’s legal status.
Aris San’s success and that of other contemporary Greek singers who
landed in Israel was not a total breakthrough because the presence of Greek
popular music in Israel predated his arrival. Nightclubs in Jaffa, such as
Arianna, regularly hosted live Greek music and musicians in the 1950s. One
may hypothesize that the success of Greek music of the laika style among
mizrahi Jews was their way of eluding the quasi boycott of Israeli public culture
on Arab music. Sometimes similar in sound and affective appeal, Greek
laika music provided a legitimate way to publicly enjoy the type of sounds
beloved by Jews from Arab countries.
Individuals who became the major producers of musiqa mizrahit in the
1970s, such as Asher Reuveni (personal communication), were exposed to
the music of these clubs in their youth and became avid consumers of it.
Consequently, the “Greek sound” became one of the main stylistic inspirations
of musiqa mizrahit.
San’s influence on later musiqa mizrahit cannot be overestimated. One
pivotal element was his use of the electric guitar in a high-pitched staccato
mode, as an amplified imitation of the sound of the bouzuki. The sound was
later copied and became a signature sound of leading musiqa mizrahit tar players such as Moshe Ben Mush and Yehuda Keisar. The song “Boumpam”
(in Greek), a huge hit for San in Israel, is exemplary here. In addition
to a long guitar solo, the song also includes a short quote from Um
Kulthum’s song “Enta Omry” (composed by Mohammed Abd el Wahab),
hinting at the proximity to Arab music that his work contained.
San’s hit songs in Hebrew, such as “Sigal,” conquered the charts in the
1960s, paving the way in the Israeli public to a new “Mediterranean” sound.
San’s songs were simple and light, in sharp contrast with the patriotic content
of many popular songs produced during the same period, in the aftermath
of the Six-Day War (1967). In terms of melody, “Sigal” is based on a
few two-bar motifs repeated in sequence. The minor scale in the verses is
not melancholic, as is the case in many mainstream Israeli songs, and the
contrasting beginning of the refrain in major sets the spirit of the entire
song. Its “Greekness” rests mainly on the sweeping instrumental introduction
by San on the bouzouki.
…By the early 1970s, San’s songs became part of mainstream Israeli popular
music. Five of his songs are included in the printed collection Lehitim
bo`arim (Hot hits; see Kedar 1971) together with popular songs by leading
Israeli composers such as Moshe Vilensky, Dov Seltzer, and Nurit Hirsh.”