When Aris San (born Aristeídis Seïsanás in Kalamata, Greece, 1940) arrived in Israel in 1957, he was just an anonymous Greek teenager with a guitar. When he left in 1969, he was the top-selling recording artist in the country. During his twelve years in Israel, he managed to become not only an icon of celebrity, European chic, and musical fashionability but a brand name associated with “wedding music”, working-class audiences, and Mizrahiyut (“Eastern-ness”, or, the culture of Middle Eastern Jews in Israel). San was a key agent in transporting Greek music – or, to be more precise, the conglomerate of styles, sounds and stereotypes loosely held together by this title – from the smoky confines of an immigrant café in Jaffa to Israel’s most prestigious music venues, official Independence Day celebrations, national television, and the homes of leading generals and politicians. In an era when the bouzouki was being established globally as the national instrument of Greece, San wielded an electric guitar as his solo instrument. Employing bouzouki techniques and melodic formulas, he created a unique, signature sound, evocative of both bouzouki and rock-guitar virtuosity. In this and other ways, his musical persona was able to traverse the twin fictions of Western modernity and Oriental backwardness.
The goal of this lecture is to look at San’s career as a window into the negotiation of cultural identities that took place in 1960s Israel/Palestine (and, indeed, the East mediterranean at large) between Eurocentric national elites and marginalized groups often associated with Oriental taste cultures. It will present San’s career as a performer, recording artist, club manager, and public figure not merely for the sake of telling an individual's story: In all these capacities San facilitated the emergence of Mediterranean “Audiotopias”: physical or virtual sonic spaces of identification, where musical stereotypes of East and West were both mobilized and overcome, and where an ideal Mediterranean was outlined, which encompass everything from Umm Kulthum to Mexican Ballads.
Oded Erez (Dept. of Music, Bar-Ilan University) is a scholar of popular music and film music, working in the intersection of historical musicology, ethnomusicology and cultural studies. His work focuses on the relationship between politics and aesthetics, with an emphasis on music in Israel and the Mediterranean. He is currently completing a book manuscript on Greek music and ethno-class politics in Israel.