The Case for Localizing Names, part 3

I love music.

In particular, I love Israeli music.

In the last few years, I usually have some files of Israeli music with me when I leave my home, or my country – on my laptop or on my phone (ripped from CDs that I own, which is legit as far as my interpretation of copyright law goes).

And sometimes people from other countries are curious about it and ask me to copy some files for them. This is a copyright issue, but I justify it by the fact that they hardly have a chance to purchase it where they live, so they aren’t really hurting the relevant market. But there’s something bigger: a technical issue with the artist and song names.

Hebrew is written in the Hebrew alphabet. CDs have artist names and song titles in Hebrew, with English translations or transliterations added only occasionally. When I rip CDs, I give the files names in Hebrew letters. Most people around the world don’t know the Hebrew alphabet, so looking for a song they like using these files will be impossible for them. They would only be able to enjoy them if they don’t mind listening to everything in a shuffle. And though the newest phones are able to display Hebrew correctly, some devices that people have are still unable to do that.

I actually recall myself renaming files en masse to let friends from other countries listen to some Israeli music and now the artists’ names.

I’m not sure how to resolve this robustly, but much like with email and social networks and with legal forms, songs could use titles in different languages or scripts. Maybe MusicBrainz or Wikidata could add a structured property for transliterated song titles, and music files could be identified like that. Maybe each music track could have multiple fields for titles in different languages.

It’s good not just for international exchange between friends, but for marketing, too – some cultures only listen to music in English and maybe in their own language, but some are OK with listening to music in a lot of languages, because they are all equally foreign.

Long story short, song names must be more easily localizable than they are today.

Made Me Cry – Girafot – Moses

Girafot (Giraffes) is an Israeli band. They released their debut album in 1999 and became famous when the song “Rami is Accused of Possessing Recreational Drugs” was banned on the radio and immediately became an Internet hit. Although initially dismissed as a one-off novelty act, they kept performing and released their stunning sophomore album Gag (Roof) in 2006. That album, most of which dealt with broken relationships in a surprisingly sober manner and sported excellent production and musicianship, immediately became a classic of Israeli rock and spawned several hits. The band also became famous for its cranky live performances, in which the frontman Gil’ad Kahana improvised spoken-word not-quite-sensical commentary on current affairs.

Their third album was released recently. It is full of little human stories, very real and very Israeli, and yet very universal. Nobody expected anything so touchy and emotional from a band whose singer takes pride in the amounts of alcohol he consumes before going on stage and ends the shows singing an extended version of a song called “Rami is Accused of Possessing Recreational Drugs” walking back and forth through the crowd. Yet there you have it. The most unforgettable song from this album is called “Moses”. Here’s the video, which takes the main message of a song and puts it in a completely different context. You don’t need to know Hebrew to enjoy the video:

… But i’ll translate it for you, because then you’ll understand the context, and it will become even more powerful:

Sewage seethes in the middle of the street,
Oil turns the water rainbow-colored,
The horse’s hooves slip,
Everybody falls down,
Air conditioner,
Sewing machine,
Straw basket,
Israeli flag,
Rag and bone man,
And his son begs
“Father, please, don’t hit Moses.”

An especially hot day,
Jaffa is burning,
Riding through the streets,
The child is conflicted
In his thoughts
How is it possible that father will change horses?
In the beginning of the week
Moses got scared from a pigeon taking off,
A washing machine was ruined.
Everybody falls down.

A little explanation: Jaffa is the old town of Tel-Aviv with a significant Arab population, a very popular tourist destination. Many people there are poor, but the proximity to the sea and the romanticism of the old town causes pretty rapid – and tasteless – gentrification. Still it’s home to many rag and bone wagon drivers. This song shows them in a new light – their children are human, too.

Miloopa in Unicode, ya mama

In my last day in Gdańsk i had a few Złoty left and there was a record store near the bus stop, so i spent the Złoty on CD’s. There’s only one Polish band with which i was actually familiar – Myslovitz, whose lovely song “The Sound of Solitude” was played quite a lot on MTV in the early 2000’s:

The original Polish version of the same song is just as nice:

After i got “The Best of Myslovitz” CD, i had money for a couple more. I didn’t have any time to search for anything in particular, so i just tried picking something with a nice cover and immediately came upon this:

the cover of the album "Unicode" by the band Miloopa. The letters in the word Unicode are made up of small symbols.
Miloopa - Unicode

A record with such a title cannot be bad, i thought, so i immediately got it. And indeed, it is very good. Miloopa‘s music strongly reminded of the Israeli band J.Viewz: a female singer with a nice voice, singing in English, mostly electronic beats, good for chillout. Probably every non-English-speaking country has such a band.

The last one i bought was a record named “No! No! No!” by a band called “No! No! No!“. It’s a rather conventional and good indie band, singing in Polish. The lyric sheet for one song literally cites the Wikipedia article Voight-Kampff machine – that couldn’t be more appropriate.

Create another fable

When i first saw the video “Lama” by the Israeli singer Maya Avraham, it immediately reminded me of Massive Attack’s “Protection” directed by Michel Gondry.

Somehow i didn’t notice that the music of the song itself is also a knock-off. Compare its first seconds with “Chop Suey!”. Except that the song is standard Israeli pop.

Yet this video is very special. It is not centered on the singer walking around Tel-Aviv, walking around her rented apartment in Tel-Aviv or a huge close-up on her face. It has each of those things in certain proportions, but it is centered on knocking off Massive Attack and System of a Down. That’s a start.

Oh, and it’s two years old. The only Israeli video worth watching that was produced recently is Yadayim Lemaala by Knesiyat Hasekhel.

I somehow still believe that rock ‘n’ roll can never die.


I am familiar with only one Israeli media personality who openly professes right-wing opinions on a publicly funded station: Dudu Elharar.

Well, Dudu Elharar’s program is being closed. He blames Galey Tzahal for shutting him down for his views and says that this is the second biggest crime after the Disengagement. They don’t like the Disengagement comparison, but mildly admit that his views were not exactly their cup of tea.

No more right-wing politics in public Israeli media, then.

Reality – Women Singing

sinners only
sinners only

Some food products in Israel carry the mark “Kosher Dairy (Gentile powdered milk)” (אבקת חלב נוכרי). This means that the kashruth supervisor of the factory that produces this food considers it kosher, but duly warns practicing Jews who adopted stricter dietary laws for themselves and don’t eat powdered milk which was prepared by non-Jews. Most secular Israelis hardly know what it means—if they notice it at all—, and some laugh at it, but for some religious Israelis it is quite important. Some practicing kosher Jews are not strict, others adopt strictures for themselves.

Now this came to music, too. Some religious Jews avoid listening to the singing of women, because it is considered non-modest, due to the saying from the Talmud “a voice in a women is shame” (Brachot 24). Rabbis argue about the meaning of it. A tiny minority are so strict that they completely forbid listening to a woman’s voice (except one’s own wife). Many forbid listening to a woman’s singing; some of them argue that listening to recorded woman’s singing is allowed. Some rabbis allow listening to a woman singing as long as the woman and the song are modest.

This is the first time that i saw a CD marked this way. It was sold by a vendor of Jewish traditional music in Jerusalem, who added the sticker himself, knowing that some of his customers may dislike woman singing.

It is good that it is done voluntarily. I hope that the kashruth of music won’t become obnoxious, corrupt and commercialized, like that of food.


I should be ignoring this, but i can’t.

There’s this Eurovision Song Contest thing, right? And Israel participates in it? And the Israeli songs are terrible, just as nearly all the rest, right? And it’s not really about music, but about some fake national pride and a particularly stupid television show, right?

Well, yes, it is.

This year it’s the same crap as every time. The singer’s name was shortened from Boaz Mauda to Boaz. They do it to many Israeli artists for marketing reasons. Crap. OK, i can live with that and i couldn’t care less. And of course they translated the song to English, which is also very pointless, but i can live with that, too. But on the official website they named this so-called song “Fire in Your Eyes (Ke’ilo Kan)” and this i can’t stand.

It’s this Israeli stupidity in its worst. It’s supposed to be written “Ke’ilu”. כאילו. In Hebrew the sounds of [o] and [u] are usually written with the same letter, vav, and the correct pronunciation can be easily guessed by people who know Hebrew. But when transliterating Hebrew to Latin characters Israelis carry this confusion over, and often write an O where they should have written a U and vice versa. It’s similar to a hamburger place i saw once in southern Tel Aviv, which had a big ugly handwritten sign in “English” saying HMBORGR. The A and the E are gone, because they are not written in Hebrew at all, and the U turned to an O, because it’s “the same letter”. Now i think that a stupid hamburger vendor in southern Tel-Aviv should pay a heavy fine for that transgression. What is the appropriate punishment for the “representative” of Israeli culture that can’t fucking spell transliterated Hebrew words?

Now comes the funny part: If i try to change it in Wikipedia, it may be reverted, and someone will say “give me reliable sources; the website says Ke’ilo”. Crap.


Since about 2004 i watch very little television. I don’t have one at home and i don’t miss it. However, when i am at homes which do have one, i can hardly take my eyes off it when it’s on. That’s probably a good reason not to have one at home.

It doesn’t mean that everything on the TV is crap. I noticed that some Israeli drama series are pretty good. The stories are very humane and many of the actors are genuinely talented.

So i am quite proud to hear that an American TV network bought the rights for the fourth Israeli television script to be adapted for American TV. First there was In Treatment, the American version of Betipul. I haven’t watched any of them, but many other people did. Now, according to ynet, there are three more: Mesudarim and Merkhak Negia and The Ex List, which don’t yet have an article in the English Wikipedia.

So yay—Hebrew TV drama joins Hebrew rock n’ roll as one of the greatest achievements of Zionism.

Reality – Which one’s Pink?

Pink Floyd - Sarit Hadad

There’s no business like show business.

Some salesman put Pink Floyd and Sarit Hadad on one banner, which advertises a DVD sale.

In Wikipedia there are articles in eight languages about Sarit Hadad. This seemed weird at first, but the reason for that is probably that she appeared in the Eurovision song contest. Reading about Hadad in German and Hungarian is very sobering, even though i don’t understand either of those languages.