Saturday, January 11, 2014

Stern Gang "Misirlou"

Over the past few years, and especially since Dick Dale's version of "Misirlou" appeared so memorably in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, a number of accounts have pointed out the "Eastern" origins of this great tune. I've posted on the song previously, noting the fact that (a) it emerged originally out of the rebetika tradition, which originated in the great cosmopolitan city of Smyrna, and (b) that Dick Dale's version is inspired by the rhythms of Arabic music, which he learned chiefly from his uncle, a darbukkah player. You can find more on Dick Dale (born Richard Mansour) and the Arabic origins of surf music here, more on the Eastern origins of "Misirlou" here and here.

There are lots and lots of cool versions of "Misirlou" besides Dale's version. Here's one that is not so cool (Hebrew title: "Lil Razim," and I'm not sure how to translate.)

It was released in 1953 and recorded by Shulamit Livnat, an Israeli singer who was known as "the singer of the Etzel and the Lehi." That is, the singer of Lohamei Herut Israel (Israel Freedom Fighters) or Lehi, the paramilitary Zionist group founded by Avraham (Yair) Stern in 1940, a radical splinter from the Irgun (full title, Ha-Irgun Ha-Tzvai Ha-Leumi be-Eretz Yisrael or The National Military Organization in the Land of Israel), the Revisionist paramilitary group which was led by Menahem Begin from 1943. The Irgun was also known as Etzel, the acronym for the Hebrew initials.

Although the Stern Gang split from the Irgun, during 1948 the two groups collaborated in all kinds of mayhem and terror operations, including most notoriously the 1948 massacre at Deir Yassin, which resulted in the killing of 107 Palestinian Arab villagers, 11 of them armed. It's been awhile since I have spent much time reading about Lehi and Etzel, but a classic account is J. Bowyer Bell's Terror Out of Zion: Irgun Zvai Leumi, Lehi, and the Palestine Underground, 1929–1949, 1977.

One of the songs that Shulamit Livnat was known for singing is the Lehi anthem, "Unknown Soldiers" (Hayalim Amonim) written by Stern in 1932. Here are the lyrics. An excerpt:

Our dream: to die for our people
we shall erect the homeland
with the tears of bereaved mothers
and the blood of unblemished babies.
Like with cement our bodies will bond into bricks

Here's Shulamit Livnat leading singing the anthem at a memorial service for Avraham Stern in 2012, on the 70th anniversary of Stern's death at the hands of British police in Tel Aviv. (Apparently of late there have been strong efforts to rehabilitate Stern's memory.)

Livnat is still alive (I believe) and as of 2005, had run the Rina Mor National College, the educational arm of the Jabotinsky Institute, for 20 years. In 2005 her daughter, Education Minister Limor Livnat, saw to it that her mother's salary was quadrupled. (Today Limor Livnat, a member of the Likud Party, is Minister of Culture and Sport; she is the only member of the Israeli Knesset not to have achieved a secondary school education.

As Education Minister, Limor Livnat was a member of the cabinet of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who passed away today. (He went into coma in 2006.)

Only fitting that the daughter of the diva of Lehi would serve under Sharon, whose crimes against the Palestinians, over a period of 55+ years, completely overshadow those of the notorious Stern Gang, still remembered as a "terrorist" group. Meanwhile, the US will be sending VP Joseph Biden to Sharon's state funeral.

No comments: