Established in 1909, and having annexed the old Arab city of Yafo (Jaffa) in 1950, the city is officially called Tel Aviv-Yafo. Situated approximately at the midpoint of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline, Tel Aviv is the country’s cultural and commercial center.
Indeed, Tel Aviv is the heart of musical life in Israel. The country’s record companies and other music-related business offices, studios and major performance venues are all situated in the city itself or in the metropolitan area. Aspiring and successful musicians are therefore drawn to live and work there, and its thriving café culture has been home to musicians’ communities of all kinds for decades.
Thus, from an early stage, many of the most prominent shirey eretz Israel authors and performers – despite the genre’s rural connotations – have lived and worked in Tel Aviv. Mordechai Zeira, Alexander (Sasha) Argov, Moshe Vilensky, Natan Alterman, Haim Hefer, Yekhiel Mohar, Naomi Shemer and Shoshana Damari – to name but a few – have all resided in the city for most of their creative lives.
Since the 1960s, Tel Aviv has been the capital of Israeli rock. Several clubs on Ha’masger Street in the south of Tel Aviv, as well as in neighboring towns Bat-Yam and Ramla, were home to the early lehakot ha-ketzev (beat groups). In the 1970s, the first generation of prominent Israeli rock musicians found a home in Tzavta’s small intimate theater hall, which perfectly suited the soft sound of this genre, and in the first sophisticated recording studios – Kolinor and Triton – that were established in Tel Aviv. Arik Einstein, the most prominent Israeli rock musician in this period, lived all his life in Tel Aviv and many of his self-penned lyrics reflect his deep connection to the city.
In the early 1980s, the Penguin, Liquid and Kolnoa Dan clubs provided a place for the alternative rock scene of the period, a role taken over in the 1990s by the Roxanne, Logus and Barbie clubs. Most of these clubs served as venues for performances by many international alternative rock musicians as well. Also in the 1990s, the Alenbi 58 and later TLV clubs became the shrines of Israeli electro-dance club culture.
Tel Aviv is also the cradle of musica mizrakhit. Pioneer bands of the genre, Tzliley ha-oud and Tzliley ha-kerem, emerged from the Kerem ha-teimanim (Yemenite vineyard) and Ha-Tikvah neighborhoods, and the influential Keisar studio was located in Tel Aviv. During the 1970s and 1980s, the old central bus station of Tel Aviv was a major dissemination point for the genre. The place was filled with the sounds of the music, played loudly by cassette vendors, to the point that the genre was sometimes dubbed ‘central station music.’ Major clubs such as the Plaka and Ahava Mekhudeshet have also served as meeting places for musica mizrakhit musicians and industry people from all over the country.
The influential and trend-setting radio station Galei Tzahal (the Army Waves) has its studios in Yafo. Although a national station, it is very much associated with the popular music culture of Tel Aviv.
Finally, Tel Aviv has Heihal Ha-Tarbut, Israel’s most prestigious large hall for musicians of any genre, and Park ha-Yarkon (aka Ganei Yehoshua), the major open-air venue in Israel, where free and paid concerts by Israeli and foreign musicians of all types draw tens of thousands of people.